Global Rights Body Demands Justice for Rape Victims

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In short
The 24-page report, “Ending Impunity for Sexual Violence” describes some of the worst cases of mass rape and other forms of sexual violence committed in recent years by the Congolese army and non-state armed groups in Congo, and the inadequate efforts to hold those responsible to account.

The Democratic Republic of Congo and other governments attending the Global Summit to ‘End Sexual Violence in Conflict’ should make concrete commitments to justice for Congolese victims, Human rights watch has demanded in a report released this morning.

The Global Summit that opens today in London will run for the next three days.

The 24-page report, “Ending Impunity for Sexual Violence” describes some of the worst cases of mass rape and other forms of sexual violence committed in recent years by the Congolese army and non-state armed groups in Congo, and the inadequate efforts to hold those responsible to account.

“Tens of thousands of women, girls, men, and boys in eastern Congo have been victims of sexual violence over the past two decades,” Ida Sawyer, a senior HRW Researcher on Congo says. “This widespread sexual violence will not end until those responsible are prosecuted, and the government makes clear to soldiers, officers, combatants, and warlords that rape carries a high price.” she adds.

Over the years, Congolese armed groups have been accused of abducting and holding women and girls as sex slaves, attacking victims with machetes and other weapons, and targeting girls as young as two and women older than 80. Many victims developed serious medical complications, and some died from their wounds.

However, Stigma and fear of rejection have prevented many women and girls from reporting rape. Others live in remote areas with no psychosocial or medical services. Many have been threatened by the attackers or members of their armed group or army unit, deterring victims from seeking justice.

In recent years, Congolese authorities have carried out an increasing number of arrests and prosecutions for rape, but the vast majority of rapes go unpunished, the report further states.

The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in Congo recorded 187 convictions by military courts for sexual violence between July 2011 and December 2013. Four of those convicted were members of armed groups; the others were soldiers, police, or other state agents. Of the 136 soldiers convicted, only three were senior officers, all lieutenant colonels.

Human rights watch also welcomed a government proposal to establish specialized mixed chambers for the most serious crimes, including crimes of sexual violence.  The body says this could strengthen accountability and deserves international support.

According to the DRC Government, the chambers would be located within Congo’s national judicial system with the participation of international judges and other personnel for a limited period. They would have the mandate to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed in Congo since 1993.

“The many victims of sexual violence crimes committed during Congo’s conflicts deserve to see justice done,” Sawyer said. “Countries at the Global Summit should support the new judicial mechanism in Congo to bring those involved in these egregious crimes to justice, including the commanders who are ultimately responsible for these atrocities.”