The UN must put its words into action on Congo

The UN must put its words into action on Congo

Over the last month there have been more than 500 sexual assaults reported in eastern Congo, including over 200 in four days in the village of Luvungi, only a short distance from the UN peacekeepers’ compound. Marcel Stoessel says the admission of failure by the UN to protect victims of mass rape must turn into real practical protection of civilians: The scale of these brutal attacks is shocking. They must be the final wake up call to the international community do to more – much more – to improve the security of Congolese people.

Unfortunately, we have been here before. We need more than rhetoric this time. Making ordinary Congolese feel safe must take place on the ground, not just within the corridors of the UN.

Sadly, what happened in Luvungi isn’t an isolated event. Ten days later, up to 130 women were reportedly brutally raped in neighbouring South Kivu. It is reported that this time the Congolese army was also responsible. The government of Congo is first and foremost responsible for protecting its civilians. Local communities in various parts of the country are crying out  for a reform of the national army. This call must be answered.

MONUSCO’s protection obligations are clear– what’s needed is a better enforcement of them. The UN force must go out into the villages, listen and respond to the security needs of Congolese men, women and children. This means driving across conflict-affected regions, getting out of their armoured vehicles and interacting with communities to understand the threats people are facing and how best to protect them.

This is what protecting civilians should be about. Until the Congolese army is reformed, the UN force  is the best bet civilians have for protection.

An Oxfam survey released in July this year found that women interviewed overwhelmingly felt less safe than last year, in a large part due to widespread rape. The survey of 816 people living in 24 communities affected by the ongoing Congolese military operations against militia groups in North and South Kivu revealed that 60 percent of those surveyed felt security had deteriorated, with women and boys feeling particularly at risk.

Last year alone 15,000 women and girls were raped in DRC, with many more going unreported.

More than 150 women in four days or 15,000 in one year – these are numbers which have somehow been normalised in this long-running crisis and one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in the world.

Watch Marcel talk to Al Jazeera’s Riz Khan about what should be done in Congo:

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