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Hundreds of Women And Children Raped While The U.N. Stood By

Hundreds of Women And Children Raped While The U.N. Stood By

Earlier this week, the U.N. revealed that 240 women, girls and babies were raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo after rebel forces took over the town of Luvungi.  This number is up from the 150 rapes previously reported, and is accompanied by the disturbing revelation that U.N. officials may have known that the rapes were taking place much earlier than they originally said. 

As Ximena Ramirez pointed out in an earlier post, rape as a systematic tactic of war is nothing new for the DRC; earlier this year, a U.N. official referred to the country as the “rape capitol of the world.”  But the idea that United Nations peacekeepers might be getting so inured to horrors like these that they don’t mobilize until hundreds of women and children are being raped is, to put it bluntly, terrifying.

Originally, U.N. peacekeepers claimed that they did not hear about the attacks until 10 days later, even though they have a base about twenty miles away.  During the attacks, which took place over several days days at the end of July and beginning of August, women were raped by two to six men, often in front of their families.  The peacekeepers said that they were unaware about the attacks until August 12, when the atrocities were brought to their attention by the International Medical Corps (although the IMC claims that they told the peacekeepers on the 6th, not the 12th).

Now an email circulated on July 30, the day the rapes started, shows that although the peacekeepers probably did not know the scope of the attacks, they knew something was happening.  The email, sent from U.N. officials to several other aid groups, read, “The town of Mpofi, 52 kilometers from Walikale, has just fallen into the hands of the F.D.L.R. A woman was raped there.”

When asked about this email, a U.N. representative said, “At the time, there was one alleged rape and no reason to believe that this was happening on a mass-scale as later reported.”  His defense was, essentially, that one rape was so commonplace that there was no need to act.  They knew that rape was happening on a small scale, but they just didn’t care.

Laura Smith-Gary has a great post at Equal Writes, in which she dissects some of the ways that the U.N. has failed in its peacekeeping missions.  She writes,  “The disasters [U.N. peacekeepers] have overseen have been so horrific and their response so atrocious that it’s a wonder villagers throughout the world don’t flee at the sight of the blue helmets.”

This incredible lapse in judgment seems to be par for the course in the Congolese peacekeeping mission.  A longtime U.N. official explained, “There is a kind of general state of incompetence, which is linked to apathy.  If you realize you can’t deal with the situation, you may just decide to do nothing.”

Given the scope of the brutality in the DRC, it certainly seems like it would be easy just to despair of a solution.  But one thing is for sure: we need better tactics than these peacekeeping missions, which seem to be, overall, devastatingly ineffective.

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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176 comments

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3:45AM PST on Nov 6, 2011

This is so terrible. Always when i hear about terrible things it makes med sad, and i cannot understand how someone could do something terrible - hurt, rape or kill a person or animal. When i was a child this also happened to me... and surviving this is more terrible than not (parents and other may think different, but a victim?), living with all this pain... living with guilty feelings... full with hate for the own self
No one can understand, because most people cannot imagine this, cannot imagine how much it change. Some of them think, that this would not be so terrible, because all would make some sexual experiences, and so it would not matter if there were some without own interest or wish. This cruel and superficial society makes me sick.

I know that it is not good to wish someone who does terrible things something as a punishment. But when i hear about violent people then i think why are they so "afraid" to go to someone equal and get some hits for their selves. This is a perversion, to think being more a man when beating a woman or a girl. This men are a shame for all normal men.

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers." (Martin Luther King)

6:53AM PST on Feb 5, 2011

Anyone recall Rwanda and Srebrenica? UN stood by then too and allowed genocide, rape and concentration camps. Did anyone take any responsibility then? Of course not and the same will happen now. Thanks for posting!

9:32AM PDT on Sep 18, 2010

un...try to be more action oriented den....writing articles..for wat shud hv been done..pathetic...!!!!

6:28AM PDT on Sep 18, 2010

Primitive people, who have no respect for each other. That's why there is continuous war in the Congo. In the end the rest of the world has to bail them out again. Chimps are smarter than those Congolese so called soldiers, no, they are cowards, not men.

6:10PM PDT on Sep 16, 2010

Did I hear once that some African men think they will be protected from HIV if they rape a baby? This is human nature at its most primitive and aid should be conditional upon educating these people that rape is wrong and those who rape will be severely punished. The phrase "cultural difference" is an excuse for some of the most horrifying cruelties inflicted upon humans and other animals. What happened to "enlightenment"?

10:11PM PDT on Sep 11, 2010

if the un doesn`t intervene when necessary then what is it good for?

8:00AM PDT on Sep 11, 2010

especially for UN to take some immediate steps to save these innocent people.

7:54PM PDT on Sep 10, 2010

The UN seems really good at standing by.

9:37AM PDT on Sep 10, 2010

horrifying.

1:38PM PDT on Sep 9, 2010

Sorry about typo: "enorcers" was supposed to be "enforcers."

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