Ban Ki-moon is dispatching the Assistant Secretary General in charge of Peacekeeping to Congo to find out why peacekeepers did not stop the rape of nearly 200 women in one of the most shocking incidents in the 15 year long civil war.
Sexual violence characterises the brutal confict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and UN peacekeepers are manifestly failing to stop it.
Tonight, Ban Ki-moon is dispatching the Assistant Secretary General in charge of Peacekeeping to the DRC to find out why peacekeepers did not stop the rape of nearly 200 women in one of the most shocking incidents in the 15 year long civil war.
Way out in the bush, about 50 miles from the jungle town of Walikale, 179 women were gang-raped allegedly by rebels of the FDLR, the remnants of the Hutu force which spearheaded the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
A UN peacekeepers’ base is just 20 miles away, at Kibua, but they did not attempt to reach the scene until two days after the rebels had melted back into the jungle.
What distinguishes this horrific attack from others is the large number of women raped, and the fact that many were assaulted by up to six men.
“The women were angry and confused that this had happened to them,” said Will Cragin, of IMC, who went with a team to treat women on 5 August .
“We had heard that 15 women had been raped but then we discovered the numbers were much, much higher. The scale was astounding, and shocking.”
Mr Cragin, who is based in Walikale, said he got word on 30 July that rebels had occupied a town 70 kilometres away, but UN peacekeepers say the road was blocked so they got no word of what was going on until too late.
“The mission didn’t have information until after the events took place. The UN community is concerned and outraged,” said Nick Birnback, Spokesman for the UN Department of Peacekeeping.
Local aidworkers are frustrated.
“Their role is protect civilians, so why did they not come until two days later?” asked Joseph Chingwa of Heal Africa. “Why were civilians left under the control of rebels?”
He said that when the peacekeepers finally got to the area, the women attacked them verbally, blaming them for doing nothing to protect villagers from the rapists.
“We are spread very thinly and can’t be behind every bush,” said Mr Birnback.
UN peacekeepers in the DRC have been criticised in the past not only for failing to prevent rape, but also for sexually exploiting young Congolese women themselves. The UN secretary general has asked for a full investigation of the incident.