On July 30, 2010, at least 200 women were gang raped in the village of Luvungi, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. United Nations peacekeepers did not prevent nor stop the attacks even though their base was located up the road from the village. According to UN reports, there were approximately 300 men, made up of Rwandan rebels, and a new Congolese rebel group, Mai Mai Cheka, that carried out the attacks.
No one knows exactly what directly caused the attacks, but many people are speculating that the spark occurred in July, when the Congolese Army stationed in Luvungi suddenly pulled out of the village leaving it very vulnerable. This particular area is known for gold, tin ore and fertile land, and has been highly contested by rebel groups and army divisions for some time.
The Congolese Army has been attempting to integrate certain rebel groups into their army to help stabilize the region. However, there is speculation that this has ironically created motivation for the rapes because the stronger an armed group appears, the more powerful the group will be in negotiations with the Congolese Army. It is believed that the men in the rebel groups want to hold high-ranking positions in the Congolese Army and therefore want to exhibit their strength and power by attacking villages. Some victims said they believed that the main motive behind the attacks was to intimidate local people who are government supporters.
After the rapes, the United Nations, which currently has 18,000 peacekeepers in Congo, set up a small base outside the village with about 20 peacekeepers. This small group of UN peacekeepers has since attracted many refugees from surrounding areas who camp out at night seeking safety.
Critics argue that the UN is still failing at its most basic task of protecting civilians after being in Congo for almost 10 years and spending billions of dollars. UN peacekeepers have not received any specific or formal training in protecting civilians in the region. It has been said that there is nowhere else that the UN has invested so much time and money and has accomplished so little. Many people are comparing these UN peacekeeper’s failure to respond to the rapes in Luvungi to the 2008 tragedy in Kiwanja, where rebels killed 150 people also down the road from a United Nations base.
A director at the Peace Operations Training Institute in Virginia, Annika Hilding-Norberg, said that, “Congo is becoming known as ‘the African equivalent of Afghanistan.’” In addition, many believe that the sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world.
It is difficult for UN peacekeepers to find out where and when there has been an attack because of the lack of electricity and cell phone service. The UN is trying to improve communications and safety in Congo by attempting to establish solar powered high-frequency radios in some villages.