[JURIST] UN Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallstrom [EU profile] on Tuesday called for an end to impunity for leaders of militias and armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] for conducting mass rapes, saying that perpetrators would face war crimes charges [UN News Centre report]. UN representatives allege that Congolese rebel groups Mai Mai and the Democratic Liberation Force of Rwanda (FDLR) [GlobalSecurity backgrounders] raped between 150 and 200 women and children [NYT report] 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. Wallstrom noted that stability in the DRC cannot be achieved unless the security of its women is ensured, saying :
So long as rapists remain at large, they hold the whole reputation of the Congo hostage…The time when sexual violence is tolerated and sidelined as a product of war is over…[Y]ou cannot have a policy of zero tolerance backed by zero consequences.
Wallstrom outlined a two-pronged approach for responding to the sexual violence in the DRC; first elevating sexual violence on the agendas of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UN Security Council [official websites] and then improving UN response and enhancing the joint DRC Government and UN strategy to combating sexual violence [text, PDF].
Last week, members of the Security Council expressed “outrage” [JURIST report] over the recent mass rape in the DRC calling for justice for the victims. Human rights have long been a major concern in the DRC. In June, national police chief John Numbi was suspended [JURIST report] as part of the ongoing investigation into the murder of human rights activist Floribert Chebeya. In December, HRW urged the UN Organization Mission in DR Congo (MUNOC) [official website] to stop funding military groups [JURIST report] in the country that are committing human rights abuses. In December 2008, AI reported that rape and sexual warfare have been employed [JURIST report] by both the DRC military and by rebel forces. In November 2008, MUNOC head Alan Doss [appointment release] condemned [JURIST report] the killing of civilians by militias in the country as war crimes. MONUC has been operating in DRC since 1999. The conflict in the DRC has claimed more than four million lives and has been ongoing since 1983. MONUC has overseen elections and continues to provide armed protection for civilians in certain areas, particularly the North and South Kivus provinces.