UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, is calling on Congolese authorities to increase security and protect women and girls from widespread, systematic sexual attacks by rival armed groups in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Tanganyika province.
Horrific attacks against women and girls are taking place in the so-called “triangle of death.” This is an area bordering several localities between Tanganyika, Maniema, and South Kivu provinces.
Over the past two weeks, humanitarian agencies have recorded 243 incidents of rape, including rape of 48 children. The U.N. Refugee Agency says these figures are shocking and extremely high, but do not reflect the true extent and gravity of these crimes.
UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo says the actual figures are thought to be significantly higher. She says many cases of sexual abuse are not reported. This is because gender-based violence remains largely taboo and women who are sexually abused can face stigma and exclusion from their families.
"The attacks are reportedly being carried out by rival armed groups competing to maintain control over mining areas—especially gold mines—and as retaliation against government-led military operations," said Mantoo. "Civilians find themselves trapped in the middle of intense confrontations between different groups.”
Violence and insecurity in this region have uprooted nearly 310,000 people. Local authorities report more than 23,000 have been displaced since May in northern Tanganyika’s Kongolo territory alone. They say most have fled insecurity multiple times in the past three months.
Mantoo says an average of 17 sexual attacks are reported every day. She says rape victims suffer huge physical and psychological trauma but have difficulty receiving needed medical and psychological care.
"Our staff have heard horrific testimonies of extreme violence," said Mantoo. "Forcibly displaced people have accused armed groups of carrying out mass rape as women attempt to flee their homes. Some women and girls have been abducted and used as sex slaves by armed group members. Ransoms have been demanded from families in exchange for their freedom.”
The UNHCR is urging the Congolese government to do more to protect civilians, especially women and girls, and to ensure humanitarian access to the displaced. It also is calling for investigations into these atrocities and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
The UNHCR Is appealing for greater international support, saying it has received only 36% of the $205 million required for its D.R.C. operation.