The authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have arrested the commander of national army soldiers who allegedly went on a rape and looting spree on New Year’s Day in the eastern part of the country, the United Nations peacekeeping mission said today.
The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) had called for the commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Kibibi Mutware, and the deputy commander to be removed after the non-governmental organization Médecins Sans Frontières reported that armed men raped over 30 women on 1 January in the town of Fizi in South Kivu province.
Lt-Col. Mutware has also been identified by victims interviewed by MONUSCO as having participated in the attacks. The Congolese authorities are currently transporting him and other army personnel in custody in connection with the incident to Uvira for trial.
MONUSCO Force Commander Lieutenant-General Chander Prakash has gone to Fizi to liaise with the army command and monitor the situation. At the request of the Governor of South Kivu, the mission is providing logistical support and security in connection with preparations for the trials.
Rape has long been used as a weapon of war by all sides in the DRC, which has been riven by strife for decades. Last October, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, told the Security Council that hundreds of women who were raped by rebels in eastern DRC in the summer faced the possibility of the same abuse from government troops.
A UN human rights team confirmed that more than 300 civilians, including some boys and men, 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 Rwandan rebel group known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.
“Rapes will continue so long as consequences are negligible,” Ms. Wallström told the Council, 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.
Since 1999 and under various names, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, with over 19,000 uniformed personnel on the ground, has overseen the vast country’s emergence from years of civil war and factional chaos, culminating most notably in 2006 with the first democratic elections in over four decades. However, fighting has continued in the east where the bulk of UN forces are deployed.