DR Congo rapes 'defy belief', says UN

Village of Luvungi. 6 Sept 2010 The UN has already said that peacekeepers did not do enough to protect victims

The UN's human rights chief has said the "scale and viciousness" of mass rapes in DR Congo "defy belief", as a report into the attack was released.

Navi Pillay said that, even for the region, the incident stood out because of the "extraordinarily cold-blooded and systematic way" it was carried out.

Some 300 people were raped by armed militia in the attack in August.

The incident was made worse by "subsequent failings" by UN peacekeeping forces, says Ms Pillay.

UN peacekeeping forces in Democratic Republic of the Congo had not received any specific training on the protection of civilians, and suffered from a number of operational constraints, the report says.

The UN mission in DR Congo (Monusco) has previously admitted not doing enough to prevent the four-day attack, which occurred in the eastern town of Luvungi, and nearby villages, within miles of a UN base.

'Security problems'

The preliminary report, issued by the UN Joint Human Rights Office, said that three groups of armed militia raped 235 women, 52 girls, 13 men and three boys - many "multiple times" - looted more than 900 houses, and abducted 116 people.

Armed groups entered villages, told local people they were there to protect them, before cutting off phone lines and proceeding to attack people, it says.

Start Quote

[UN forces] had not received any specific training on the protection of civilians”

End Quote Navi Pillay UN human rights chief

The UN says the assault was carried out by a coalition of around 200 members of three armed groups - the Mai-Mai Cheka, the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), and elements close to Colonel Emmanuel Nsengiyumva.

Col Nsengiyumva is an army deserter who has also been involved with the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) rebel group in the past.

The FDLR has previously denied any links to the attack.

Victims interviewed said they believed the purpose of the attacks was to intimidate local people seen by the rebels as government supporters.

Figures could rise further as the investigating team have not yet completed their work in six of 13 villages due to "serious security problems", said UN spokesperson Rupert Colville.

'Impunity'

He said that attacks were still going on in some regions.

The rebel groups responsible

  • Mai Mai Cheka: Small rebel group commanded by Col Cheka and based around Mubi and Njigala, Walikale
  • Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR): Group of mostly ethnic Hutus opposed to Tutsi rule and influence in the region
  • Col Emmanuel Nsengiyumva: A Tutsi officer who used to be in the CNDP rebel group and defected in 2009, starting his own small armed group

Source: UN preliminary report

Mr Colville told the BBC that prosecutions would be "extremely difficult".

He said they hoped the report would lead to people being arrested and prosecuted, but that it was not easy "in this environment".

"It's very much about this issue of grappling with this chronic problem of impunity and lack of justice in DRC," he said, adding that most victims would not see any kind of justice or compensation.

DR Congo has a shocking reputation for sexual violence, and rape is commonly used as a weapon of war by a number of armed groups who continue to operate.

The UN says at least 8,300 rapes were reported in 2009 and it is believed that many more attacks go unreported.

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