A United Nations investigation into mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) seven months ago identifies the rapists as Congolese army soldiers, demands their prosecution and asks the Government to protect the victims from reprisals from the perpetrators.
In Geneva, where the report was released simultaneously with its publication in Kinshasa, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for an end to the use of rape as a weapon of war, and demanded that the perpetrators be prosecuted.
The probe by the UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says of the incidents in the villages of Bushani and Kalambahiro in North Kivu province in the country’s east that it “can confirm that men in uniform identified by various sources as soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) submitted 47 women, including one minor, to sexual violence, including rape, abducted two civilians, and inflicted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment on 12 other civilians.”
The report highlights what it called the lack of significant progress of judicial investigations into the incidents, which were initiated by Congolese authorities with the support of MONUSCO, and said this was due to the limited resources available to the Congolese justice system and to the lack of clear information from the FARDC.
The report from the team, known as the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO), also states that “these developments are all the more worrying given that the men identified as FARDC soldiers involved in these violations may have received MONUSCO support” just before the incidents, as part of a joint MONUSCO and FARDC peacekeeping operation.
The team recommends that the Government cooperate with the Congolese military justice system, “so that all the alleged perpetrators of the attacks on Bushani and Kalambahiro are prosecuted and brought to justice” and that it “take all measures to prevent reprisals by the alleged perpetrators of the violations.”
“The UNJHRO is concerned by the threats of reprisals against the inhabitants of the villages attacked due to the denunciation of the violations they suffered. Several months after the events, they are still living in permanent insecurity, hiding in the forests or neighbouring towns,” it says.
It also recommends that MONUSCO “provide the Congolese authorities with the necessary support for protecting civilians in Bushani and Kalambahiro following the threats of reprisals made against them, as well as investigating and prosecuting the alleged perpetrators.”
It says the UN team should “implement the new measures taken with regard to the distribution of food rations to the FARDC and ensure in particular that there is better monitoring of the support given to the FARDC in the context of joint operations.”
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the DRC and the head of MONUSCO, Roger Meece, said the mission was aware of constraints limiting the authorities’ capacity to investigate and prosecute instances of gross human rights violations.
But he urged “all military officers to provide full support and cooperation to ongoing investigations, including the identification of alleged perpetrators, so that those guilty of crimes may be brought to justice,” according to a MONUSCO press statement.
He also said that MONUSCO will continue to provide support to the Congolese authorities in their efforts to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice.
In Geneva, Ms. Pillay said the State has an obligation to prevent such violations and to bring perpetrators to justice.
“Rape and sexual violence have, for too long, been systematically used as weapon of war by various armed elements in the DRC,” she said. “The Government must prioritize reinforcement of the capacity of the justice system, with the support of the international community.”
She also recommended that the future integration of armed groups be accompanied by a vetting mechanism to ensure that alleged perpetrators of serious human rights violations are excluded from security forces.
“Such a vetting mechanism is absolutely critical for any sustainable peace in the country and the region,” she said.
Margot Wallström, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflic, welcomed the UNJHRO report, saying it was especially important because it not only established what took place in the villages of Bushani and Kalambahiro, but also provides the DRC Government, MONUSCO and humanitarian partners with recommendations on how to better protect civilians and to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
“An army turning on its own people cannot be left unchecked or unpunished,” Ms. Wallström said in a statement.
“Primary responsibility rests with the Congolese authorities for investigating this incident, pursuing the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. For our part, the UN is continuously identifying ways to support the survivors and engaging with governments,” she added.
Earlier this month a UN assessment mission confirmed that DRC troops committed mass rape and acts of pillaging in several remote villages in South Kivu, and also this month another UNJHRO report said that such rapes could be considered crimes against humanity and war crimes under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).