Sexual violence against women in DR Congo amounts to war crime: UN expert

26 October 2007 –

The scale and brutality of the sexual violence currently faced by women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity, an independent United Nations human rights expert has told the General Assembly.

Yakin Ertürk, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, told the Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural (Third) Committee yesterday that the international community needs to intervene urgently to stem the widespread sexual violence.

Ms. Ertürk spent 12 days in the DRC in July, speaking to Government officials, UN agency staff, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and many female victims of violence.

She said she found that the perpetrators include armed militiamen, members of the Congolese armed forces, national police officers and, increasingly, civilians.

“The situation is most acute in South Kivu, where non-State armed groups, particularly foreign militia, commit sexual atrocities that are of an unimaginable brutality and aim at the complete physical and psychological destruction of women with implications for the entire society,” she said.

“In many cases, the scale and brutality of the violence amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The Special Rapporteur said the problem was not confined to the far east, which has been the most unstable and violent part of the DRC in recent years and the scene of mass displacement this year because of renewed clashes between the Government, breakaway sections of the military and armed militia.

In Equateur province, near the centre of the DRC, soldiers and police officers have also carried out systematic reprisals against local civilians, including mass rape.

Ms. Ertürk said a climate of impunity for crimes against women predominated across the country.

“Security and the justice system fall short of addressing the problems of sexual violence and women survivors of rape lack sufficient care. Survivors are often also socially stigmatized and they are systematically denied the compensation to which they are entitled under international and Congolese law.”

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