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UN says it didn't know about mass rape in DR Congo

Sexual violence considered a weapon of war in DRC.

File photo of the UN's MONUC troops at a displaced persons camp in eastern Congo, November, 2008.
Image: KAREL PRINSLOO/AP/Press Association Images

THE UN SAYS ITS TROOPS could not have prevented the alleged mass rape of around 200 women and boys in the Democratic Republic of Congo because they didn’t know it was happening.

The women and children were assaulted during a four-day siege on Luvungi town by rebels. Peacekeepers passed through the area twice, but were told that roadblocks were being set up, and did not interfere.

Fighters from a Rwandan rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (DFLR) and local Mai-Mai militia groups occupied Luvungi, just outside the country’s capital Kigali, on July 3o.

A UN base is located just miles from the town.

The rebel forces withdrew on 4 August, and reports of the rapes began to surface via aid groups.

First reports

The first reports were issued by International Medical Corps, which said it deployed an emergency response team to the area as soon as the security situation permitted it. The health risks facing the victims are clear from their statement:

Although post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) kits for preventing HIV were immediately available at the International Medical Corps clinic, only two survivors had arrived at the health center within 72 hours of sexual assault, the timeframe during which PEP for HIV may be administered.

For survivors who sought services within 120 hours of sexual assault, emergency contraception (EC) was provided. Survivors were also provided presumptive treatment for sexually transmitted infections, as well as wound care.

[caption id="attachment_15484" align="alignnone" width="512" caption="In this undated image supplied by Doctors Without Borders or Medicins Sans Frontieres, a rape victim is photographed at a clinic in Western Kasai, Congo."][/caption]

Rape as a weapon

Sexual violence and rape are known to be used as weapons in the militia conflict because of the devastating effects of sexual assault on families and communities. The east of the country continues to suffer militia violence despite the end of the country’s five-year war in 2003, the BBC reports.

One Congolese mother spoke in May of the terrible choice offered to her and other women by rebels:

The rebel leader asked me two things: “Do you want us to be your husbands? Or do you want us to rape you?” I chose to be raped.

I told old myself, if I tell them that I want to be their wife, they will kill my husband. I didn’t want my children growing up saying the one that made our father die is our mother.

After they raped me, my husband hated me. He said I was dirty. I often ask myself: “Surely, I gave up my dignity for him, how come he can abandon me this way?”

UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon said he was appalled and outraged by the attacks:

Women and children should not have to live in fear of rape. Communities should not suffer the indignity of knowing that human rights abusers and war criminals can continue to behave with impunity.

Yesterday, a statement from Ban said he had instructed the UN special representative for sexual violence in conflict, former EU Commissioner Margot Wallstrom, to take charge of the UN’s response to the mass rapes in Luvungi.

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