A senior U.N. peacekeeping official said Tuesday that U.N. troops "failed" the more than 240 women and girls who were gang raped in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in recent weeks. The official said additional patrols have started in the villages where the attacks occurred and he called for other measures to deter a repeat of such violence.
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Atul Khare told the U.N. Security Council that while the primary responsibility for the protection of the Congolese civilians lies with their government, the U.N. had also "failed".
"Our actions were not adequate, resulting in unacceptable brutalization of the population of the villages in the area," said Atul Khare. "We must do better."
The U.N. has come in for criticism, because the mass rapes happened within kilometers of a U.N. base, but the peacekeepers did not learn of them until days after they happened, despite a patrol in two of the towns where women had been attacked. Atul Khare said during that patrol villagers did not report any rapes to the peacekeepers.
The sexual assaults on more than 240 women and children happened between July 30 and August 2. In his briefing, Khare reported that dozens more rapes have since been reported in other villages in North and South Kivu provinces, including at least ten perpetrated by elements of the Congolese Army.
In his recommendations, Khare said there must be a better understanding of what could be early warning signs of possible sexual violence - including the presence of armed groups and looting in villages.
He recommended the Security Council impose targeted sanctions on the leaders of the FDLR - the Rwandan Hutu rebel group - and the Mai Mai, a Congolese militia, if it is proven they instructed their men to carry out the rapes. Khare said punishing the perpetrators would also deter others who might repeat such crimes.
Khare, who just returned from a fact-finding mission to the DRC, also urged on the ground measures, including improving radio communication in areas where there is no mobile phone network. He said the peacekeepers have already instituted additional evening and random patrols and will be given a list of questions to ask villagers to help uncover whether there are threats to their safety.
The U.N. Security Council reiterated its strong condemnation of the mass rapes and urged the DRC government to immediately launch an inquiry into the assaults and arrest and prosecute the perpetrators. The council also urged the U.N. to take all necessary measures to improve efficiency and better coordinate its actions on the ground.