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More rapes revealed in Congo: UN 'failed' victims

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 09 September 2010

The Foreign Office tells Channel 4 News the Congolese government must act immediately to investigate alleged crimes, after a senior UN official told the Security Council he has found evidence of further rapes in Democratic Republic of Congo.

UN assistant secretary general for peacekeeping, Atul Khare

The United Nations' assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping has told the UN's security council that he has found evidence of more mass rape in the central African country.

Atul Khare said that the organisation has "failed" to protect civilians in DRC after it emerged that double the amount of people than previously thought, may have been systematically raped during concentrated attacks by rebel forces in the east of the country.

Today, prompted by Mr Khare's comments, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office told Channel 4 News that the Congolese government must act immediately to investigate the crimes.

Following news that UN MONUSCO (UN Stabilisation Mission in the Congo) troops had missed a mass rape committed by rebel militias fewer than 20 miles from a UN base, the organisation sent Mr Khare to investigate what had happened in North Kivu province.

At a meeting of the security council on Tuesday, Mr Khare revealed he had uncovered more evidence of rapes which could double the number of cases already known.

Between 30 July and 2 August, at least 242 civilians were raped in 13 villages in North Kivu province's Banamukira territory in the eastern part of the country.

But he said he had discovered that there may be a further 200 victims in other areas.

Mr Khare said blame for a failure to stop the mass rapes lay equally with the Congolese government and the UN: "Clearly, we have also failed.

"Our actions were not adequate, resulting in unacceptable brutalisation of the population of the villages in the area. We must do better."

Responding to Mr Khare's findings, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has called on Congo's government to act to investigate the rapes as soon as possible.

An FCO spokesperson told Channel 4 News: "We agree with Atul Khare that while primary responsibility for the protection of civilians must rest with DRC authorities, the UN must also improve its operations in the DRC.

"Protection of civilians must be the highest priority for the peacekeeping force.

"The UN has accepted that MONUSCO's communications with the local community has been poor and that their reaction has been slow. 

"They need to improve and we would encourage efforts to develop and implement a new doctrine for identifying and responding to threats to civilians. 

"We would urge the government of the DRC to move quickly and send their newly constituted commission to the east to further investigate these terrible crimes and ensure a swift and fair prosecution of the perpetrators of these crimes."

Charities working in Congo welcomed the UK government's statement.

Marcel Stoessel, who is Oxfam's country director in DRC told Channel 4 News: "Oxfam fully supports the UK government's statement, specifically the need to improve communications with the local community and the need to prosecute these crimes.

"We have been calling for precisely these things for years and it has taken these most recent outrages to draw attention to this.

"Oxfam also asks in addition for a full investigation by the UN's human rights office in DRC that the conclusions of this investigation to be made available to the public."

But Mr Stoessel criticised the government for supporting a reduction in the number of UN troops which he said will make policing the situation even more difficult.

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