Congo-Angola Mass Rapes Draw Scant Notice

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Some mass rapes attract more outrage than others. Two recent atrocities-- separated by just a couple of months--suggest U.N. peacekeeping jurisdiction can decide the degree to which the violations of hundreds of girls and women are noticed.

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Victims Released in 'Middle of Nowhere'

Mid-last month the victims were released "in the middle of nowhere" in Bandundu, Mangia said, many of them naked. They then scattered to seek help.

The brutal rapes, which eventually caused one victim to die, were reminiscent of the attacks in North Kivu at the end of July, when upwards of 500 women, as well as several men and boys, were gang raped over the course of several days in a string of remote villages.

Given the failure of the nearby U.N. peacekeepers to respond to warning signs and protect the people, top U.N. officials, including Margot Wallstrom, the secretary-general's special representative on sexual violence in conflict, flew to meet with the victims and devise new safety precautions, such as equipping villagers with cell phones.

But nearly a month after CISP first reported the violent expulsions to U.N. agencies, basic information--such as whether the rapes took place in Angola or the Democratic Republic of Congo--is still unavailable.

Wallstrom and other U.N. leaders have condemned the violent expulsions from Angola and called for a full investigation.

Wallstrom has a small staff and their attention is shifting to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she will meet next week with survivors of sexual violence and focus on reparations in the war of 1992-1995.

U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq attributed the difference between the U.N.'s responses to the two recent mass rapes to peacekeepers' lack of mandate in Angola.

Inquiries Up in the Air

Giuliano, of the U.N. Office of Humanitarian Affairs, said he is uncertain whether government inquiries into the attacks have begun. The Angolan and the Democratic Republic of Congo missions to the U.N. could not be reached for comment.

Mangia, of CISP, says government investigations have yet to commence.

"Governments are trying to keep a low profile about this and say that there is no emergency. They are just trying to shut everything up," he said.

CISP is rare among international aid organizations in serving the Western part of the Democratic Republic of Congo outside the capital city Kinshasa, along the Angolan border, which typically sees strong waves of expulsions back and forth. The majority of international aid groups, like the Kinshasa-based International Rescue Committee, work in the conflict-ridden Kivus.

Dalita Cetinoglu, director of the International Rescue Committee's gender-based violence program in the Democratic Republic of Congo, doesn't have first-hand information of the border rapes. But she said that like the attacks in the region where she works, these rapes along the border could produce a short-term response that overlooks the endemic and less-spectacular of sexual violence that is a condition of women's daily existence.

"Just being reactive when there's a new event won't get ahead of the problem because sexual violence is constant and widespread," she said.

In South Kivu, the International Rescue Committee alone has supported 5,000 female victims of sexual violence since 2008 and aided 3,700 victims in North Kivu.


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Amy Lieberman is a correspondent at the United Nations Secretariat.

For more information:

Stop Rape Now:

"UN: Mass rapes on Angola-DRC border," Al Jazeera English:

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It is difficult to even imagine the lives of those affected. The breakdown of human care and respect is to a low level which is unimaginable, and these governments sit by and do nothing. How does a semblance of culture regain itself in such a situation, with no help from governments?