Finally, the United Nations is placing special interest personnel in the DR Congo, but is it too little too late?
WALIKALE, DR Congo — Suspected rebels have raped at least 242 women within a few days in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s Nord-Kivu province, according to an American medical charity.
Rapes and beatings took place at the end of July and the beginning of August and “242 women have been taken into medical care,” Cris Baguma, a local Congolese doctor with the International Medical Corps (IMC) at Walikale, told AFP on Thursday.
On Tuesday, UN Special representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallstrom threatened to have people suspected of these rapes prosecuted for war crimes.
Wallström began her two year term on March 1, 2010 as the U.N. representative on ending conflict-zone sexual violence. With a well-documented reputation for rape , it is no surprise that her first destination is the DRC. But will her threats have any influence in the territory?
“Sexual violence is all too common in the DRC,” said Amnesty International’s Country Specialist Tom Turner. “But this was a large scale, systematic event and the people who carried it out may well have calculated that they could count on U.N. troops not being able to intervene.”
“It makes the U.N. look bad and it’s sending a strong message right back,” Turner added.
More than 9,000 Congolese women were raped in 2009, according to the U.N. Population Fund.
In recent months, the U.N. has withdrawn 1,770 peacekeepers from a force that formerly numbered around 20,000, responding to demands from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s federal government, which wants a full withdrawal by next summer before its presidential elections.
While the U.N.’s failure to protect the women is coming under fire, Mosely, of the International Rescue Committee, is quick to commend Wallstrom’s plans to visit the area soon.
“There was a delay and there are reasons for the lack of response and that will become clear, but sending Wallstrom out here sends a message saying, ‘We are taking this seriously and we have to figure out what the obstacles are here,'” said Mosely.
The task is overwhelming, but I am hopeful that Wallström’s call for action will be taken seriously by local and world leaders.