Rape cases soar in South Kivu

There has been a marked increase in the number of rape cases being recorded in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) province of South Kivu, where Rwandan Hutu militia attacks against civilians have intensified, according to civil and humanitarian officials.

"As is usual, the FDLR [Forces démocratiques pour la liberation du Rwanda] attack at night, they burn [houses]... and take women to the forest where they rape them ..." Venant Rugusha, the civil society coordinator, told IRIN.

Recent attacks were reported on 1 June in some villages in the territory of Mwenga, which were set on fire and a case of rape reported, according to the Mwenga Catholic parish priest, Arthur Katanga.

The localities of Kilungutwe, 45km from Mwenga, and Kalama were among those attacked, according to a briefing by the NGO Caritas, which said the attacks were interpreted by the affected population as a warning by the rebels, who are advocating for a non-military solution, to leave the DRC.

The DRC and Rwandan governments conducted a joint military operation early this year to oust the FDLR, comprised mainly of Rwandan Hutu rebels, and a direct descendant of the forces that carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Caritas said the attacks were reminiscent of the 1998/1999 massacres in South Kivu. Kasika, 5km from Kalama, was among those affected by the massacres in Mwenga, where about 10 women were buried alive in September 1999.

Reported cases

According to a public information officer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Nestor Yombo, at least 463 cases of rape have been recorded in the past three months - more than half the number reported in the whole of 2008.

"A three-year-old girl succumbed to injuries sustained from defilement, presumably by the FDLR," Yombo said. "According to her mother, the [girl's] sisters aged 12, 14 and 17 have also all been raped at least once by armed men."

The rise in rape cases coincided with the deployment of Congolese troops in the province in preparation for another anti-FDLR operation, he said. Most of the rapes were recorded towards northern South Kivu.

At least 103 rape cases were recorded between 1 April and 14 May in the heavily militarized territory of Kalehe in South Kivu, he said. Attacks against aid workers have also increased. 

"The FDLR rape daily but there are also isolated rape cases by the FARDC [national army] which the government has not taken charge of for a long time," said Rugusha, the civil society coordinator.

Photo: OCHA
South Kivu is experiencing a marked increase in sexual violence

Indiscriminate abuse

Sexual violence was also witnessed in neighbouring North Kivu Province with the resumption of clashes in August 2008, according to a May report by the International Crisis Group. "Sexual violence, previously used as a weapon of war, became indiscriminate," it stated.

"Despite unprecedented international condemnation of the sexual violence, impunity remained widespread. Civil society reports show that the national army and the police were both guilty of sexual violence but, unlike civilians, faced no risk of prosecution," it said.

"... In June 2008, 2,200 rape cases were registered in North Kivu. These numbers represent only a fraction of the victims of sexual abuse – those able and willing to report or seek assistance."

In South Kivu, between January and September 2007, Bukavu’s Panzi hospital registered 2,773 rapes, of which 2,447 were attributed to the FDLR.

A group of FDLR deserters, mixed with Congolese militia called Rasta, was identified as primarily responsible for a pattern of rape and genital mutilation against Congolese women that some analysts believe amounted to ethnic cleansing in pursuit of territorial domination.