UN on defensive over mass rapes in eastern Congo

The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) is on the defensive since the NGO International Medical Corps revealed this week that rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and members of a local Mai Mai militia, raped at least 154 women in North Kivu—a few kilometers from a MONUSCO base. The new head of MONUSCO, Roger Meece, addressing reporters in New York via video conference from Goma on Aug. 25, said that two patrols of peacekeepers were never told by the population that the rapes were being committed—even though these attacks are said to have lasted over three days.

MONUSCO claims it was only aware that there were rebels in the area and that “this was not unusual, and seemed to resemble nothing that could suggest a possible launch of attacks.” The New York Times reports Aug. 26 that relief worker in the region received email alerts on July 30, the day the attacks began, warning them of the presence of rebels. The Times quotes a UN employee who says that these warnings would have been forwarded to the peacekeepers who should then have done everything in their power to protect the population. (Congo News Agency, Aug. 26)

The rebels from the Rwandan Hutu FDLR (linked by the Rwandan regime to the 1994 genocide) and allied Mai Mai militia reportedly occupied the town of Luvungi from July 30 to August 3, raping and assaulting at least 154 civilians, according to UN figures. One aid group said many women were gang-raped by between two and six armed men. (Reuters, Aug. 26)

Meanwhile the French newspaper Le Monde is citing a leaked report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) that warns of possible genocide of Hutu refugees by Rwandan forces in the wars that rocked Congo between 1993 and 2003. The UN investigated massacres of ethnic Hutu refugees in Congo as long ago as 1997, but its efforts were disrupted by the repeated outbreak of fighting and the report was never officially published. The total number of victims of war crimes by various forces operating in Congo is “probably several tens of thousands,” the UNHCR report said, according to Le Monde. The newspaper quoted the report as saying that “the systematic and generalized attacks” against Hutus in Congo “if proved before a competent court, could qualify as crimes of genocide.” (The Guardian, AFP, Aug. 26)

See our last post on the struggle in Central Africa.

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  1. UN calls for Congo militias to face war crimes charges
    UN Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallstrom on Aug. 31 called for an end to impunity for leaders of militias and armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for conducting mass rapes, saying that perpetrators would face war crimes charges. UN representatives allege that Congolese rebel groups Mai Mai and the Democratic Liberation Force of Rwanda (FDLR) raped between 150 and 200 women and children in a small cluster of villages in eastern DRC between July 30 and August 3 of this year. The attackers allegedly blocked all communication [BBC report] from the villages, preventing villagers from alerting UN peacekeepers stationed nearby. (Jurist, Sept. 1)

  2. UN delays release of controversial Congo “genocide report”
    The UN announced Sept. 2 that it will delay the release of a report that accuses Rwandan forces of committing acts of genocide in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during the years following the 1994 Rwandan genocide. According to a statement by the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the report will be released on Oct. 1 to allow time for commentary opposing the alleged findings. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that she is willing to include such comments in the published report. The Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) has condemned the report, a draft of which was originally leaked last month, and has threatened to withdraw its peacekeeping forces from UN operations if the report is made public. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Rwanda to continue its peacekeeping efforts in Sudan in spite of its negative views of the report. (Jurist, Sept. 2)