By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefKMasimba| April 15, 2014
Rape and sexual violence remain widespread in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with more than 3,600 victims registered between January 2010 and December 2013, according to a new report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC (UNJHRO) .
According to the report, the majority of cases documented were women, but there were also around 906 children and 81 male victims. Nearly half of the 3,600 victims were in the strife-torn eastern province of North Kivu. The youngest victim was only two years old and the oldest was 80 years old.
The report also highlighted that a large number of cases are committed in homes or when women are working fields, going to the market or fetching water.
The report states that rape is used as a weapon of war to intimidate local communities, and to punish civilians for their real or perceived collaboration with armed groups or the national army.
According to the report, armed groups were responsible for just over half the rapes, mostly committed during attacks aimed at gaining control of territories rich in natural resources. Members of the national Congolese army, the FARDC, were responsible for around a third of the rapes. The remaining cases were committed by other state agents.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said lack of political will, poor resources and fear on the part of victims remain major obstacles to addressing the problem of sexual violence in the country.
“Unfortunately, the political will at the highest level is not sufficiently translated on the ground. Not all Congolese authorities are prepared or equipped to conduct thorough investigations into all cases of sexual violence and to prosecute the most senior officers of the FARDC. The severe lack of resources and human capacity also remains a major obstacle to the proper functioning of the judicial system in the DRC. Also, many victims do not report incidents for fear of retaliation, stigmatization or rejection by their families and communities,” said Pillay, adding that in cases where victims obtain legal victories, they do not receive the reparations to which they are entitled from perpetrators and the State.
Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said her engagement with the Congolese Government has shown that the country’s leaders have strengthened their political will to address these crimes.
“What is required now is for this political will to be sustained and translated into change on the ground to protect civilians from this human rights abuse,” she stated, adding that the international community must also continue its efforts to build the Government’s capacity to prevent sexual violence in conflict from occurring, end impunity and deliver reparations, justice and service and support for victims.