KINSHASA, Dem. Rep. of Congo (DRC) April 10, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Rape and sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remain very serious concerns, with thousands of victims, in particular in the east of the country, over the past four years, according to a UN report released Wednesday. The report also indicates that, while some progress has been made in the fight against impunity for sexual violence, much more needs to be done to hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable.
“There is no excuse for sexual violence, and its widespread impunity creates even more injustice. The Government should take all necessary measures to give victims of sexual violence access to justice and ensure their safety. For this, and for the fight against any form of sexual violence, the DRC can count on our full support in a good spirit of continuous partnership,” declared the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the DRC, Martin Kobler.
“Despite an increase in the number of prosecutions of state agents for sexual violence in recent years, there is still a long way to go in the fight against impunity for sexual violence in the DRC,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. “I call on the Government to prioritize the fight against impunity for crimes of sexual violence, to promptly complete effective and independent investigations, and to prosecute alleged perpetrators, including those suspected of having command responsibility.”
Note to Editors:
Other important findings of the report:
- The in-depth report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC (UNJHRO)* documents serious incidents of sexual violence in the DRC, with over 3,600 victims registered by the office between January 2010 and December 2013. The report also illustrates the systematic nature of some incidents of sexual violence, particularly in the east, with a large number of cases committed in homes or when women are working in fields, going to the market or fetching water.
- The findings of the report indicate 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. It is also occurring as an
opportunistic crime carried out in tandem with other human rights violations.
- It also shows that 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.
- In recent years, some progress – although limited – has been observed in the fight against impunity for sexual violence. The UNJHRO registered some 187 convictions by military jurisdictions for sexual violence between July 2011 and December 2013, with sentences ranging from 10 months to 20 years of imprisonment. The United Nations welcomes the increased number of prosecutions and convictions, resulting in part from the technical and logistical support to military justice investigations by international organizations, including MONUSCO, and from the deployment of mobile court hearings.
- Despite the strongly stated commitment of senior Congolese officials, there are still many obstacles that prevent victims of sexual violence from gaining full access to justice. The limited efforts of some Congolese authorities to prosecute sexual violence cases, cases of corruption within the judicial system and the lack of resources and capacity of the judiciary all contribute to impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence.
- The report also finds that proceedings very rarely target senior army officers responsible for sexual violence. Only three of the 136 FARDC soldiers convicted during the period under review were senior officers. In addition, members of armed groups almost always escape justice; only four of the 187 people convicted for sexual violence by the military justice system were members of armed groups.
- According to the report, a large number of victims do not report cases for fear of being stigmatized and rejected by their families and communities. Many also lack access to justice because they cannot afford legal fees, medical fees, and travel costs associated with formal legal proceedings. Many lack confidence that they and their families will be safe, as their protection needs are often neglected by judicial authorities.