James Reinl / The National (United Arab Emirates) – 2010-09-08 22:51:51
UNITED NATIONS (September 8, 2010) — A senior UN official acknowledged this week that UN peacekeepers had failed to stop an epidemic of rape by rebel forces of as many as 500 Congolese in July and August, including girls aged only seven, and said: “We must do better.”
The UN assistant secretary general for peacekeeping, Atul Khare, told the Security Council on Tuesday that the actions of UN peacekeepers were inadequate and had resulted in unacceptable brutalization of the population of villages in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mr. Khare was sent to investigate why UN peacekeepers did not learn of mass rapes in the village of Luvungi, which took place between July 30 and August 4, until August 12, when they were informed by the International Medical Corps, an aid group that was treating victims.
Some 242 people were raped in Luvungi, a village of 2,200 located 30km from a peacekeeping camp. The investigation by Mr Khare uncovered an additional 267 rapes across villages in Congoâ€™s turbulent eastern provinces of North and South Kivu, where rebel groups including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Congolese Mai-Mai repeatedly commit atrocities.
In the South Kivu village of Miki alone, UN investigators identified 74 sex crimes, including assaults against 21 girls between the ages of seven and 15, and six men. All the women in another village, Kiluma, may have been raped, while 10 women in Katalukulu were raped by soldiers in Congo’s regular army.
UN peacekeepers received the first reports of rebel activity in late July, but none visited the villages where the attacks occurred until August 2, when a patrol passed through one village. UN officials said village residents did not come forward about the rapes initially.
The UN’s peacekeeping division has been criticized for failing to act on an inter-agency e-mail dated July 30, indicating that UN officials were aware of militia activity in the region and were informed of the rape of at least one woman.
This is not the first time UN peacekeepers have been scrutinized since they arrived in Congo in 1999 to quell six years of fighting in which nine foreign armies and several armed groups jostled for influence and minerals in a war that claimed more than five million lives.
Members of the US$1.37 billion-a-year (Dh5bn) operation in Congo, which has 19,685 uniformed personnel deployed across a country the size of western Europe, have been accused of sexual abuse, corruption and trading in gold and other precious minerals. India and Pakistan contribute the most soldiers to the peacekeeping force.
UN peacekeepers are frequently accused of failing to protect civilians against attacks from rebel and government troops, including the massacre of 321 civilians during a four-day rampage by the Lordâ€™s Resistance Army (LRA) in north-eastern Congo in December 2009.
Despite reports of more than 15,000 rapes in Congo in both 2008 and 2009, the UN recently bowed to pressure from the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, to reduce peacekeeping operations in order to demonstrate that his Kinshasa-based government is in control.
The effectiveness of UN peacekeeping has often been questioned, notably after it failed, along with the permanent members of the Security Council, to act against the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The mass killings of 7,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica the following year was another blight on the reputation of the UN’s peacekeeping arm.
Marcel Stoessel, Oxfam’s country director for Congo, indicated that once again, UN peacekeepers had failed to be aggressive enough in carrying out their mission.
“Making ordinary Congolese feel safe must take place on the ground, not just within the corridors of the UN,” Mr Stoessel said. “The UN force must go out into the villages, listen and respond to the security needs of Congolese men and women.
“This means driving across the conflict-affected regions, getting out of their heavy-armoured vehicles and interacting with communities to understand the threats people are facing and how best to protect them. This is what protecting civilians should be about.”
Last week the peacekeeping force in Congo, known by the French acronym Monusco deployed 750 troops to back Congolese security forces and apprehend some of those allegedly responsible for the mass rapes. More than 30 rebels were arrested, Mr Khare said.
Meanwhile, peacekeepers will undertake more night patrols and perform more random checks on villages. The UN is also looking into providing peacekeepers with mobile phones by installing a high frequency radio in Luvungi, he added.
Rape as a weapon of war has become commonplace in eastern Congo, where government troops and UN peacekeepers have struggled to defeat the few thousand rebels responsible for a protracted conflict fueled by vast mineral reserves. Luvungi is a farming center on the main road between Goma, the eastern provincial capital, and the major mining town of Walikale.
Margot Wallstrom, who heads UN efforts to combat sex attacks during wartime, said:
“It is evident that rape is increasingly selected as the weapon of choice in eastern [Congo], with numbers reaching endemic proportions.
“The sad reality is that incidents of rape have become so commonplace that they do not trigger our most urgent interventions.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.