Last summer, the international community was rocked by the news that hundreds of civilians had been raped in a brutal attack by rebel forces on the town of Luvungi. Now, another attack may be the largest since the Luvungi atrocities. The UN reports that the mass rape of between 150 and 170 civilians occurred in Minembwe area of the DRC’s South Kivu province earlier this month. The UN condemned the attack as “a continuing pattern of ill-discipline on the part of those who bear arms, manifest in acts of pillage committed in conjunction with rape and other human rights abuses.”
Armed men stole livestock and looted health centers during the attack, in addition to raping hundreds of women. An emergency response team sent by Doctors Without Borders to the area has so far treated more than 100 women who suffered from trauma as a result of the attack. The rapes were allegedly committed by men who had deserted from a nearby military training center.
Much of the problem may be the fact that former rebel fighters are not receiving systematic training before they are integrated into the national armed forces. They are often underpaid and denied adequate provisions, which explains why they then desert. But the UN also emphasizes the need to bring commanders, who organize these attacks, to justice.
“Crimes of this calibre are no accident,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, “they occur pursuant to orders or lax command and control. Commanders, as well as individual perpetrators, must therefore be held accountable.”
The circumstances causing these attacks to happen are incredibly complex. But what’s clear is that the DRC’s civilians are not safe, and that their situation isn’t changing very much. It’s one thing for the UN to condemn these attacks, but what’s needed is some kind of action – which the UN is often incapable of providing, as the Luvungi attacks, which occurred within twenty miles of UN peacekeepers, proved. This is another sad example of the need for action, not just words.
Photo from Julian Harneis’ Flickr photostream.