United Nations Fails to Stop Gang Rape of at Least 200 Women in Congo

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.

4 comments

  1. I’m afraid there really isn’t too much that can be said about the failing situation in the DRC. In terms of contemporary international law norms, the people of the DRC are totally reliant on what the UN – via the Security Council – is or is not prepared or able to do for them. Under Articles 40 and 41 of the United Nations Charter, only the Security Council can actively make decisions about how to deal with humanitarian crises. The doctrine of humanitarian intervention, which would theoretically allow responses to “gross and egregious abuses of human rights” without Security Council deliberation, still represents shaky international law at best. Despite the intervention in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, legal scholars still argue about whether humanitarian intervention is even a viable option under international law given the Charter’s emphasis on state territorial integrity and Security Council predominance.

    In this respect, from a non-legal perspective, I can only say that it’s a good thing we have newspapers to provide coverage on situations like the one in the DRC. In the absence of automatic legal responses to humanitarian crises and in the face of ailing peacekeeping missions, they really are needed to fill the void and exert pressure.

  2. This event is so very horrifying, but what is even worse is that this was far from a onetime occurrence. Since this war began about 10 years ago hundreds of thousands of women have been raped. It has become a real weapon of this war; the soldiers use this weapon to break down not only the women themselves but also their families and their communities. The soldiers will line up the families and neighbors of the women and watch them being raped. According to Human Rights Watch in some villages as many of 90% of the women have been raped. Then often times the woman is so shamed that their husband leaves them and their communities shun them. There are few resources for these women as far as medical help or helping them regain their lives. One light in all of this is the organization Women for Women which provides support for women, schooling (as many have never attended school) and training in different ways they could have their own businesses so that they could support themselves. These women have really shown an amazing amount of strength and resilience and it is so disheartening to see that despite all of the strength they show, forces that are there to protect them like the UN often cannot.

  3. Unfortunately, the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the deadliest conflict since World War II, with more than 5 million people being killed. However, despite this astonishing number, the casualties don’t stop there. As indicated above, the number of women being raped in this region is astonishing, resulting in the conflict being referred to as a “war against women” because the rape is not about boredom or having nothing to do, but rather, about instilling terror and fear in these women. The rebels use rape as a weapon of war.

    The amount of physical and psychological pain that these women endure, through being gang raped and brutally slashed and cut with machetes is unacceptable, especially as the UN just stands by and watches. I find it highly reprehensible on the part of the UN to not take an adequate stand in the Congo and sufficiently protect these women, especially because reports have indicated that even if women make it to UN camps, they are raped there as well.

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