The world must wake up to the situation in Congo

 Endemic rape, violence and rights abuses make creating an accountable national security service more vital than ever.

How have we got to a place in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where more than 150 women can be gang-raped by rebels in a four-day brutal attack only an hour’s drive from a UN base? It is traumatising simply reading the accounts, reported only this week, of what happened to ordinary people in a series of villages in Luvungi in the eastern part of the country at the beginning of the month.
The often understandable reaction to such extreme violence is to take a deep breath and shake one’s head in disbelief. The response of all us should be extreme anger and outrage at such atrocities. This is not a one-off event outside of human understanding.
Rather, outrageous human rights abuses are a daily reality for many people in eastern Congo, but they are preventable if there were the serious political will to stop them.
Last year alone, 15,000 women and girls were raped in DRC, with many more sex attacks going unreported. More than 150 women in four days or 15,000 in one year? These are numbers that have somehow been normalised in this long-running crisis, one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in the world.
Since early 2009, the emphasis for the UN Mission and the Congolese army has been on its military offensive against the rebels accused of perpetrating this most recent attack. Protection of local communities at risk of rape has not reached the top of the agenda; in fact, the military operations have put ordinary people at greater risk of attack.
An Oxfam survey released in July this year found that women overwhelmingly felt less safe than last year, in large part due to widespread rape. In the survey, of 816 people living in 24 communities in eastern Congo, 60 per cent of those surveyed felt security had deteriorated, with women and boys feeling particularly at risk.

The uses of an army

While the UN investigation into the Luvungi attack announced this week is a positive move, the scale of this incident must be the final wake-up call to the rest of the world. More, much more, must be done by all to improve security for Congolese children, women and men.
Ordinary people are bearing the brunt of the conflict because of a basic failure by those who have the responsibility to protect them. Today, that means the UN mission and tomorrow the Congolese army.
Improving security requires root-and-branch reforms to the national army and police force, institutions now in disarray. Soldiers lack training and discipline, while sections of the army are themselves perpetrators of widespread abuse, including sexual violence.

The people we work with tell us that the Congolese army is living in pitiful conditions — often deployed without rations, and with wages paid irregularly or stolen by commanders. Such living standards result in abuse and looting against citizens. All the communities surveyed by Oxfam said if soldiers were paid on time it would improve their security.

However, nothing can ever serve as an excuse for rape.
Only when accountable national security services, trained, paid, disciplined and supported, are deployed across the country will there be the possibility of a safe and secure DRC where people feel protected.
In the interim, the UN needs to do the job it’s been given: listening and responding to the security needs of ordinary Congolese people, getting boots on the ground, and working with the Congolese government to get the national army ready for securing peace and security in the long term.

The world must realise that deep suffering is happening every day for ordinary Congolese, and it has to stop.

Marcel Stoessel is Oxfam’s country director for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Tags: Congomments from readers
Felim McMahon 
27 August 2010 at 19:27
Possibly the most disturbing aspect of this terrible incident is the role of the UN and the FARDC (Congolese army). The latter continues to be the No 1 perpetrator of human rights abuses in DR Congo, while the former has been impotent in the face of large-scale abuses perpetrated by all sides in its area of operations.
More disturbing still is the reported cooperation between the army and rebel groups in the mineral-rich region of Walikale. Analyst and Congo expert Jason Stearns has detailed these links to the rapes on his blog here:http://congosiasa.blogspot.com/2010/08/mass-rape-in-walikale…
Mr Stearns’ report has got closer to the facts behind recent events in Walikale than anyone else who ‘did the story’.
In a nutshell, these rapes appear to have taken place during a rotation of Congolese armed forces, which upset the symbiotic (and mutually profitable) relationship between army and rebels.
Not only did the UN forces not stop this outrage; they are very much part of the landscape in which it takes place.
This debate needs to be about transparency as well as intervention.
swatantra nandanwar 
27 August 2010 at 19:32
Its an absolute disgrace. The Congo is a failed State bar none, ever since its ‘independence’. Its about time the UN stepped in, removed the corrupt Govt and took direct control under the Security Council of Nations. Let them govern it as a UN Mandate. How much longer is the World Community going to stand by and allow States such as the Congo and allow genocide and indiscriminate killings and abuse of its civilians to continue. The neglected people of Congo deserve better.
charlesfrith 
27 August 2010 at 20:52
Thanks for raising this. It’s reassuring to know that one of my old school media apertures feels it’s an alarm bell worth ringing.
jeremiah 
27 August 2010 at 22:01
Congo? Don’t those blasted Belgians run that colony?
The usual leftist dishonesty 
27 August 2010 at 22:30
The average IQ of Sub-Saharan Africa is 68.
Sub-Saharan Africans exhibit a markedly higher sexualisation than other groups.
EhtchTee 
28 August 2010 at 07:10
i would wake up but I am at the present moment over;oaded by chilliam miners and pakistani swimmers.
Jeez, give my brain a chance, for Gods sake.
The usual leftist dishonesty 
28 August 2010 at 12:42
Blue,
Please cite the research which proves that the average IQ of Sub-Saharan Africa is the same as Ashkenazic Jewry. Please cote the research which proves that me that Sub-Saharan Africans are identically sexualised to Han Chinese.
If you cannot cite either – and you can’t, of course – please find some way of coping with the truth without bandying your pathetic r-word about. No one gives a damn.
The reason these SSA males rape women and children is first because they have the minds of children and the sexual appetites of a tumescent Greek god, and second because all social constraint has collapsed.
I know you want to find some way of blaming the white man. But that is your own emotional crisis at work, and you really need to find some other way to cope with your condition.
RobHK 
28 August 2010 at 16:44
If only journalists were numerate.
15,000 rapes annually is 15,000 to many, but, if accurate hardly a cause for this sort of article. The equivalent figure for the UK, with a slightly smaller population is 65,000.
No, of course I don’t think the situation in DRC is one quarter as bad as in the UK, but I do think a competent journalist should at least look at a figure before printing it.
Chris Gilliver 
28 August 2010 at 18:27
Can “the usual leftist dishonesty” please cite the evidence for his research. You’re being hypocritical. Also, please cite the research which tells us there’s a link between low IQ and a raised likelihood of rape. Otherwise, take your unfounded, ridiculous opinions elsewhere.
I don’t think that the UN can take the blame for the diabolical atrocities occuring in the DRC, but something absolutely has to be done to improve the situation. Surely we can all agree on this?
Marcel Stoessel 
29 August 2010 at 09:43
15,000 reported rape cases (the small tip of the iceberg), mostly by armed men, are a cause for alarm, outrage, and action, wherever they may happen. I remember a woman, who told me in remote Lubero territory how she witnessed a gang rape of another woman by three armed men. Her children were with her and saw it all. One of the perpetrators inserted his entire fist into the vagina of the woman. She bled to death.
I suspect such a case would get some media coverage in the UK. It is a daily reality in Congo.
thomas vesely 
10 September 2010 at 15:43
you say the west must wake up,but surely,it is up to the congolese to do so.i am so over africa.in fact i am over the human race.
GregDyke 
11 November 2010 at 09:30
We cannot tolerate the fact that the UN. peacekeepers are one of the main instigators of rape and the sexual spread of AIDS. Fair enough then?

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