The envoy spearheading United Nations efforts to combat sexual violence during conflicts has strongly condemned the mass rape of more than 150 civilians in the far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) earlier this month.
Reports indicate that the rapes took place in the Minembwe area of the DRC’s South Kivu province on 10-11 June, as part of attacks against three villages – Nyakiele, Abala and Kanguli.
In a statement issued last night, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, said the attacks showed “a continuing pattern of ill-discipline on the part of those who bear arms, manifest in acts of pillage committed in conjunction with rape and other human rights abuses.
“Fuelling this pattern is the rapid integration of former rebel fighters into the national armed forces without vetting or systematic training. When these forces are denied adequate pay or provisions, the risk of looting food and livestock from civilians in the vicinity is greatly heightened.”
An assessment mission that includes staff from the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will head to the remote area tomorrow to investigate the situation and determine any future humanitarian and protection needs.
A long-range patrol of UN blue helmets has already been dispatched from MONUSCO’s closest operating base. A lack of roads and basic infrastructure in the DRC means many towns and settlements are extremely isolated and hard to reach.
Ms. Wallström’s concerns have been echoed by Roger Meece, the head of MONUSCO and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the DRC, who underlined that the mission strongly condemns all acts of rape and violence against civilians.
Ms. Wallström said the highest priority now is to ensure that survivors have safe access to services and that the perpetrators are tracked down and brought to justice.
“With elections on the horizons, no effort must be spared to scale up protection and prevention,” she added, referring to the presidential polls scheduled to take place in the DRC in late November.
The envoy noted that “crimes of this calibre are no accident – they occur pursuant to orders or lax command and control. Commanders, as well as individual perpetrators, must therefore be held accountable.”