The United Nations has confirmed reports of a new wave of mass sexual violence directed at women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. See the United Nations News Centre here. It was confirmed that 150 civilian women were raped by rebels based in the isolated and troubled east of the DR Congo. The UN Secretary-General and his Special Representative for ending Sexual Violence in Conflict-Zones Margot Wallström, condemned the attacks and acknowledged the extensive and regular nature of sexual violence in the Congo. This violence occurred despite a United Nations peacekeeping mission operating in the region (MONUSCO). The United Nations has sent Assistant Secretary-General Atul Khare to the region, where he will meet with the victims, members of the UN peacekeeping mission and local representatives. Sexual violence has been a pervasive problem in the Congo despite the civil war officially ending in 2003. The United Nations is committed to fighting the impunity against sexual and gender-based violence and to bringing the perpetrators of the violence to justice. See here. However, the reality is that Government forces also perpetrate sexual violence against civilians and there is a lack of political and judicial will to take the necessary steps to protect women from gender-based violence.
Members of the Mai-Mai militia and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) are responsible for the attacks over a four-day period that ended earlier this month. According to the UN at least 150 civilians were raped in 13 villages along a stretch of road in North Kivu’s Banamukira territory. The perpetrators blocked the road stopping villagers from seeking outside help. It is suggested that incidents of sexual violence in the region are often not reported due to fear of reprisals.
Human Rights Watch produced a Report last year Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone: Sexual Violence and Military Reform in the Democratic Republic of Cong that documented the persistent sexual violence by the state army of the DR Congo. In the Report the limited impact of Government and donor efforts to address the problem was flagged as contributing to the culture of impunity of sexual violence in the country. The Human Rights Watch Report identified that the rebel groups and militias (involved in the most recent attacks) were responsible for sexual violence in the region but that the Government forces were the main perpetrators of sexual violence. The Report indicated that the Government Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) were responsible for gang rapes and rapes that resulted in injury, death, and kidnapping of girls and women. According to the Human Rights Watch Report that the sexual violence was carried out in the context of massive looting and other attacks on civilians.
The scope of sexual violence in the Congo requires a legal and cultural change if sexual violence is to be successfully combated. While new criminal laws have been introduced in 2006 enforcement is practically nonexistent. Corruption is a huge barrier to the prosecution of sex crimes, in circumstances where men are arrested for sexual violence the vast majority escape custody before their trial.
In the Human Rights Watch Report it is recommended that efforts to strengthen the judiciary should be intensified. In respect of combating sexual violence perpetrated by the army it was suggested reinforcing the expertise of military justice officials in investigating the criminal responsibility of military commanders both for their own crimes and for the crimes of soldiers under their command. It was also recommended that reform of political independence is a key reform if the military justice system is to combat the impunity of the Congolese army. In that regard Human Rights Watch suggested the possibility of the creation of a judicial mechanism that involved a mix of international and Congolese professionals, as part of the civilian judiciary, similar to a “mixed chamber” that prosecutes war crimes and crimes against humanity.