U.N. Officials Say 500 Were Victims of Congo Rapes" (The New York Times)
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The New York Times
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
UNITED NATIONS -- Approximately 500 women were raped in eastern Congo in July and August, demonstrating that both rebel militias and government troops used sexual violence as a weapon, two senior United Nations officials said Tuesday.
Since United Nations officials first disclosed late last month that large numbers of women had been gang-raped, the number reported has grown, to 242 victims from at least 150 concentrated in 13 villages in North Kivu Province, including 28 minors.
But Atul Khare, the deputy head of peacekeeping and the senior official sent from United Nations headquarters to investigate, told the Security Council on Tuesday that at least 257 more women had been raped elsewhere in North Kivu and South Kivu Provinces, for a total of at least 499 victims.
The latest victims include 21 girls between 7 and 21 years old, and six men, he said.
"Our actions were not adequate, resulting in unacceptable brutalization of the population of the villages of the area," he said of the peacekeeping mission, while noting that ultimately the protection of civilians was the job of the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Over 15,000 rapes were reported annually in both 2008 and 2009, Mr. Khare said. The latest reported include 10 rapes carried out in August by government soldiers, attacks that have been referred to a military prosecutor.
The Security Council will remain focused on the issue to try to better understand the underlying causes, said Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations. The rapes occur in villages near the transit routes for the lucrative trade in illegally extracted minerals.
Margot Wallstrom, who leads a new United Nations office concentrating on sexual violence in armed conflict, told the Council that the rapes in the villages in North Kivu "were not an isolated incident but part of a broader pattern of widespread systematic rape and pillage."
She cited horrific accounts from women attacked around Kibua, a village in North Kivu, that militiamen shoved their hands inside women's sexual organs to look for hidden gold and that the village was surrounded so that no one could run away.
Both United Nations officials said that the organization must work harder to bring the perpetrators or their commanding officers to trial. They also said that the United Nations must be more active in trying to prevent rapes as soon as they hear that rebel fighters are on the move.
The first reports of clashes came in late July, but it took weeks for word of the large number of rapes to emerge.
United Nations peacekeepers are stationed about 20 miles away from where the rapes took place, but none visited until Aug. 2, when a patrol passed through one village. United Nations officials said no villagers had come forward initially about the rapes.
But an e-mail sent within United Nations agencies on July 30, as the attack was unfolding, indicates that United Nations officials knew that rebels were in the area and that at least one woman had reportedly been raped.