Friday, December 07, 2012

D.R. Congo: Surge in sexual violence in North Kivu

Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN. At risk

Source: IRIN

MINOVA, 6 December 2012 (IRIN) - Sexual violence is on the rise as armed groups continue to move across the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu Province, officials say.

Since mid-November, the provincial capital, Goma, has been the scene of fighting that saw rebel group M23 take control of the city; following negotiations with neighbouring countries, M23 relinquished control of the city on 1 December, and the Congolese national army, FARDC, is back in charge.

Days after FARDC troops arrived in Minova, 54 km southwest of Goma, in late November, local women began to show up at local hospitals with injuries sustained from rape.

UNICEF reported on 4 December that the  Minova Hospital had recorded 72 cases of rape since the latest wave of violence started. The organization has provided the hospital with four post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) kits (equivalent to a total of 200 doses), used to prevent HIV infection following exposure to the virus.

"There are more than 10 [FARDC] battalions here and they are raping the women," said Nestor Bulumbe, who has worked as a medical professional there for 17 years.

Bulumbe's Kalere clinic alone has attended to 26 women, some of whom were gang-raped. His wife said that she has attended the funeral of an 80-year old woman who was raped by three men and died as a result.

"By day, they [the soldiers] raped them in the fields and by night they entered their houses. There is no discipline; smoking hemp, drinking, behaving very badly,"  he said of the soldiers, adding of the many armed groups that had come through the town in the past 17 years,  the FARDC "are the worst".

Earlier in the year, rights group Human Rights Watch accused M23 of committing a number of war crimes, including rapes.

According to a 4 December report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reports of serious protection incidents in the region have continued, including lootings, rapes, summary executions and recruitment of children: "On the night of 1-2 December,  violent looting, including rape, by armed men  occurred in Mugunga III IDP camp [west of Goma],  highlighting the extremely worrying humanitarian and protection situation in North Kivu."

The report notes that one NGO treated 12 survivors of rapes that occurred that night.

Yawo Douvon, the country director of the  international NGO CARE in the DRC, said: "Reports from our field staff and partners show a rising number of cases especially in those areas that have experienced armed clashes. Many of these cases of rape and violence cannot be treated because of the deteriorating security situation."

In Goma, funding and supplies have not been reaching the hospitals.

"The situation is complex and confusing... the operating environment is currently not safe for humanitarian aid workers," said Douvon on 29 November, two days before the M23 officially pulled out of the capital as urged by recent peace talks.

According to UN figures, at least 140,000 people have been newly displaced by recent violence in and around Goma; this number is in addition to the estimated 841,000 people who were already displaced before.

In a 21 November statement, the UN's under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and  emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, expressed concern at the plight of civilians fleeing the violence in and around Goma and noted that, "Insecurity is preventing the delivery of the most basic  humanitarian assistance that people need and many of the communities hosting them are already overstretched."