(London) – The Democratic Republic of Congo and other governments attending the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict should make concrete commitments to justice for Congolese victims, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Global Summit is being held in London from June 10 to 13, 2014.
The 24-page report, “Ending Impunity for Sexual Violence: New Judicial Mechanism Needed to Bring Perpetrators to Justice,” describes some of the worst cases of mass rape and other forms of sexual violence committed in recent years by the Congolese army and non-state armed groups in Congo, and the inadequate efforts to hold those responsible to account.
“Tens of thousands of women, girls, men, and boys in eastern Congo have been victims of sexual violence over the past two decades,” said Ida Sawyer, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This widespread sexual violence will not end until those responsible are prosecuted, and the government makes clear to soldiers, officers, combatants, and warlords that rape carries a high price.”
Armed groups have abducted and held women and girls as sex slaves, attacked the victims with machetes and other weapons, and targeted girls as young as two and women older than 80. Many victims developed serious medical complications, and some died from their wounds. Armed groups and members of the army have also used rape to “punish” civilians belonging to a particular ethnic group, or those they accused of supporting the “enemy.”
Stigma and fear of rejection have prevented many women and girls from reporting rape. Others live in remote areas with no psychosocial or medical services. Many have been threatened by the attackers or members of their armed group or army unit, deterring victims from seeking justice.
In recent years, Congolese authorities have carried out an increasing number of arrests and prosecutions for rape, but the vast majority of rapes go unpunished, Human Rights Watch said. The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in Congo recorded 187 convictions by military courts for sexual violence between July 2011 and December 2013. Four of those convicted were members of armed groups; the others were soldiers, police, or other state agents. Of the 136 soldiers convicted, only three were senior officers, all lieutenant colonels.
A government proposal to establish specialized mixed chambers for the most serious crimes, including crimes of sexual violence, could strengthen accountability and deserves international support, Human Rights Watch said. The chambers would be located within Congo’s national judicial system with the participation of international judges and other personnel for a limited period. They would have the mandate to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed in Congo since 1993.
“The many victims of sexual violence crimes committed during Congo’s conflicts deserve to see justice done,” Sawyer said. “Countries at the Global Summit should support a new judicial mechanism in Congo to bring those involved in these egregious crimes to justice, including the commanders who are ultimately responsible for these atrocities.”