A senior United Nations official said that more than 15,000 rapes were committed last year in the strife-torn region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where peacekeepers are unable to fully protect civilians. (photo, from aljazeera.net)
Roger Meece, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo (Monusco), said “the scale of the problem is enormous”, because accusations are now being made against DRC government troops over new cases of rape and killing in the volatile east of the country.
On Friday, Meece appeared before the UN security council. Although he was unable to give details of the new attacks, he said : “The best data available, for example, suggests that over 15,000 rapes were committed last year in eastern DRC.”
Meece also told the council that the importance of protecting civilians was underscored by the “horrific” mass rapes in late July and early August by rebel groups in eastern Congo’s mineral-rich Walikale region.
However, after the briefing he said that it is impossible for 18,000 UN peacekeepers to protect all civilians in the area where armed groups are operating in an area larger than Afghanistan.
The UN force “cannot serve as the complete answer to the security problems of the east,” Meece said.
Armed groups operate over a wide area and often mix with the civilian population, he added.
“In this vast area…it is not possible for Monusco to ensure full protection for all civilians. To approach this goal would require vastly greater force levels and resources,” Meece said.
‘Unimaginable and unacceptable’
Margot Wallstrom, the UN special envoy on sexual violence against women in conflict, went to DR Congo last week in order to hear testimony from witnesses and victimes (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk).
On Thursday, she told the council that in remote villages in the Walikale region, where hundreds of women were assaulted in July and August, government troops are raping and killing women.
She said Monusco had reported new attacks by troops who are conducting an operation to enforce a government moratorium on illegal mining and in a bid to take control of the region from rebels.
“The possibility that the same communities that were brutalised in July and August by Rwandan Hutu rebels and Mai-Mai elements are now also suffering at the hands of the Congolese army is unimaginable and unacceptable,” Wallstrom said.
She has already blamed the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and Mai-Mai rebels for the mass rapes in July and August.
Meece said he did not know if government troops were involved in rapes. However he said Congolese army operations are under way in the Walikale region, primarily directed against the Mai-Mai and the FDLR.
From July 30 till August 2, 303 civilians were raped (235 women, 13 men, 52 girls and three boys) in 13 villages in the Walikale area, said the United Nations.
In response to the mass rapes, Meece said UN peacekeepers are establishing some new temporary operating bases in the Walikale region. They are also instituting other measures in order to improve communications with remote villages and respond more quickly to sexual attacks.
In 2009, there were 17,507 sexual violence attacks throughout Congo, said the UN Population Fund, known as UNFPA. That includes more than 9,000 in North and South Kivu, which have been at the centre of the conflict in the east.
According to the fund, which collects data in Congo, the scale of rapes and sexual violence has not diminished much this year.
The fund said there were 7,685 attacks in Congo between January and June, including more than 4,500 in the Kivus.
Abubakar Dungus, a UNFPA spokesman, said 5,427 of the sexual attacks this year – about 70 per cent – were perpetrated “by men in uniform”, though it was unclear if he was referring to soldiers or rebels.