UN expert on rapes arrives in DRC

2010-09-29 09:35

Kinshasa - A UN expert on sexual violence in war zones arrived late Tuesday in Kinshasa on the first leg of a week-long trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the scene of recent mass rape.

Margot Wallstrom, UN special representative on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, was to visit the east of the country, where armed groups are regularly accused of horrific violence against civilians, from Thursday to Monday.

The representative of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was to travel to Bukavu in Sud-Kivu province before heading to Goma and Walikale in Nord-Kivu to meet victims of rape.

Wallstrom said in Geneva on Monday that a key objective of her trip is to train the focus on the perpetrators.

During her visit, the UN envoy will interview survivors and ensure that they get help in recovering from their ordeal. She will also look at ways to break the cycle of impunity in the country.

Wallstrom pushed for the prosecution of rebel leaders for the mass rape of civilians in eastern DRC, saying urgent action was needed "before the trail goes cold".

She singled out the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Mai-Mai militia.

"The FDLR has time and again been responsible for grave human rights violations in the DRC. Accountability must begin with the commanders of these and other groups," she said.

"We already have some names, such as Colonel Mayele, the Mai-Mai Cheka chief of staff, and Colonel Serafim of FDLR," she told an informal meeting of the UN Human Rights Council.

Early warning signals

"These names are starting points and constitute leads by which we may also identify some of the other participants in the mass rapes," she added.

"This is the international crime that lets women walk in shame and perpetrators walk free," Wallstrom told journalists, as she criticised impunity for rapists.

A UN human rights report last week on the incidents, which took place in August, said 303 civilians - men, women and children - in 13 villages in the Walikale region in Nord-Kivu province were raped.

However, Wallstrom said that the number had effectively gone up to about 500 in those villages as more victims came forward.

"We have a narrow window of opportunity before the trail grows cold and media attention fades," Wallstrom told the rights council, after earlier saying that the leaders of militia would face war crimes charges.

Wallstrom also pointed to failings at the UN peacekeeping mission (Monusco) in the country.

"The problem is that they did not take the early warning signals seriously enough," she told journalists.

Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay revealed that a panel of experts led by the deputy high commissioner is also convening in the country this week, and will hold hearings with survivors of sexual violence.