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AIDS Advocacy Group says UN Has Failed Congolese Women

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Joe DeCapua

An international HIV/AIDS advocacy group says the United Nations has failed the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo. AIDS-Free World says it’s time for the U.N. to stop passing resolutions on the Congo and take action.

The estimated number of rapes in the DRC since 1996 range anywhere from 200,000 to about 600,000.  Recently, during a five-day period in July and August, at least 500 women, children and men were raped and ganged raped by rebels in the eastern part of the country.  It happened even though U.N. peacekeeping troops were camped just a few miles away.

AIDS-Free World Co-Director Paula Donovan says despite troops, resources and good intentions, the United Nations offers little or no protection to women.

Paula Donovan, co-director, AIDS-Free World
Paula Donovan, co-director, AIDS-Free World

“In every single aspect of its work,” she says, “the United Nations has failed the women of the Congo.  It seems never to reach a top priority and sustain its place at the top of the U.N.’s concerns for any period of time.  Something like the recent spate of rapes occurs.  It’s in the headlights for a couple of days and then it just disappears.”

Donovan says plans to deal with the problem are just “sitting on shelves.”

“If the U.N. just went back to those shelves and pulled out and dusted off every resolution that it has agreed upon since 1996 – including, importantly, one that was agreed five years ago this week – the responsibility to protect – and act on them, then we could have some hope that the women of the Congo would actually be protected by more than just goodwill and words,” she says.

She says despite the deaths of millions of people and the rapes of hundreds of thousands since 1996, the DRC seems easy to forget.

“It’s not a strategic country for most of the Western world as far as trade and so forth are concerned.  Although the mining operations that are at the core of the problems in the DRC yield all sorts of minerals and other things that the Western world relies upon and wants.  It’s just very easy to ignore the DRC because war in the DRC poses no immediate threat to the Western world, which holds the power and basically decides where we’ll intervene and where we’ll turn a blind eye,” she says.

She says one way to help drive out and track rebels and militias in the Eastern DRC is to use helicopters.

“Deploy the appropriate number of helicopters.  Deploy the numbers that you would send to an earthquake or to a conflict in a wealthier country.  Just 14, 15, couple dozen helicopters, would frighten these militias,” she says, adding, “They’re not organized.  They can’t really even be called armies, they’re so ragtag.  And this would be something that I would think almost immediately demonstrate to the militias that now the opposing forces are in charge.

The AIDS-Free World co-director says the sexual violence in the DRC is based on a “foundation of extraordinary discrimination against women.”

In recent testimony, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, Atul Khare, said, “While the primary responsibility for protection of civilians lies with the state, its national army and police force, clearly, we have also failed.”

He added, “Our actions were not adequate, resulting in unacceptable brutalization of the population of the villages in the area. We must do better.”

The United Nations is instituting more night patrols and random checks on villages.  It will also improve communication in areas where there is no mobile phone coverage by installing high frequency radio transmitters.

Rape is frequently used as a weapon of war in the Eastern DRC to terrorize and demoralize populations.

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