Hundreds of women who were raped by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) nearly three months ago now reportedly face the same abuse from Government troops, a senior United Nations official warned today.
“There is already some information from MONUSCO [the UN mission] peacekeepers on the ground that rapes, killings and lootings have been perpetrated by FARDC [the Government army] soldiers,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström told the Security Council.
Last month, a UN human rights team confirmed that more than 300 civilians were raped between 30 July and 2 August in the Walikale region in eastern DRC by members of armed groups including the Maï Maï Cheka and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
“The possibility that the same communities who were brutalized in July and August by FDLR and Maï Maï elements are now also suffering exactions at the hands of FARDC troops is unimaginable and unacceptable,” Ms. Wallström said, urging the Government to act swiftly and hold the perpetrators to account.
Despite official policy, “so far ‘zero tolerance’ has been underpinned by ‘zero consequences’ for such crimes,” she noted.
Reporting on her recent visit to Walikale, Ms. Wallström called on the Council to give MONUSCO “adequate financial resources and other critical assets” to carry out its mandate which includes the protection of civilians.
“I have witnessed firsthand their determination to do all that they possibly can to protect civilians,” she stressed. “But the reality is that they are over-stretched and under-resourced. They are demoralized by the sheer scale of the problem and by the constant barrage of criticism from all quarters. These are dedicated women and men who are making tremendous sacrifices to serve. They deserve our sympathy and support.”
At the time of the Walikale atrocities, UN peacekeepers were in the area but some miles away and it was days before the news reached them, by which time the perpetrators had long since gone.
Ms. Wallström quoted colleagues who say that “MONUSCO cannot be present behind every tree and every stone” in order to stress that the UN role in the DRC is to support the national authorities who bear the primary responsibility to protect civilians.
The mass rapes demonstrate the nexus between illicit exploitation of natural resources by armed groups and sexual violence, with communities in lucrative mining areas particularly at risk. “The mineral wealth that should be the source of their prosperity is instead the source of their greatest suffering,” she said, calling on European and other Member States to enact laws to require companies to disclose whether their products contain DRC minerals.
In West Africa similar acts were enforced to prevent the trade of so-called ‘blood diamonds’ that financed the brutal wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“Rapes will continue so long as consequences are negligible,” Ms. Wallström repeatedly stressed, calling for perpetrators to be excluded from any amnesty provisions or post-conflict advancement and warning of the long-term consequences of abuses on a nation’s ethos.
“The atrocities that are committed daily against women and children will leave a devastating imprint on the Congo for years to come,” she concluded. “We have seen this elsewhere. In places where sexual violence has been used as a tactic of war, the consequences spill over into peace. Where sexual violence has been a way of war, it can destroy a way of life.
“Children accustomed to rape and violence can grow into adults who accept such behaviour as the norm. Rape is shattering traditions that anchor community values, disrupting their transmission to future generations. For the women of Walikale, peace is not a treaty, a resolution, or a conference but simply the peace of mind to live and work without fear. For these women justice delayed is more than justice denied – it is terror continued.”