DR Congo sexual violence victims speak to UN

Village of Luvungi, DR Congo. Photo: 6 Sept 2010 The UN panel will be hearing from victims of sexual attacks

Victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo have begun telling a high-level UN panel about their experiences as part of efforts to improve treatment and support.

The hearings began on Thursday in the troubled eastern region of South Kivu.

The panel will travel to provinces throughout the DRC.

The move follows the release of a preliminary UN report into the shocking rape of hundreds of civilians in North Kivu province two months ago.

The report, released last week, documented a four-day attack on the eastern town of Luvungi, and nearby villages - which are within miles of a UN base.

It said three groups of armed militia raped 235 women, 52 girls, 13 men and three boys - many of them "multiple times". The militia looted more than 900 houses and abducted 116 people.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said the "scale and viciousness" of the attack "defied belief".

Numerous armed groups still roam parts of eastern DR Congo, although the country's war officially ended in 2003.

The BBC's Thomas Fessy in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, says thousands of people are raped each year, with sexual violence widely used as a weapon of war, but victims have little access to justice.

'Victims prioritised'
Map

The UN panel began its work in the South Kivu city of Bukavu Over the following 10 days it will visit provinces throughout the country.

Victims of sexual attacks are being asked to give their experiences of the legal, medical or psychological services available to them.

Either alone or in small groups, they are being heard by the panel including UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang, a member of the International Criminal Court's Trust Fund for Victims and a doctor from the Panzi Hospital in South Kivu, who specialises in the treatment of rape victims.

The aim of the hearings is to improve the treatment, support and compensation currently given to victims.

A UN spokesperson said that it was an opportunity to place victims of sexual abuse at the heart of discussions in order to better understand their actual needs.

If successful, this type of hearing could be exported to other countries.

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