“A symbol of the peaceful fight against sexual violence, poverty and discrimination,” is how the jury of the Asturias Awards described Caddy Adzuba in awarding her its Concord Prize, the Spanish royal foundation’s equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Adzuba is a journalist and rights campaigner whose crusade against sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo has won worldwide acclaim.
She spoke to our correspondent Leire Otaegi about her work and experiences in an exclusive interview.
Leire Otaegi, euronews: “Your career is marked by a commitment to combating sexual violence. What do you remember about the first interview you did with a female victim of sexual violence?”
Caddy Adzuba: “I couldn’t finish the interview. The first time was in 2000. I met a woman in the field and I was very eager to learn what had happened, to learn what this woman had endured. I handed the microphone to the woman and she looked me straight in the eyes. She didn’t want to talk. I pushed her, saying it’s very important. She looked at me and said: ‘Are you sure you want to hear? You think you can take it?’ I said, ‘of course’.
“After she talked to me for two minutes I got up and left. I didn’t say goodbye, I didn’t say thank you to this woman. I just simply got up and left. I fled. Because what I had expected were things I knew about before, but I’d never heard a victim talk about them, a victim explain what had happened. So I fled.”
euronews: “And in what way did you change after that interview?”
Adzuba: “After that interview I swore to do everything I could do, everything I could do with the little knowledge I had, with the little I could contribute to making the lives of these women better. I couldn’t do anything because I didn’t have major resources. I had nothing but a microphone with which to speak out, to denounce… and to make known to the world what had happened to these women.”
euronews: “What path does a victim follow to stop being a victim, to stop being seen as a victim?”
Adzuba: “First of all she needs time. And time doesn’t just mean one day, two days, not a month, not two months, not five months, and, unfortunately, it is not two years. Unfortunately, it means many years, five years, six years, or even ten years. They are physically destroyed, torn, traumatised, tortured.
“She must be healed. That’s the first thing; physical healing. After that, she must be de-traumatised, with psycho-trauma counselling sessions.
“And after that, if it goes well, she’ll have group therapy, other therapies in social life, for her socio-economic reintegration. After that you have to work on those around her, to accept her back into the society from which she’d been banished, from which she’d been chased.
“And finally she must reintegrate economically, that’s also very important. Often these women are reduced to poverty because they have lost everything.”
euronews: “Can healing ever by complete without justice?”
Adzuba: Impossible, no. Unfortunately, there’s no complete healing without justice because the perpetrators continue to be free and at large; the ringleaders, the guilty continue to roam freely, and when traumatised women, when women who experienced these things continue to see the people who caused their trauma, it’s a further source of trauma for them. And not just for them, for all of us, for all of society.”
euronews: “You’ve been threatened for speaking out against sexual violence and you’ve even had to leave your country because of these threats. How do you live and work with this fear?”
Adzuba: “If I’ve been threatened it’s because I did something, I provoked the perpetrators, I provoked the system. But these women, who did they provoke? No one. They’ve done nothing but they’ve been the victims of the worst atrocities we could ever imagine. And that’s what gives me courage. It’s true I’m scared. It’s true that I’ve received texts saying, ‘if you continue you’re going to get two bullets in the head’. I am scared. But anyone who wants to kill you isn’t going to send you a text. He’s going to kill you directly.”
euronews: “Who holds the key to a stable and lasting peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo?”
Adzuba: “Everyone, everyone. Peace is a universal question. Peace is the first issue of the leaders who are directly linked to the people and who are obliged to protect the people. I’m thinking of the Congolese government.
“The responsibility also lies with Congolese civil society to continue to support this government so it can do its job better. It’s also the responsibility of the region, the entire Great Lakes region, all the DRC’s neighbours also are responsible in one way or another to what’s happened in the DRC.
“It’s also the responsibility of the African continent, the African states, the African Union which has to know its own responsibilities and solve its own problems.
“The responsibility goes beyond borders, across oceans to what we call the international community. The Congolese conflict was more an economic conflict. There have been several reports that have cited and criticised multinationals that have been involved directly or indirectly in the financing of armed groups purely for their own economic interests.
“Following from that, six million Congolese have been killed, more than 500,000 women have been victims of sexual violence. So the responsibility is shared, and everyone must answer for these acts. That is justice.”
euronews: “The history of the country is marked by war but also by the constant struggle of women for peace. What can we learn from the struggle of Congolese women here in Europe, where you’ve just been awarded the Asturias Prize.”
Adzuba: “Europe, in fact, lives in a state of naiveté, if I may say so, even with all the information it has, it still sees Africa as just a poor continent, the Third World; Africa is war, Africa is disease, Ebola. They don’t see that in Africa there are men and women of courage, men and women who can get things moving, and take a stand against atrocities. Europe has to change how it sees things in Africa. Europe has to change it policies towards Africa. It’s very important.”