A United Nations preliminary report on recent atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Friday that three different militia groups raped 303 people over the course of four days. It says the militia arrived in villages pretending that they wanted to protect the population.
The U.N. preliminary report says 235 women are known to have been raped, 52 girls, 13 men, and three boys. It says many were raped numerous times.
Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, says the attacks took place mostly after dark. Around 200 members of three different militia groups arrived in Walikale in eastern DRC pretending they had come to protect the population.
"They took control of a key hill in the area which was really the only place where you can communicate by telephone," he said. "So once they had that then nobody could telephone out, raise the alarm via telephone. They cut the roads and they, you know, kept it up for four full days."
The reports says no one appears to have been killed in the attacks. But homes and shops were looted and over 100 people were abducted. And Colville says the full scale of the atrocities is still unknown. Attacks are continuing, he says, and many people are still hiding in the forest because they're too scared to return home.
Colville says the rebel groups may have been trying to punish the local population because they see it as pro-government.
"It seems to be a way of subjugating the villagers into their orbit, being so brutal, so humiliating and it being projected as kind of punishment for the villagers being too close, too friendly, or too cooperative with the Congolese army," he said.
The U.N. preliminary report covered 13 villages in Walikale, a region of North Kivu province in eastern DRC.
"This was rape as punishment, rape as a weapon of war - very clearly perpetrated against the civilian population by a range of different armed groups," said Anneke van Woudenberg, from the U.S.-based international body Human Rights Watch.
The U.N. report is critical both of the Congolese army and police and of the U.N. peacekeeping force in DRC for not doing enough to protect the population of Walikale.
It says the U.N. forces had not received enough training to protect civilians and suffered from operational constraints.
Anneke van Woudenberg adds:
"Again we saw here peace keepers who did not have civilian liaison officials attached to them, who did not have the right language capabilities to talk to the local communities, who did not know what questions to ask local communities," she said. "And frankly I think after 10 years of the peacekeeping mission being in a country like Congo they should have got that right by now."
The U.N. report said three rebel groups were responsible for the rapes: the Mai-Mai Cheka group, rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and a group connected to army deserter Emmanuel Nsengiyumva. The rapes took place over four days from July 30 to August 2.