KINSHASA, 28 February 2011 (IRIN) – More than 200 women, men and children have been treated for rape by the Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) since January 2011 in the Fizi region, South Kivu. While large-scale attacks on civilians, in which rape is used as a weapon of war, are a permanent feature of the conflict in eastern DRC, MSF said such repeated large-scale attacks on the same locations were unusual.
The most recent incidents occurred between 12 and 13 February, and 18 and 19 February respectively, involving at least 56 people, around the villages of Misisi/Milimba, and Bwala/Ibindi, at the exit of a market.
The survivors told MSF they were taken hostage, undressed and tied up with ropes. Women, men and children were systematically beaten and raped. All their belongings were stolen.
Witnesses said the attackers were armed men who appeared to be members of the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération de Rwanda (FDLR), a group founded by ringleaders and other perpetrators of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, which has been holed up in eastern DRC more or less ever since.
According to MSF, these attacks have been taking place in the same area, practically every week. Since 1 January, the organization has provided medical treatment to 200 people, all of them survivors of sexual violence in the region near Fizi.
In January, when 100 people had been raped, MSF said it had not provided medical treatment for rape on this scale in South Kivu since 2004.
“Mass rapes and violent attacks are happening with alarming regularity in this particular part of the Fizi region,” said Annemarie Loof, MSF head of mission in South Kivu, in a statement to IRIN. “We are extremely concerned about the fate of civilians who are being targeted amid the increasing violence and insecurity in this part of eastern DRC.”
“We do not have confirmation of exact figures; however, we have no reason to doubt MSF’s report and we are very worried,” said Maurizio Giuliano, head of public information at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Kinshasa. “We condemn the use of gang rape as a weapon of war. This is not about opportunistic rape; rather, it is a strategy. In this kind of attack, it is not only women that are targeted, but their families and the whole community. It is unacceptable.
“We hope that, during the next visit to the DRC, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, will bring up this issue with the government, MONUSCO [UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC] and representatives of the international community,” he added.
MONUSCO claims to have reinforced its presence in the region and recently organized patrols to accompany villagers when they go to market. “An investigation into these rapes, led by our Human Rights section, is ongoing,” George Ola Davies, head of the information division of MONUSCO, said.
In South Kivu, some 8,000 rapes were recorded for the year 2010, according to humanitarian organizations.
In August 2010, MONUSCO was severely criticized for its failure to protect civilians subjected to large-scale and systematic rape in Walikale. More than 300 women were targeted in three days of sexual violence and attacks by rebels from the group FDLR, and the Mai Mai.