Between July 30 and August 3rd, two militia groups in eastern DRC went on a rampage and gang-raped at least 179 women in a community of villages. The UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo has a base about 30 kilometers from the site of the attack–but apparently was unaware of the attacks as they were happening.
How and why the peacekeeping mission failed to respond to the attack is the topic of discussion at an emergency Security Council meeting this morning. Ambassador Rice tweets that she will brief the press after the council adjourns this morning. You can watch that briefing here, so stay tuned. In the meantime, Hillary Clinton, who visited rape victims in the DRC last year and chaired a Security Council about rape as a tactic of war, released a statement:
The United States is deeply concerned by reports of the mass rape of women and children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – an armed, illegal rebel group that has terrorized eastern Congo for over a decade – and elements of the Mai Mai, community-based militia groups in eastern Congo. This horrific attack is yet another example of how sexual violence undermines efforts to achieve and maintain stability in areas torn by conflict but striving for peace.
The United States has repeatedly condemned the epidemic of sexual violence in conflict zones around the world, and we will continue to speak out on this issue for those who cannot speak for themselves. Less than a year ago, I presided over the UN Security Council session where Resolution 1888 (2009) was unanimously adopted, underscoring the importance of preventing and responding to sexual violence as a tactic of war against civilians. Now the international community must build on this action with specific steps to protect local populations against sexual and gender-based violence and bring to justice those who commit such atrocities.
Sexual violence harms more than its immediate victims. It denies and destroys our common dignity, it shreds the fabric that weaves us together as humans, it endangers families and communities, it erodes social and political stability, and it undermines economic progress. These travesties, committed with impunity against innocent civilians who play no role in armed conflict, hold us all back.
When I visited the DRC last year, I learned an old proverb — “No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come.” In the depths of this dark night of suffering and pain, my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. The United States will do everything we can to work with the UN and the DRC government to hold the perpetrators of these acts accountable, and to create a safe environment for women, girls, and all civilians living in the eastern Congo.
UPDATE: The Security Council session concluded and council President Vitaly Churkin, the Russian UN Ambassador, read out a “press statement” agreed upon by the council. The statement “demanded that all parties…cease all forms of sexual violence.” It called upon the government of the DRC to investigate the attacks.
In terms of anything more substantial, it seems that we will have to wait until the council is briefed by two other UN officials dispatched to the region. The second in command at UN Peacekeeping, Atul Khare and the newly appointed Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallstrom, are leading an investigation into why a UN peacekeeping force nearby did not intervene. The initial reactions from Churkin and Ambassador Rice was unequivocal that something went deeply wrong. Ambassador Churkin said “clearly, not everything worked as it should.” Ambassador Rice echoed this sentiment, saying “things did not occur as they should have.”
It seems we will have to wait for the Wallstrom and Khare briefing for answers.