24 September 2010
KINSHASA/GENEVA – The UN Joint Human Rights Office* in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Friday published the preliminary results of an investigation into the horrifying series of mass rapes and other human rights violations committed by a consortium of armed groups in the Walikale region between 30 July and 2 August.
After a 13-17 August mission by a MONUSCO joint protection team had reported that a very large number of rapes had taken place in the Walikale region in North Kivu Province, a team from the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC* visited 13 affected villages in the Kibua-Mpofi area of Walikale to conduct an in-depth investigation into the serious violations of human rights that had taken place there.
The 15-page preliminary report describes how the team confirmed that at least 303 civilians were raped, in many cases multiple times. The known victims include 235 women, 52 girls, 13 men, and 3 boys. In addition, at least 923 houses and 42 shops were looted and 116 people were abducted in order to carry out forced labour.
The report stresses that the total number of victims may well be higher, as attacks still taking place in the area while they were there prevented the investigation team from completing their work in six of the villages. In addition, at the time of their investigation, around half the population of the affected villages – possibly including more rape victims – was still hiding in the forest out of fear of further attacks.
“The scale and viciousness of these mass rapes defy belief,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. “Even in the eastern part of DRC where rape has been a perennial and massive problem for the past 15 years, this incident stands out because of the extraordinarily cold-blooded and systematic way in which it appears to have been planned and executed.”
The attacks, which took place mostly after dark, were carried out over a period of four days by a coalition of around 200 members of three armed groups, namely the Maï Maï Cheka, the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), and elements close to Colonel Emmanuel Nsengiyumva, an army deserter who has also in the past been involved with the CNDP rebel group. Armed with AK47s, grenades and machetes, the attackers pretended initially that they had come to provide security for the population, before launching attacks in small groups. They subsequently cut off the main routes into the area and took control of a key hill, which is the only place where telephone communications are possible in the area, thereby preventing the population from raising the alarm. While one group was looting and raping in a village, the report says, another would be setting ambushes to catch people fleeing through the forest, who were also then raped or taken away as forced labour.
The report outlines the complex background to the attack, including the history of the three groups in this area and the linkage between their presence and efforts to control and exploit nearby mineral quarries. The report notes that since a government military operation in 2009, the area has become especially unstable with the FDLR in particular systematically undertaking reprisals against local populations whom they consider to be pro-government. Both local leaders and victims who were interviewed told the investigative team that they believed the prime motive for the attacks was to punish and subjugate the local population whom the attackers viewed as “traitors.”
The report points to serious shortcomings in the preparedness and response of the local detachments of the Congolese army (FARDC) and the police stationed in the area. It also notes that their failure to prevent or stop the attacks was compounded by subsequent failings on the part of MONUSCO forces, which it says had not received any specific training in the protection of civilians, and suffered from a number of operational constraints, including their limited capacity to gather information, as well as the lack of a telecommunications system in the area.
The report makes a number of recommendations both to the Congolese authorities and to MONUSCO to improve their systems in order to prevent such situations from arising. It also urges humanitarian agencies to provide the Congolese authorities with much needed medical assistance and psychological care for all the victims, and the international community in general to support the efforts of the Congolese authorities to arrest those commanding the armed groups and bring them to justice.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday offered the Congolese authorities her support. “I offer the services of my office to help the authorities in their efforts to carry out investigations and bring the alleged perpetrators of these atrocious crimes to justice,” she said. “I fully recognize the enormous difficulties this involves, but we have to do better. Impunity for rape in the past, and now, will simply breed more rape in the future. The cycle of impunity for sexual violence in this part of the DRC must be broken.”
Pillay also urged greater effort both locally and internationally to regulate the exploitation of natural resources. “So long as this free-for-all continues, with the mines and quarries controlled by armed groups or other rogue elements, the local population will be prey to attacks such as these,” she said. Pillay also urged that “an all-out effort be made to ensure that each and every victim has her or his medical and psychological needs attended to. The victims should also receive reparations. That is the least we can do after such a terrible event. I call on the international community to give more support to the DRC.”
In addition to the mass rapes in the Walikale covered in the report, the FDLR also attacked 19 villages north-east of Shabunda during the first three weeks of August, allegedly committing a further 214 cases of rape. The UN Joint Human Rights Office has, however, not yet been able to confirm these cases and the exact circumstances surrounding them, due to serious insecurity in the area.
The full report (in French only) can be seen at: http://monuc.unmissions.org/Default.aspx?tabid=4104
* The UN Joint Human Rights Office, which was established in February 2008, comprises the Human Rights Division of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the DRC.