The Brutal Truth

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By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Six rapists in the lush forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo: One in a green hood, another in a red baseball cap, another in military fatigues and a camouflage hat, another in black sunglasses. Their guns are pointed down. Smoking cigarettes, they swagger. They hold up their fingers, counting the number of women they have raped, violated, damned. Sexual terror as a weapon of war, perpetrated sometimes with sticks, knives, tree limbs.

The men seem unafraid to confess. They are bragging to an American filmmaker who holds a camera, recording their words.

"Ask him to tell me what he did," says Lisa F. Jackson, whose chilling documentary, "The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo," debuts tonight on HBO. In a 10-year-old conflict that has left some 5 million people dead, the tens of thousands of women and girls who have been systematically raped and mutilated by an array of combatants are the silent victims among the living, Jackson tells us. What makes her documentary more stunning: She goes into the forest and confronts the rapists.

"I slept with some women," says the rapist, a gray sweater wrapping his head, the sleeves tied around his neck.

"Did they want you to sleep with them?" Jackson inquires, her voice incisive, a bit on edge. A translator repeats her words in Swahili. Is it about control? Sex? Why violate a woman, leave her to bleed in her village, while her husband watches, tied to a tree? Why would 20 men line up and take turns, one after the other, raping a girl until she passes out and separates herself from a pain too evil to imagine?

Why insert a machete into a woman, leaving her organs so torn and dysfunctional that she flees her village and hides her shame and her stench in the bush, another victim of war?

"After we've been raped, our men don't want us anymore. We are considered half-human beings," a lonely woman confides to Jackson and her camera.

In another scene, the gray-sweatered rapist doesn't flinch at Jackson's question: "If she says no, I must take her by force. If she is strong, I'll call some of my friends to help me. All this is happening because of the war. We would live a normal life and treat women naturally if there was no war."

The war started in 1998 when Congolese rebels and Rwandan troops tried to oust the country's president, Laurent Kabila. But the fighting metastasized into a conflict over land, ethnicity and natural resources and lasted long after Kabila's 2001 assassination and well beyond a 2003 peace accord. Eastern Congo, the flashpoint of the conflict, degenerated into a state of near constant violence, with regular troops, rebels and regional militias routinely looting villages and routinely raping women and girls.

* * *

Rain pours outside. Jackson's camera takes us inside the shadow of an abandoned building, pointing at another rapist. His gun is slung across his back. He wears a green beret and talks of the "magic" that makes him rape.


CONTINUED     1              >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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