Army soldiers allegedly raped at least 67 women over the New Year period in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), more than double the number originally thought, United Nations human rights investigators have found.
Earlier this month, 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.
However, two separate investigations by the UN human rights office and the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUSCO) found that at least 35 women had been raped and 32 people wounded by soldiers serving with the Congolese national army, known as FARDC, in Fizi on the night of 1 January.
Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told a briefing in Geneva today that 11 people had also been arrested and 14 shops had been looted in Fizi centre, a small town in Fizi territory. Those arrested had since been released.
FARDC commander Lieutenant-Colonel Kibibi Mutware, along with three majors and 11 soldiers suspected of being among the alleged perpetrators of the attacks, are currently detained in Uvira. Their trials are expected to take place shortly.
Meanwhile, in the village of Bushani in North Kivu province, FARDC soldiers reportedly committed at least 32 rapes on the night of 31 December. The alleged victims include two pregnant women and one 16-year-old girl.
They also arbitrarily arrested 12 people, looted about 50 houses and submitted many villagers to inhuman and degrading treatment, said Mr. Colville.
Immediately after the Bushani attack ended, the soldiers reportedly received a radio call asking them to move towards Kailenge, he continued. On their way to Kailenge, they also attacked Kalambairo village and looted dozens of houses and the local healthcare centre.
Mr. Colville said that OHCHR remains extremely concerned with the fact that the Congolese army remained responsible for a significant number of human rights violations, including sexual violence, against their own population.
“In the face of these atrocities, the High Commissioner calls on the Government to consider establishing a vetting mechanism in the context of the security sector reform,” he stated.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also expressed his grave concern at the human rights situation in the country in his latest report to the Security Council on MONUSCO.
“I continue to be deeply concerned about the high levels of insecurity, violence and human rights abuses facing the population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the conflict-affected areas in the eastern part of the country,” he writes, adding that looting, rape, forced labour and robbery remain “daily occurrences” in this region.
He notes that, in October and November alone, MONUSCO recorded nearly 2,000 reported incidents of sexual violence throughout the country.
The Secretary-General adds that human rights violations by national security elements are “frequently” reported. “Well-known structural deficiencies of the armed forces, including lack of training, supplies, equipment and logistical support, hinder the efforts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo authorities to impose discipline and bring perpetrators to justice…
“As they pursue justice against FARDC personnel accused of crimes against civilians, the Democratic Republic of the Congo authorities should also explore, together with MONUSCO and other partners, possible incentives for FARDC commanders and troops to respect international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law.”