The Common Good

Human Rights Lawyer: Denise Siwatula

Denise Siwatula
Denise Siwatula

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” –Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States from 1933-45

“If we just sat with crossed arms, what would happen then?” is the question Denise, a Congolese civil rights attorney, asks us.

She has seen the destruction of her home through natural disaster and the pain of thousands of Congolese women who are raped every year. Still, she is faithful with the calling that she has been given—working to prosecute the cases she can to help rape survivors seek justice and find the hope to continue on.

Denise knows that to make peace, it is necessary to restrain and often punish the evil that humans do to one another.

“The Bible takes evil seriously and clearly says that evildoers should be held accountable for their deeds, and that the state has the legitimate role of bringing to justice those who perpetrate terrible crimes,” writes Jim Wallis in a July 2011 Sojourners’ column, “The Things That Make For Peace.”

But Denise’s work does not focus just on the punishment of those who commit rape but on the restoration of the survivors.

While the story of Denise is hopeful, she does not pretend that the path she has chosen is easy. Still, it is her faith and hope in God that gives her the strength to continue.

“When I find myself in church, I try to forget myself,” says Denise. “I try to forget what I have lived through. I visualize another environment, one that is so different from the actual one around me.”

Motivation to continue the hard work of building God’s kingdom comes from a place beyond one’s self. God has given us the gift of being able to imagine and work for another world that more and more closely reflects God’s will. We are to pray as Jesus taught us,

“Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

Watch Denise's video

Discussion questions

1. Why is rape used as a weapon of war? What are the consequences of the high rates of sexual violence for the society?

2. How does Denise’s faith influence her work?

3. When have you felt like you’ve “crossed your arms” and failed to take action? What aspects of this story challenge and encourage you to uncross them?

Prayer

We pray for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who have faced conflict and unrest for decades, including violence by weapon and by rape. Though the thousands dying every month often go unreported, we know that your heart breaks for the lives lost and the people damaged. We ask that you establish a just peace in that place in the name of our Prince of Peace, Jesus. Amen. 

More about Denise

Denise Siwatula is a lawyer with Synergie, a coalition of organizations providing comprehensive services to survivors of sexual violence in eastern Congo. The women with whom Denise works face severe challenges in seeking justice, including undue financial burdens, lack of support from authorities even though there is a national law against rape, a high emotional toll recounting their stories time and again to officials, and a system where even those found guilty can bribe their way free. Very few cases Denise works on result in true justice, yet she refuses to accept that impunity will reign. If she, someone trained in law, doesn’t strive for something better, she wonders, who will? Denise attended law school in Goma, eastern Congo, one of only a handful of women to attend. She finds solace in her faith, and can be found at her church almost every day.

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