HORROR: Sexual violence can destroy DR Congo, warns UN envoy
KINSHASA (AFP) – Rampant sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the greatest obstacle to a lasting peace and could destroy the country if it is allowed to continue, a top UN official said Tuesday.
The UN special envoy for sexual violence in the DR Congo, Margot Wallstroem, insisted that the UN intended to pursue the perpetrators of widespread rape.
During her second visit to DR Congo, the Swede named by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the beginning of the year, criss-crossed the unstable provinces of Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu, where armed groups, and also the Congolese armed forces, frequently commit violence against civilians.
“I came to meet the victims, to hear their stories, the better to understand what is happening, their fear, their rage and their depression,” Wallstroem told AFP in an interview.
“I also came to get the message across that we have to pursue the perpetrators, because it’s like that that you put an end to impunity.”
Wallstroem visited the remote territory of Walikale in the west of Nord-Kivu, where rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and tribal Mai-Mai militias are accused of raping up to 500 people, including children, at the end of July and beginning of August, in a group of 13 villages.
“That was horror,” she said. “I think that it will destroy this country, if this continues, because it will brutalise the whole society, from generation to generation, and destroy all the values, all the standards. It could cost the Congo dearly.”
“We have already seen this in a country like Liberia,” she added. “In this post-conflict nation, rape tops the list of crimes, with the same methods that we observed during the war.”
In Goma and Bukavu, the capitals of Nord- and Sud-Kivu, as well as in the DR Congo capital Kinshasa, Wallstroem also held talks with political leaders.
“When I spoke to the authorities, I found that there was a will” to put an end to impunity, “but when you talk to women, they don’t have the feeling that anything is being done.”
So how does one end the violence committed against women and children, in a vast central African country where the state is deficient?
“In our countries, we can call the police and know that they will come. Here there is nothing. And the only place where anybody can turn is MONUSCO,” Wallstroem said of the UN Mission for the Stabilisation of the DR Congo, with its 18,000 troops, based mainly in the east.
The UN force was strongly criticised for having failed to protect people in Walikale in July and August. “The means available to MONUSCO, its personnel and its capacities are not sufficient,” Wallstroem said.
“We could improve the training (of UN troops), step up patrols, talk more to the population and strengthen intelligence,” she said. “But at the same time, we can’t think that MONUSCO must stand in the place of the state to guarantee security.
“The challenge is to find out how to help reform the security sector. If the (Congolese authorities) want foreign donors to provide more money, they will have to pass laws (on the reform of the army and police) that have not yet been passed,” she said.
In Wallstroem’s eyes, the problem of sexual violence “will be the greatest obstacle to finding peace.”
“Very often people say the opposite, that peace is necessary to stop sexual violence, but I think you have to stop that to find peace. It’s terrible to say that we have to wait for peace for women to be safe.”