Winner of the Human Rights Defenders Tulip 2008: Justine Masika
Justine Masika Bihamba (Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo) received the Human Rights Defenders Tulip 2008. Masika runs an organisation devoted to stopping the widespread rape of women in the conflict zone in eastern Congo.
“I hope the prize offers some measure of protection to this brave woman, her family and her staff,” said Minister Verhagen (Foreign Affairs). “I have the greatest respect for her commitment. Threats and direct attacks on her and her family have not prevented her from carrying on with her good work…”
Masika’s organisation, Women’s Synergy for Victims of Sexual Violence, has been active since 2002, providing medical assistance and psychological support for thousands of rape victims. She also gives courses on sexual violence and its aftermath in an effort to prevent rape victims from being rejected by their families and communities. The organisation also compiles information about the rapes in the hope of one day bringing the perpetrators to trial, before either a national or international court.
In September 2007, Masika’s house was attacked by soldiers. Although she was not at home at the time, her two eldest daughters were assaulted. Since then they have been living abroad. Because her staff members pass on information about rapes to the authorities, they have been arrested, tortured and driven out of their homes by advancing troops during the recent fighting.
Justine Masika Bihamba has been involved in women’s rights since 1990 when working as a women’s rights activist in the Union of Rural Women of North-Kivu. She informed women about their rights and how they could stand up for them. In 2002, Masika was involved in a study of sexual violence against women in refugee camps. She became more and more convinced that something had to be done for these women, for whom there was no shelter or care of any kind available.
Masika was also involved in the early stages of Congolese legislation adopted in 2006, which explicitly criminalised sexual violence. This legislation was made possible through the long and unwavering lobbying of female activists such as Justine Masika.