UNITED NATIONS reported that the Democratic Republic of Congo troops raped at least 97 women and 33 girls, some as young as 6, in the country’s volatile east after they fled from advancing M23 rebels in late November, according to a U.N. report released in May, 2013. The horrific happenings occured in late November of 2012.
The majority of the rapes by the Congolese army (FARDC) occurred in Minova during a two-day period, and most cases documented by U.N. Joint Human Rights Office were committed in the same manner.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, has a mandate to protect civilians and support operations by the Congolese army. There are more than 17,000 U.N. troops in Congo, a country the size of Western Europe.
Peacekeepers have been stretched thin by the M23 rebellion in the resource-rich eastern Congo. U.N. experts said last year the M23 rebels were backed by Rwanda, but Rwanda has repeatedly denied any involvement.
The 391st battalion was trained by the United States in 2010 as “a model for future reforms within the Congolese armed forces,” according to the U.S. Africa Command website.
The U.S. Defense Department said last month it condemned the crimes in Minova “irrespective of which unit is accused” and that U.S. training included teaching respect for human rights and prevention of gender-based violence.
The report said the United Nations threatened on February 4 to withdraw support for battalions 41 and 391 over the accusations of rights abuses in Minova but decided to continue working with them after the commanders and deputy commanders were suspended.
“FARDC soldiers entered houses, usually in groups of three to six and, after threatening the inhabitants, looted whatever they could find,” the Joint Human Rights Office, which is part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, wrote in its report on abuses in eastern Congo between November 15 and December 2.
“One or two of the soldiers would leave with the looted goods and at least one would stand guard as the remaining FARDC soldiers raped women and girls in the house,” the report said. “Most victims were raped by more than one soldier.”
Twelve senior officers, including the commanders and deputy commanders of the 41st and 391st battalions, have been suspended over the Minova incidents and “were to be put at the disposal of military justice authorities.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo is a country of superlatives. It is vast and rich in minerals such as diamonds and gold, yet living standards are among the lowest in the world.
Note on DRC and homosexuality Same-sex sexual activity is legal in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Age of consent is equal, regardless of sex. Homosexual acts have never been explicitly outlawed in the country’s history. Before the foundation of the state in 1960, the Democratic Republic of the Congo belonged to the European colonial power Belgium. In Belgium, homosexual acts were decriminalized in 1794.
Although same-sex sexual activity is legal, the U.S Department of State 2010 Human Rights Report found that “individuals engaging in public displays of homosexuality were subject to prosecution under public decency provisions in the penal code and articles in the 2006 law on sexual violence.