A United Nations envoy this weekend urged the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) authorities to immediately investigate reports of dozens of rapes occurring on new year's day in the country's troubled eastern province of South Kivu.
“I call upon the authorities of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to investigate the allegations thoroughly and without delay,” Margot Wallström, the Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said in a statement as quoted by the UN News.
Last week, humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said its medical teams treated 33 women who were raped on January 1st in the Southern Kivu town of Fizi “in a coordinated attack.” MSF said it was “extremely concerned about the current situation in and around Fizi. People are fleeing the area fearing further violent attacks.”
Wallström stressed that “the use of sexual violence as a weapon or tactic of war, or as a means to wage terror against political opponents, is unacceptable.”
Congo's eastern provinces of North and South Kivu are under siege by Rwandan Hutu FDLR insurgents and Mai Mai militia who have lingered in the vast mineral-rich zone since Congo's 1998-2003 war.
The rebels, as well as Congolese soldiers, have been accused of using sexual violence as a weapon, giving Congo the notorious title of ‘rape capital of the world.'
Last year, the United Nations peacekeeping force MONUSCO also came under heavy international criticism following violent attacks where more than 300 women and children in 13 villages were raped between July 30th and August 2nd. The rapes took place some 30 km from a UN base.
In her statement this weekend, Wallström pointed out that immediately following these reports, MONUSCO established an operational base in Fizi.
She further said that the reports on rape “unfortunately confirm” the warnings she conveyed to the UN Security Council in October 2010, namely the risk that it now seems to be soldiers from the Congolese national army (FARDC) allegedly having committed these crimes.
“I expect the Government of the DRC to respect human rights, to do everything in its power to prevent abuses of all kinds, and to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice,” she added.
UN under secretary for peacekeeping operations Atul Khare said in September that more than 15,000 rapes were reported each year in 2008 and 2009 in the country.
MSF said that in 2009 it provided care for 5,600 rape victims in North and South Kivu.