Only twenty miles from where UN Peacekeepers are based in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as war rages forth, at least 179 women and young children in a community of villages were gang-raped, some in front of their families, by rebel soldiers over a period of a few days, as Peacekeepers were apparently unaware, according to Mark Leon Goldberg at UN Dispatch. New information about the attacks reveals that UN officials may not have been as in the dark as they appeared.
The New York Times reports that United Nations officials knew that FDLR soldiers (Rwandan rebels who have been, according to the article, hiding in the Congo for years) had entered the area and that "at least one woman had been raped." Humanitarian workers were even warned to stay away from the area. But no one thought to investigate the situation for the women and children of the villages? Not exactly, say United Nations officials. Peacekeeping patrols were sent out on August 2nd, on what was reportedly the last day of this brutal spree, and none of the villagers talked of the rapes.
Got it? Rebel soldiers from Rwanda terrorize Congolese women, men and children for years. UN Peacekeepers are sent in to, presumably, create conditions for peace. Miles away from said peacekeepers women and children across a string of villages are then raped in front of their families, by the Rwandan terrorists. UN peacekeepers come by after the fact and ask whether everything is okay and villagers say nothing so...UN peacekeepers, what, take them at their word, wave good-bye and travel on their way back to the safety of their own camp?
When UN officials were asked why their response was so pitiful, they could only answer that they agreed – and were trying to do better.
Last week, the Security Council called an emergency meeting to address the inadequate response to the atrocities, and plans for moving forward.
US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, released a statement condemning the attacks as "horrific and reprehensible," and calling on both the United States and DRC government to investigate them. Secretary Clinton, who visited with rape victims in the region back in 2009 to raise awareness of the way in which rape was being used as a weapon of war, also issued a strong statement expressing deep concern over the attacks and promising more U.S. support to fight the violence. Clinton pledged money and support in 2009, to the Congolese government, to fight the sexual violence, and chaired a Security Council to address the issue. This paved the way for the adoption of Resolution 1888 "underscoring the importance of preventing and responding to sexual violence as a tactic of war against civilians."
The plain and simple fact is that sexual violence is recognized as a tactic of war in the DRC – and has been for many years. It's a weapon used by warring factions making women’s and girls' bodies targeted damage. Reliable statistics on sexual violence against women in the DRC are hard to come by but, according to UNFPA, a study of health centers in the country found that 50,000 rapes had been reported. That number reflects only a small portion of the actual cases, however, since so many go unreported. The Stephen Lewis Foundation compiles statistics on sexual violence and HIV/AIDS in DRC. According to the foundation, an average of 40 women are raped each day in the eastern province of South Kivu while the perpetrators of said violence have one of the highest STI rates in the world.
The UN Mission in DRC or MONUC was implemented in 1999, with an eye on the escalating and rampant sexual violence against women. It’s the largest of the UN peacekeeping missions in the world with over 20,000 troops and a price tag of more than one billion dollars a year. Unfortunately, the mission has remained on shaky ground with reports, over its lifetime, of sexual abuse by peacekeepers themselves, an inability to stem the violence in the DRC and a 2006 democratic election, supported by the mission, which resulted in minimal numbers of women in leadership positions. It remains to be seen whether allowing atrocities like these rapes to occur, under its nose, will be the final straw for this peacekeeping mission. Awareness of sexual violence as a weapon of war in that country is rising. International pressure is growing. Without a loud and steady call for action, this too shall pass in silence – much like what the women and children gang-raped only weeks ago experienced, left without protection or help from those they thought were there to do just that.