7 September 2010

While State Has Primary Responsibility for Protecting Civilians, Preventing Rapes in Democratic Republic of Congo, ‘We Have Also Failed,’ Says Top UN Official

7 September 2010
Security Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6378th Meeting (PM)

While State Has Primary Responsibility for Protecting Civilians, Preventing Rapes

in Democratic Republic of Congo, ‘We Have Also Failed,’ Says Top UN Official

Council Briefed by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Atul Khare,

And Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström

While the primary responsibility for the protection of civilians and for preventing the mass rapes that occurred in August in the Democratic Republic of the Congo lay with the State, failures could be traced to the peacekeeping mission there as well, the head of an investigative mission on the incidents told the Security Council in a briefing this afternoon.

“Clearly, we have also failed.  Our actions were not adequate, resulting in unacceptable brutalization of the population of the villages in the area.  We must do better,” Atul Khare, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, told the 15-member body, which was also briefed today by Margot Wallström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.  

Outlining the chain of events that led to the events with the aid of projected maps and photographs, Mr. Khare proposed measures to improve the response of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), and called for rapid punishment of the perpetrators.  He also recommended that the Council consider targeted sanctions on the leaders of the ethnic Hutu militia known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), to which responsibility had been attributed, along with Mayi-Mayi units, if a chain of command was proven.

Mr. Khare said he visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 28 August and 2 September to investigate recent incidents in which, between 30 July and 2 August, at least 242 civilians were raped in 13 villages in North Kivu province’s Banamukira territory of the eastern part of the country.  He also visited a nearby area where three Indian peacekeepers were killed on 18 August, and travelled to areas of South Kivu where cases of rapes had been reported as well.

He said that units of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known as FARDC, deployed in the area where the mass rapes occurred were withdrawn on 25 July to undertake operations against the FDLR, which remained a reasonably strong armed group in the area.  Between 30 July and 5 August, clashes between the FARDC and the FDLR were reported in the area, and subsequent patrols found evidence of attacks and looting against villages, but no reports of rapes.

On 5 August, MONUSCO received information indicating that 15 rape victims had sought medical attention, after the perpetrators left the 13 area villages they had besieged.  The inhabitants of Luvingi, which recorded the largest number of rape victims, over 103, told him that a Mayi-Mayi Cheka leader, “Colonel” Mayele, and Colonel Serafim of the FDLR, claimed they had come to protect the area and wanted to participate in the reintegration process and only wanted to rest in the village.  Subsequently the rapes took place.

On 1 September, he said, MONUSCO launched operation Shop Window, a “force projection operation”, for area domination in the interest of protecting civilians where the mass rapes occurred and also assisting the relevant authorities to apprehend the perpetrators.  The operations had been extended to 10 September and may be extended further.

Mr. Khare also provided a brief update on the rapes in Uvira and other regions of North and South Kivu, which he also visited.  In regard to the rapes committed by elements of the FARDC, he said that the military prosecutor had recently opened an investigation, and he voiced hope that justice would be as quick as possible.  His mission clearly indicated to the FARDC that it would need to maintain a much higher standard of discipline and observance of human rights.

In such isolated areas, where many male villages were frequently absent, continuous efforts at improving relations with the communities served by MONUSCO and better mechanisms of information gathering were essential, he said.  It had also been decided that more evening and night patrols should be undertaken, as well as more random and spot-check patrols.

In addition, he said, it had been decided that within the next few weeks a separate tactical doctrine, building on the rules of engagement, would be developed for the central and temporary operating bases to provide guidance for response when reports of armed group movements were received in high threat areas, along with a standardized questioning protocol to get better information from community members.

As mobile phone coverage did not exist in many areas plagued by rapes, he said, the mission had decided to swiftly evaluate the technical and financial aspects of installation of high frequency radio repeaters in such areas, in order to allow villagers to call for assistance in a timely manner.  He strongly recommended that the Council encourage such installations as a matter of priority.  In areas where mobile phone coverage was available, MONUSCO was actively engaged in creating a system that allowed a limited number of users to report imminent threat or attack.

He reported that the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had already constituted a Commission to bring the perpetrators of the mass rapes to justice.  United Nations units and the American Bar Association, among others, had offered support to that project, but no decision had yet been taken on the start date of the Commission’s work. He urged the Government to take advantage of assistance offered in a timely manner.

Additional efforts, he said, should include more sustained and rigorous work in implementing all priorities of the 23 March 2009 Peace Agreements in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the area of reintegration of former combatants.  Describing efforts under the International Security and Stabilization Strategy, which supported State efforts to enforce the law in conflict-affected areas, he said that the areas where the rapes occurred were underserved, because they were still not considered safe enough for such efforts.  Financial constraints also limited State institution-building in such areas.

In the meantime, he said, the United Nations Country Team had developed programmes to expand monitoring and early-warning systems, reintegration programmes and road networks, and to reinforce State capacity in rule of law and local governance.  He appealed to the Government and to international stakeholders to implement those projects as a priority. 

One of the main findings of his visit was that rape was the only violation for which communities tented to stigmatize the victim rather than prosecute the perpetrator.  They were victimized twice.  Once by the perpetrators and then by their communities, he said, it was important to sensitize both the victims and their communities about the necessity to seek treatment and legal recourse.  For that reason, MONUSCO would put greater emphasis on sensitization programmes, through Radio Okapi and other means.

All such measures, he said, had to be complemented by sustained military pressure on illegal armed groups; non-military measures to address the FDLR issue; combating the illegal exploitation of natural resources, which was allegedly driving violence; establishing effective State authority in the conflict affected area; and building the country’s security and rule of law institutions.

Finally, he described the joint United Nations/Government assessment that would form the basis for decisions about the next steps in MONUSCO’s drawdown.  The process, which had been completed in the eastern areas, had so far demonstrated the need for a cautious approach.  The joint assessment had built greater understanding between the Government and MONUSCO on the remaining threats and the complex challenge of protecting the civilian population.  A detailed update on the process would be provided in the Secretary-General’s October report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In her briefing, Ms. Wallström, whom had been represented on the investigative mission by a senior staff member, told of the outrages described by the victims and said that the women of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo deserved better and that the “ripple of devastation” emanating from such incidents powerfully illustrated that sexual violence was an impediment to peace, stability and security.

Humanitarian actors were now struggling to provide essential health services to the victims of the mass rape in North Kivu, she said, but none had received post-exposure prophylaxis to protect them from HIV, mainly because of the time that elapsed between the rape and treatment.  Many victims had not even come forward, because of stigmatization.

Among the critical lessons that must be taken from the tragedy was that the actual reporting of rape cases should not be viewed as a pre-requisite for robust protection responses.  Peacekeepers must be more keenly attuned to other indicators, including the movements of armed groups, their proximity to civilian centres, patterns of looting and pillage, blocking of access and the concerns of women.

Noting that the rapes seemed planned and part of a concerted military operation, she reiterated her opinion that where sexual violence was planned, it must also be viewed as preventable.  She welcomed the concrete recommendations provided by Mr. Khare on strengthening early warning capabilities and she pledged to prioritize the establishment of systems for obtaining real-time, actionable information, drawing on lessons learned from tracking grave violations against children in armed conflict.

The United Nations slow response in the cases investigated must be examined not in a spirit of self-recrimination, but with a determination and resolve to do better to protect civilians in what was undoubtedly one of the most complex, vast and volatile conflict zones in the world. 

In that context, she said, peacekeepers must receive the necessary training.  She intended to work closely with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and troop-contributing countries to compile an inventory of promising practices for protection from sexual violence, which needed to be systematized to be included in pre-deployment training.

She also stressed the importance, in that regard, of ending the illegal exploitation of natural resources and supporting the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in fulfilling its obligation as the primary protector of civilians.  Most importantly, however, the spotlight should be concentrated on the perpetrators, who must be brought to justice to deter such atrocities in the future.  Focusing on the United Nations failures too concertedly could take some of the attention away from that crucial endeavour.

In that effort, names that had already been identified among militia leaders must be followed up on in a timely fashion, before the trail goes cold, she said, adding that her role was to ensure sustained attention on such action through public advocacy and direct political dialogue.  She intended, in addition, to pursue engagement with armed groups, as had happened in regard to protection of children. 

She urged the Council to impose targeted sanctions, beginning with the commanders of the armed groups responsible for the mass rapes.  She also urged Member States which had FDLR leaders residing in their countries to take legal action against them in line with resolution 1925 (2010).

In addition, she called for support to the stabilization programmes for the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as to MONUSCO’s sexual violence unit.  In conclusion, she said that rape survivors must be assisted and the international community must do its utmost to ensure that there were no more victims through immediate and concerted action.  “Our policies of zero tolerance cannot be backed by a reality of zero consequences,” she said.

Following those briefings, the representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Atoki Ileka, voiced his disgust at what he called heinous rapes committed in the Luvingi area.  He expressed appreciation for the investigation and the Council’s attention, saying that the briefings should be followed by solutions that included specific actions.  An entire series of sanctions, however, would not be effective.

He said that the criminals, who had committed those heinous acts, at least those from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were mostly young, and were creatures of the war that had gone on for more than 15 years.  Nevertheless, robust action must be taken against them.  His Government took gender-based violence very seriously and had determined that it must be eradicated.  A small group of Mayi-Mayi had been already arrested and prosecuted.  In addition, the zero-tolerance policy would continue.

That was not enough, however.  He urged that resolution 1925 be applied to help the Government pursue the perpetrators and bring them to justice.  He said that his Government had called for years to help it clear its territories of the criminal militias.  He supported, in addition, an inquiry, but warned that an inquiry would not end the scourge of rape and other abuse of civilian.  The “terrorists and assassins” must be strongly pursued.

MONUSCO must support such actions to be of any service to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said.  North Kivu had the largest concentration of armed security services in the country, but their number palled in significance in comparison with the area to be protected. 

In addition, he said that medical assistance must be provided to the victims and he thanked those agencies that had already helped.  MONUSCO also needed to assist the Government in strengthening the police to protect local populations.  Requests for such assistance had so far fallen on deaf ears, he maintained.  The strengthening of the justice system and the human rights framework in the country was also crucial.  He called on the Security Council to act with a sense of equity, so that the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo could believe that their prospects would improve, with a general “peace that would put an end to the crimes we all deplore”.

The meeting was opened at 3:08 p.m. and closed at 4:15 p.m., when the Council went into consultation the topic, as previously agreed.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.