Sexual Violence Worsens in Eastern Congo
Wednesday, May 27, 2009 2:13 PM

Despite the presence of the largest United Nations peacekeeping force ever deployed, sexual violence in Eastern Congo continues to escalate. Ethnic and political hatred that began during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda has spilled over to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, leading to widespread guerrilla fighting that often uses sexual assault as a weapon. The Rwandan and Congolese armies have been attempting to drive out rebel groups such as the Congolese National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) and the Hutu-led Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). All parties have been accused of sexual violence, with the Congolese army coming under particular attack in recent weeks by groups such as Human Rights Watch and Heal Africa.


In a May 19 report from Human Rights Watch, senior researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg stated, "The Congolese army is responsible for widespread and vicious abuses against its own people that amount to war crimes. The government should take urgent action to end these abuses. A military operation that targets the very people the government claims to be protecting can only lead to disaster." Human Rights Watch has called on the Congolese army to hold soldiers accused of rape accountable, but very few accusations have actually been investigated or prosecuted. The U.N. mission submitted a “black list” of five high-ranking army officials accused of sexual assault to the Congolese army on May 19, but so far no warrants have been issued for any of the five, and two of the officials continue to actively command troops.


The U.N. peacekeeping presence itself has been marred by allegations of sexual misconduct. In 2006 the U.N. mission received 256 complaints of sexual abuse, including rape and sexual exploitation of minors. Although the U.N. mission has been working to curb misconduct within its own ranks, skepticism remains about the peacekeepers' ability to fix the situation in Eastern Congo. "The notion that a peacekeeping mission can solve the problem in DRC is the wrong starting point. What we have to do is put emphasis on really trying to help the government restore the institutions and mechanisms that can ensure the rule of law," stated Comfort Lampter, gender advisor for the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations.


Compiled from: Soguel, Dominique, “Rapes Soar in Eastern Congo’s Culture of Impunity,” Women’s eNews Inc. (27 May 2009); Soguel, Dominique, “New Fighting Escalates Rape in Eastern Congo,” Women’s eNews Inc. (24 May 2009); “DR Congo: Hold Army to Account for War Crimes,” Human Rights Watch (19 May 2009).