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What Did UN Peacekeepers Know About the Mass Rape in DRC?

Only twenty miles from where UN Peacekeepers are based in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as war rages forth, at least 179 women and young children in a community of villages were gang-raped, some in front of their families, by rebel soldiers over a period of a few days, as Peacekeepers were apparently unaware, according to Mark Leon Goldberg at UN Dispatch. New information about the attacks reveals that UN officials may not have been as in the dark as they appeared.

The New York Times reports that United Nations officials knew that FDLR soldiers (Rwandan rebels who have been, according to the article, hiding in the Congo for years) had entered the area and that "at least one woman had been raped." Humanitarian workers were even warned to stay away from the area. But no one thought to investigate the situation for the women and children of the villages? Not exactly, say United Nations officials. Peacekeeping patrols were sent out on August 2nd, on what was reportedly the last day of this brutal spree, and none of the villagers talked of the rapes.

Got it? Rebel soldiers from Rwanda terrorize Congolese women, men and children for years. UN Peacekeepers are sent in to, presumably, create conditions for peace. Miles away from said peacekeepers women and children across a string of villages are then raped in front of their families, by the Rwandan terrorists. UN peacekeepers come by after the fact and ask whether everything is okay and villagers say nothing so...UN peacekeepers, what, take them at their word, wave good-bye and travel on their way back to the safety of their own camp?

When UN officials were asked why their response was so pitiful, they could only answer that they agreed – and were trying to do better.

Last week, the Security Council called an emergency meeting to address the inadequate response to the atrocities, and plans for moving forward.

US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, released a statement condemning the attacks as "horrific and reprehensible," and calling on both the United States and DRC government to investigate them.
Secretary Clinton, who visited with rape victims in the region back in 2009 to raise awareness of the way in which rape was being used as a weapon of war, also issued a strong statement expressing deep concern over the attacks and promising more U.S. support to fight the violence. Clinton pledged money and support in 2009, to the Congolese government, to fight the sexual violence, and chaired a Security Council to address the issue. This paved the way for the adoption of Resolution 1888 "underscoring the importance of preventing and responding to sexual violence as a tactic of war against civilians."

The plain and simple fact is that sexual violence is recognized as a tactic of war in the DRC – and has been for many years. It's a weapon used by warring factions making women’s and girls' bodies targeted damage. Reliable statistics on sexual violence against women in the DRC are hard to come by but, according to UNFPA, a study of health centers in the country found that 50,000 rapes had been reported. That number reflects only a small portion of the actual cases, however, since so many go unreported. The Stephen Lewis Foundation compiles statistics on sexual violence and HIV/AIDS in DRC. According to the foundation, an average of 40 women are raped each day in the eastern province of South Kivu while the perpetrators of said violence have one of the highest STI rates in the world.

The UN Mission in DRC or MONUC was implemented in 1999, with an eye on the escalating and rampant sexual violence against women. It’s the largest of the UN peacekeeping missions in the world with over 20,000 troops and a price tag of more than one billion dollars a year. Unfortunately, the mission has remained on shaky ground with reports, over its lifetime, of sexual abuse by peacekeepers themselves, an inability to stem the violence in the DRC and a 2006 democratic election, supported by the mission, which resulted in minimal numbers of women in leadership positions. It remains to be seen whether allowing atrocities like these rapes to occur, under its nose, will be the final straw for this peacekeeping mission. Awareness of sexual violence as a weapon of war in that country is rising. International pressure is growing. Without a loud and steady call for action, this too shall pass in silence – much like what the women and children gang-raped only weeks ago experienced, left without protection or help from those they thought were there to do just that.

Comments

jadefrank's picture

For our sisters in the DRC

Dear Amien,

Thank you for reporting this in our community. The DRC, which is often called the worst place in the world to be a woman, needs more international attention. And it's become apparent that we can't leave security in the hands of UN peacekeepers to solve this problem as they're not effective. As you said, the situation in the Congo calls for loud, steady action. Because we can no longer sit back and allow women to be tortured and killed in this horrific way.

What can we do?

I have been following several groups/activists and signing petitions where I can. But I appreciate any more information, actions or initiatives I can support, and I know other women here on PulseWire may be wondering the same.

I follow Lisa Shannon on Facebook and find her to be an excellent resource for actions related to the DRC, as well as the other orgs below:
http://athousandsisters.com/

Eastern Congo Initiative
http://www.easterncongo.org/

Raise Hope for the Congo
http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org/

In friendship and solidarity,
Jade

amien's picture

Thank you, Jade

Those are excellent resources and I will note them all. In addition, Women for Women International does a great deal of work to raise awareness and funds for the women in the DRC:

http://www.womenforwomen.org/global-initiatives-helping-women/help-women...

I agree - this cannot be left to UN Peacekeepers, as they have not been successful at protecting the women and children of the DRC.

Thanks so much for commenting and for providing necessary resources and information!

Best,
Amie

irmia's picture

UN bureaucracy

This is the challenging of international humanitarian aid. UN and other international organizations have their own bureaucracy -that oftenly (according to my own experience) are not practical to the real situation in the field.

There are many reports, many tools, but yet those are not enough.

Jade, thanks for the information.
I'll share to others.

Mia

PaxFeminina's picture

Women peacekeepers

I think the time has come that the UN must form a huge all-female peacekeeping team, arm them heavily and start prosecuting war rape as a crime against humanity. If the world leaders committed funds for a special team that would have at least 500 000 women, that team would be successful. The situation in the DRC has been happening for too long, and world leaders keep saying that it is horrible and must be stopped, yet nothing happens.

blessed be,
Pax Feminina

Peace! Paix! Paz! Shalom! Salaam! Friede! Mir! Heiwa! Aman Malay! Ashtee! Damai!
Ets'a'an Olal! Hau! Iri'ni! K'é! Maluhia! Nabad-Da! Olakamigenoka! Pingan! Shanti! Uxolo!

amien's picture

women peacekeepers - yes!

Hi PaxFeminina,

I agree - female peacekeepers seem crucial! There is a growing realization that recruitment of women for peacekeeping missions is a must in certain regions of the world. This is an interesting overview:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/06/world/africa/06iht-ffpeace.html?pagewa...

As for rape in war as a crime against humanity, I say whatever it takes to stop this from happening, however global leaders need to "sell" it to themselves in order to actually act, I'm in favor of. Clearly the DRC government and other world leaders are not doing enough - even as there is a growing awareness of the horrors of rape being used as a weapon of war, around the world.

Amie

irmia's picture

Women Peacekeepers

Hey, I think there are women peacekeepers (if I am not mistaken). I've read a report from UNIFEM, that showed Japanese women army.

But still I think women peacekeepers are not enough.

To be effective, I think UN needs to be reformed (if it is possible).

However I think, Jade's link are useful. And at least, we can do something from Jade's link.

Mia

amien's picture

Yes, Mia

There are female peacekeepers and the NYT article in my comment above yours has an interesting overview of what that looks like in certain regions of the world.

But, I agree - female UN Peacekeepers will not cure a situation which requires a unified, strong, clear response from the world's governments that rape as a weapon of war will NOT be tolerated - but you need the infrastructure to then protect women and bring those perpetrators to justice - that doesn't seem the case right now.

Thanks, Mia!

Amie

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