|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6400th Meeting (PM)
Recent Arrests in Mass Rape Cases in Democratic Republic of Congo
May Help ‘Turn Tide against Impunity’, Security Council Is Told
UN Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Says Opportunity
Must not Be Missed for Credible Threat of Sanctions against Perpetrators
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict told a Security Council meeting this afternoon that the body must seize the opportunity provided by the arrests of perpetrators of recent mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to “begin turning the tide of impunity”.
“The arrests must serve as a warning to perpetrators of sexual violence everywhere,” Margot Wallström said as she briefed the Council on her visit to that country from 27 September to 6 October, going to sites of mass rapes in the Kivu provinces, most notably the Walikale area and speaking to representatives of the Government at the national and local level.
She informed the Council that, this week, Callixte Mbarushimana, the Executive Secretary of the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), one of the rebel groups implicated in atrocities there, had been arrested in Paris under a warrant from the International Criminal Court. Commending those involved, she said that it complemented actions by German authorities earlier this year to detain other leaders of the group.
In addition, she said, last week, United Nations peacekeepers had arrested Lieutenant Colonel Sadoke Kokunda Mayele, who was identified by victims as the commander of the Mai Mai Cheka rebel group presumed to be among those responsible for the Walikale rapes. She hoped there would now be further information on other ring leaders and she urged the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure an exemplary process of justice in the Mayele case, along with a timely and comprehensive investigation into the mass rapes.
She said it was now crucial that all means be used to put pressure on all armed groups in that country, and elsewhere, to turn over to authorities perpetrators of sexual violence and to prevent further such violence. “In this regard, the leverage that we gain from the credible threat of Council sanctions against perpetrators of sexual violence cannot be overestimated,” she said.
In that light, she reiterated her call to the Council to escalate the focus on crimes of sexual violence in the work of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Sanctions Committee, starting with consideration of the inclusion of “Lieutenant Colonel” Serafim of FDLR on its sanctions list.
“Rapes will continue so long as consequences are negligible,” she said, urging that future options and avenues of advancement for perpetrators be shut off, and that they be excluded from any amnesty provisions or reintegration benefits.
Efforts to end impunity, she said, presented a “glimmer of hope” for victims and their communities. Visiting Walikale itself, with impenetrable jungle on both sides of dirt roads, she had been able to imagine the dark night being split by gunshots and hordes of soldiers moving from one hut to another to loot and rape. The rapes of elderly women, in particular, left the communities reeling with shock.
During her visit, she said, she had also become gravely concerned about the ongoing military operations by the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) in the Walikale territory and reports picked up by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) that rapes, killings and lootings had been perpetrated by them. She called on the Government to swiftly investigate those allegations and hold any perpetrators to account, saying that the protection of civilians must be the primary consideration in the area.
She also urged the deployment of national police to Walikale to ensure security for rape investigators, as well as a “deeper police presence in general” in high risk zones. She said she had already requested that peacekeepers continue to monitor and report on rapes and other abuses through their daily situation reports and share that information with relevant MONUSCO civilian sections. The urgent deployment of human rights monitors would require additional resources, she added.
As there was a connection between exploitation of resources and sexual violence, she said, the recent mass rapes should be investigated from that angle, and she encouraged European countries and others to enact legislation that would require companies to disclose whether their products contained minerals sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Turning to efforts to strengthen the MONUSCO response, she stressed peacekeepers’ determination to protect civilians, despite being overstretched and underresourced, and she appealed to the Council to ensure that the Mission’s strong protection mandate was backed by adequate financial resources and other critical assets. She added that there seemed to be widening gap between the expectations on MONUSCO and the means the Mission has to execute that mandate.
She expressed concern, in addition, that implementation of the “Comprehensive Strategy to Combat Sexual Violence”, which coordinated MONUSCO’s response, lagged because United Nations agencies were still largely working in “silos”. Even some of the most critical services for survivors were not yet being delivered in an effective and timely manner.
She therefore called on United Nations agency heads at Headquarters to make it a personal priority to ensure that the innovative and comprehensive approach in the Democratic Republic of the Congo would become the United Nations flagship in preventing and addressing conflict-related sexual violence. She added that MONUSCO’s Sexual Violence Unit required adequate human resources.
Stressing that the role of the United Nations was to support national authorities who bore the primary responsibility to protect the population, she commended the Government for some of the policies adopted to combat sexual violence, including the moratorium on mining and the zero-tolerance policy for sexual violence within FARDC. “But so far,” she said, “zero tolerance has been underpinned largely by zero consequences.”
She said the country’s reputation continued to be held hostage by those who committed crimes of sexual violence and the perceived lack of will to address impunity. She therefore urged the Congolese leadership “to give voice and action to this issue, to send a signal that sexual violence is of the utmost priority”.
She warned that the atrocities committed daily against women and children would leave a devastating imprint on the country for years to come. “Where sexual violence has been a way of war, it can destroy a way of life,” she said. Children accustomed to rape and violence could grow into adults who accepted such behaviour as the norm. “For the women of Walikale […] justice delayed is more than justice denied — it is terror continued,” she said in conclusion.
The meeting began at 3:32 p.m. and ended at 3:47 p.m.
* *** *For information media • not an official record