Africa: UN ‘gravely concerned’ by reports of mass rape in DRC

The UN has raised the alarm over widespread, systematic sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), saying there have been reports of armed groups carrying out mass rape.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency, said its staff had heard horrific testimonies from forcibly displaced people in south-eastern Tanganyika province.

The agency is “gravely concerned about incidents of widespread and systematic sexual violence against Congolese women and girls”, said its spokesperson, Shabia Mantoo.

“In just the past two weeks, humanitarian partners in the Kongolo and Mbulula health zones have recorded 243 incidents of rape, 48 of which involved minors, in 12 different villages,” Mantoo said.

The true number of incidents is thought to be even higher, as the reporting of gender-based violence remains a taboo in most communities.

“The attacks are reportedly being carried out by rival armed groups competing to maintain control over mining areas – especially goldmines – and as retaliation against government-led military operations,” Mantoo said.

“Civilians find themselves trapped in the middle of intense confrontations between different groups. Our staff have heard horrific testimonies of extreme violence. Forcibly displaced persons have accused armed groups of carrying out mass rape as women attempt to flee their homes.”

She said some women and girls had been abducted and raped, and ransoms had been demanded from families in exchange for their freedom.

According to UN estimates, nearly 310,000 people have been uprooted by insecurity and violence and remain displaced in Tanganyika province.

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Mantoo said more than 23,000 people had been displaced since May in the province’s northern Kongolo area alone, according to local authorities, with most having fled insecurity multiple times.

The UNHCR called on DRC authorities to scale up security in the so-called “triangle of death” in the wider region to protect civilians, and to allow humanitarian access and launch investigations to bring perpetrators to justice.

The agency said it had received 36% of the $205m (£148m) needed for its operations in the DRC. Theguardian

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