UN to probe slow response to DRC rapes

2010-08-31 11:14

Kinshasa - The UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Monday it is working to establish whether it could have prevented the mass rape of some 180 women in the east of the country early this month.

"We have already launched a review of our actions and procedures to assess what we could have done better and faster to protect and assist the victims of these abominable rapes," said a statement from Monusco's head Roger Meece.

The United Nations reported last week that at least 179 women and children had been raped between July 30 and August 3 in Nord-Kivu province.

The rapes have been blamed on the Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebel group, which has been based in eastern DRC since after the genocide of 1994 but which denies involvement, as well as on the Mai-Mai tribal militia.

The New York Times has reported that UN peacekeepers stationed nearby knew the villages in question were occupied by rebels at the time of the rapes, raising questions over why they did not intervene.

At a special Security Council meeting, members criticised the slow response and demanded action to prevent a repeat of such a situation.

But Meece fought off the criticism, insisting: "Each day we try to improve our capacity to protect endangered populations."

"The various criticisms made with regard to this tragedy in no way reflect the reality of what happened," he said.

"Despite the progress made by the DRC towards peace and reconstruction, the reality is that foreign and Congolese armed groups... continue to loot, rape and kill in the country's east."

He said the Monusco mission "has already taken steps to improve its ability to analyse and communicate with the population" and would "reinforce" those capacities further.

Rape is a weapon of war used against civilians in eastern DRC, where assaults on villagers are frequently reported and blamed on a range of armed movements, including DRC’s regular army, the FARDC.