In the eastern DRC, rape has been used as a weapon of war for years by the many armed groups in the region. But now there?s news coming to light about a series of attacks July 30th on multiple villages during which nearly 180 women were raped or gang-raped.
The attacks, which occurred near the mining center of Walikale, are blamed on the Rwandan Hutu rebel group the FDLR and its allies. The FDLR has its roots in fugitives from the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
In Kinshasa, Stefania Trassari, spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the FDLR was joined in the attacks by ?Mai Mai elements.?
They looted villages and ?raped a very high number of women,? she says. ?The number that we got from our partner, International Medical Corps, in Walikale, is now 179. They report they are treating these women both medically and psycho-socially.?
Trassari describes rape in North Kivu Province as a ?common habit? by armed groups?. ?But this number is really something worrying us.?
News of the attacks has come in slowly, with the initial number of raped women put at 50.
?Some women usually go directly to the center to be healed, but sometimes, because of intimidation or discrimination, they don?t say anything about what happened,? she says.
Weapon of war
Rape as a weapon of war is used as a terror tactic to demoralize communities and make them feel helpless. Many women are raped in front of their husbands and children, who are forced to watch. The physical damage done during the rapes is often life threatening and emergency surgery is needed to save lives.
There are U.N. and government forces in the region, but it?s unclear how many are now stationed near the villages that were attacked.
?The government security situation,? Trassari says, ?unfortunately is still very volatile. We hear very often about attacks perpetrated almost every day in territories of Walikale, Rutshuru and Masisi. So the insecurity is widely spread across these territories.?
She says humanitarian workers in the area say ?concrete action? is needed to protect civilians.
?Their lives are almost every day at risk because of these continuous attacks and we must denounce them with a very strong voice,? says Trassari.
There have been repeated military offensives against the FDLR, but they have not succeeded in driving them from the region. In fact, the rebel groups often stages many retaliatory raids after those offensives.