The U.N. Security Council is being urged to act quickly on a special envoy report on sexual violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
On Thursday, Margot Walstrom told the Security Council that Congolese government troops, and not just rebels, may be responsible for rapes and murders in the same area of the Kivu provinces where hundreds of women, children and men were raped in late July and early August.
Brita Sydhoff, secretary-general of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), calls the release of the report “extremely important.”
She says, “These atrocities that have been going on in eastern Congo have been going on for years. And we feel very pleased that this alarming situation reaches the governments that are sitting in the Security Council so that they can take stronger action.”
The allegation made against government forces, the FDLR, is not new to Sydhoff.
“Doesn’t surprise me at all I’m very sad to say. We feel that the governmental troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have to take responsibility and not act in this horrible way that we have heard as well,” she says.
She says he U.N. force in the DRC, MONUSCO, needs to train government soldiers so “they start behaving like a proper governmental army and not as rapists.”
Most important thing
If both government and rebel forces are allegedly involved in the attacks on villages, what can be done? Sydhoff says, “The most important thing is to give the population some kind of protection. We are an organization with several members…in the Congo trying to assist particularly these women who have been victims of these horrendous crimes. And of course people feel so unsafe. They don’t even dare to sleep in their villages. They run to the forest.”
Besides increasing security, her organization calls for much greater international support for NGOs working to provide sexual violence victims with medical treatment and psychological counseling.
“My colleagues are struggling to assist those that have been physically or psychologically tortured. And of course you know very well that rape is a form of torture already decided in the Yugoslav tribunal many years ago. It is a weapon of war and they target these civilians,” she says.
In her report, U.N. special envoy Walstrom advised the council to consider imposing sanctions against armed groups.
“They could work,” she says, “I think we have a mixed history of sanctions working and not working…. It’s worth trying. Let’s put it that way.”
The IRCT recommends reinforcing MONUSCO and for President Kabila to “get control of his army.”
“It’s absolutely atrocious that first rebels go in and rape villagers and then on top of it allegations of troops doing exactly the same,” Sydhoff says.
She says her colleagues and violence victims simply don’t feel safe in the eastern Congo.
The IRCT says its member centers in the DRC treat thousands of torture victims every year.