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In Walikale victims of attacks struggle to recover

The Kibua-Mpofi axis of North Kivu, in Walikale territory, is located in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) along the Rubonga River. Surrounding the area are mountain ranges, forests, and non-asphalted roads that are inaccessible in the rainy season.

Internally displaced people fleeing from a village in north Kivu. © Monusco Photo/ Marie FrenchonBetween 30 July and 2 August 2010, the area was devastated by attacks involving ‘‘summary executions, mass sexual violence, systematic lootings, abductions and the use of civilians for forced labour,” according to a new UN investigative report.
 
The report details the multiple human rights violations, particularly mass rapes, committed by various armed combatants permanently stationed in the area.

‘‘Rape is the worst humiliation against a human being’’ said one victim. The report found that 387 civilians were raped, mainly because the combatants considered them as ‘‘traitors’’ for supporting government forces and intended to ‘‘scare them forever’’. Most rapes were committed in front of family members and rapists further humiliated their victims through insults and threats.

Many victims may have not come forward due to social stigma.

Looting also ran rampant during this period; many of the victims were only left with the clothes on their backs.

According to the report, recovery has been a difficult struggle for the victims of such atrocities.

Not only do the lack of accessible roads and telephone lines pose an obvious problem isolating the area from outside help but the victims are still being threatened by their attackers. ‘‘The competent authorities did not take enough measures to guarantee the protection of witnesses and victims while starting the judicial investigations,’’ the report states.

UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay stressed that “the Government should pursue its efforts to bring perpetrators to justice and ensure that victims and witnesses are protected, given the high risk of reprisals.’’

At the time that the report was published in July 2011, Lieutenant Colonel Mayele was the only person arrested and charged in connection with the attacks. Mayele was the commander of the Mayi Mayi Sheka, a group that has committed many atrocities.

The area is still unsafe. Many victims have not had access to proper medical and psychological care. The sheer number of rape victims caused a local health centre to run out of medical supplies.

Police are similarly overwhelmed. The report states that ‘‘given their poor operational equipment, they are unable to effectively protect civilians and their belongings.’’ UN peacekeepers patrol the area during the day but there have been no night patrols, despite assertions from civilians that most of the attacks happened at night.

To help these victims on their road to recovery, the report recommends providing them with necessary assistance. Those who need medical assistance, such as psychological counseling and sexually transmitted disease testing, should have access to medical resources. Humanitarian assistance should be provided to those whose belongings were taken and are still in need of basic supplies. Also, legal assistance should be provided for victims who would like to bring their case to court.

The report proposes that the Government should permanently send defense forces to the area, since this would be required to deter against further atrocities by ever-present offenders.

The report also suggests strengthening the communication system, of non-asphalted roads and scarce telephone lines, to help the victims maintain contact with local aid stations.

12 August 2011