UN Security Council urges justice for Congo rape victims

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 26, 2010 (AFP) - An outraged UN Security Council called Thursday on the Democratic Republic of Congo to find and punish those behind a horrific mass rape in the war-torn east of the country.

The United Nations on Monday reported that at least 179 women and children had been raped between July 30 and August 3 in and around the town of Luvungi in Nord-Kivu province, where Rwandan Hutu rebels are active.

(AFP FILES) A picture taken on November 13, 2008 shows a woman caring for her child suffering from cholera at the General Hospital of the provincial capital city of Goma, Congo.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that UN peacekeepers stationed nearby knew the villages were occupied by the rebels on the dates when the rapes occurred, begging the question why they did not intervene sooner.

At a special Security Council meeting called by the United States and France, members criticized the slow response and demanded that action be taken to ensure such a terrible event never happens again.

The body called on Kinshasa "to swiftly investigate these attacks and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice," said a statement from Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin, the current Security Council president.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had already expressed outrage at the attacks, which undermined the world body's high-profile efforts to crack down on civil unrest and sexual violence.

Grilled on the alleged inaction of MONUSCO, the UN's largest peacekeeping force in the world with 20,000 personnel, Churkin said: "There was a general feeling that things didn't work the way they should have worked."

"We are going to go to the bottom of this," he added.

His comments were echoed by US Ambassador Susan Rice, who said: "The (UN Security Council) Secretariat was clear in acknowledging that things did not occur as they should have."

Rice said the world body would await answers from Atul Khare, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, who Ban has dispatched to Congo to investigate.

Ban's special envoy for issues involving sexual violence, Margot Wallstroem, has been put in charge of the response to the incident.

Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda on Thursday denied being responsible for the mass rapes.

The FDLR are "in no way involved in these odious actions and takes umbrage at the baseless accusations launched against them by the secretary general of the United Nations," the rebels said in a statement issued in Paris.

Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky has said the rapes were committed during attacks by the Mai-Mai tribal militia and the FDLR, which has been based in eastern Congo since after the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

"This is another grave example of both the level of sexual violence and the insecurity that continue to plague the DRC," Nesirky said on Tuesday.

Members of the FDLR are accused by Rwanda of taking part in the genocide 16 years ago, in which 800,000 people were killed, mainly members of the Tutsi minority, before the extremists fled into Congo when Tutsi-led forces took power in the Rwandan capital Kigali.

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

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 1,244 women reported being raped in the first quarter of 2010, 14 rapes per day on average.

"This figure, however revolting, still marks spectacular progress in the struggle against the plague of sexual violence in this country," Lambert Mende, the Congolese government spokesman, said Thursday in Kinshasa.

The United States on Wednesday said it was "deeply concerned" about the reports of mass rape and would work with the local government and the United Nations to bring the culprits to justice.

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