A senior United Nations official in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today decried the problem of sexual violence in the war-torn country, saying perpetrators are mostly police, military and militia members but civilians are increasingly involved, and calling for stronger response measures.
“This is an extraordinary large problem. It is not just an anecdotal problem but a massive one that demands we all combined try and make sure that essentially not only women who are victims of rape and abuse are treated but that sexual violence must stop,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Deputy Special Representative Ross Mountain.
He voiced particular concern about the conflict in North Kivu where since September, about 150,000 people have fled their homes, bringing the total in the province as a whole to about 800,000 displaced persons.
With the continuous tense situation in DRC’s troubled eastern region triggering more sexual violence against women, he said that while statistics are hard to come by, “we are dealing literally with hundred of thousands of victims over the last couple of years.”
Mr. Mountain cited a 2006 survey by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) of roughly half of the health centers which found 50,000 cases reported. “If that many cases were reported, how many cases are really there,” he said.
He said men in uniform remain the main perpetrators. “They include clearly militias and the armed forces of this country as well as, and I am sorry to say, the police. That remains the prime group of perpetrators.”
But he also noted that this trend is changing. “The proportion that has been committed now by civilians, who are not military and uniform personnel, is increasing. That is a very troubling sign.”
The Government and the UN are working with civil society groups to help treat victims and help reintegrate them in their communities “because of the stigmatization problem that unfortunately lingers on,” Mr Mountain said.
Attempts to punish those responsible are not strong enough. “I am sorry to say that this is the weakest part of this exercise,” he said. “In terms of bringing the perpetrators to justice, progress has been very disappointing.”
He noted that in Equateur province, some 78 members of the military battalion were accused of having raped nearly 120 women. With the support of the international community and the UN mission in the DRC (MONUC) human rights branch, “we managed to get some 12 of them brought before military justice where about six were convicted,” Mr. Mountain said.
But the victory was short-lived. “Unfortunately, with the current state of the prisons in this country, after a month or two nobody was in custody.”
MONUC “is very involved with the humanitarian community in the protection of civilians,” noted Mr. Mountain. The mission is also working to ensure that those who are identified can be brought to justice.
“It is a long road, but it is a road that certainly has been started and we are determined that progress will be made.”