A UN investigation into serious human rights violations perpetrated in Walikale territory, North Kivu, where more than 387 people were raped between 30 July and 2 August last year, reveals continuing lack of accountability, justice and security for victims, according to a report released today.
The report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO)** in the Democratic Republic of the Congo concerned mass rapes and other human rights violations committed in 13 villages in the Kibua-Mpofi axis, Walikale territory, North Kivu, where hundreds were raped, 116 abducted and 965 houses and shops pillaged by a coalition of armed groups from 30 July to 2 August 2010. Of the 387 victims of rape, 300 were women, 23 men, 55 girls and 9 boys.
“Due to the fact that these attacks were well-planned in advance and carried out in a systematic, targeted manner, [they] could constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes,” the investigators noted in the report.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the lack of progress in official investigations and in legal action against the perpetrators posed a severe obstacle to deterring future violations.
“The investigators learned that most of the rapes, carried out with despicable viciousness by groups of men, were committed in the presence of the victims' children and other members of their families and community,” Pillay said.
“Since the attacks in Walikale, there have been many other instances of rape and other types of sexual violence being systematically used as weapons of war and reprisal by armed groups,” the High Commissioner added. “The Government should pursue its efforts to bring perpetrators to justice and ensure that victims and witnesses are protected, given the high risk of reprisals.”
According to interviews and information gathered from various sources, the motive for the attacks was to punish and subjugate the local population, whom the attackers viewed as “traitors” who collaborated with government forces, and to pillage arms and other supplies.
The report warns that the actual number of victims may be much higher as many remained quiet due to the prevailing insecurity, fear of stigmatization and abandonment from their families, the lack of adequate medical attention and the frustration at having been interviewed and promised action by many interlocutors without follow-up. The military prosecutor's office at the Cour militaire opérationnelle opened a judicial inquiry into the violations and conducted more than 150 interviews of victims and witnesses, but this was later suspended due to concerns over their protection and resulted in only one indictment. Some who have cooperated with the military judicial authorities during the investigations by the authorities have suffered reprisals.
Most of the victims “still seemed severely traumatized months after the events,” the report notes. “They had still received none of the assistance needed, which was mainly medical.”
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Roger Meece, said that “the anger and frustration of the people, including victims of horrific crimes, who continue to live in these areas in a situation of grave insecurity, must serve as a call to action.”
The report noted that weak authority of the Congolese state in Walikale territory was one of the causes of the proliferation and monopoly of armed groups which took control of mineral activities and have developed a trade in arms in the area, creating palpable insecurity for the civilian population. The investigation found evidence from reliable sources of the complicity of some FARDC officers with such armed groups in the trafficking of minerals.
The report also brings to light the difficulties encountered by the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) team based in Kibua in discharging their mandate to protect civilians. Since the violations were committed, MONUSCO has increased the number of operational bases in the affected areas and significantly improved its logistics and interaction with the civilian population there.
“The Congolese Government bears the primary responsibility to protect its own population, but I must also call on the international community to acknowledge the prevailing insecurity in the region and to better equip MONUSCO to enable it to effectively fulfil its protection mandate,” Pillay said.
*The full reports, in English and French, can be accessed at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/ZR/BCNUDHRapportViolsMassifsKibuaMpofi_en.pdf
**The UN Joint Human Rights Office, which was established in February 2008, comprises the Human Rights Division of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the DRC.
The High Commissioner's Press Release on the preliminary report into Walikale:
The preliminary report into Walikale: http://monusco.unmissions.org/Default.aspx?tabid=4104
OHCHR Country Page – Democratic Republic of the Congo: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/ZRIndex.aspx