At least 150 women raped in weekend raid in Congo

Note: This article contains disturbing content that may be triggering to some readers.

By Josh Kron

 

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — A mob of Rwandan rebels gang-raped at least 150 women last month during a weekend raid on a community of villages in eastern Congo, United Nations and other humanitarian officials said Sunday.

 

The United Nations blamed the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or F.D.L.R., for the attack. The F.D.L.R. is an ethnic Hutu rebel group that has been terrorizing the hills of eastern Congo for years, preying on villages in a quest for the natural resources beneath them.

 

The raided villages are near the mining center of Walikale, known to be a rebel stronghold, and are “very insecure,” said Stefania Trassari, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “Rape is something we get quite often.”

 

But she and other United Nations and humanitarian officials said that this attack was unusual because of the large number of victims and the fact that they were raped by more than one attacker simultaneously.

 

On the evening of July 30, armed men entered the village of Ruvungi, in North Kivu Province.

 

“They told the population that they were just there for food and rest and that they shouldn’t worry,” said Will F. Cragin, the International Medical Corps’ program coordinator for North Kivu, who visited the village a week after their arrival.

 

“Then after dark another group came,” said Mr. Cragin, referring to between 200 and 400 armed men who witnesses described as spending days and nights looting Ruvungi and nearby villages.

 

“They began to systematically rape the population,” he said, adding, “Most women were raped by two to six men at a time.”

 

The attackers often took the victims into the bush or into their homes, raping them “in front of their children and their families,” Mr. Cragin said. “If a car passed, they would hide.”

 

The rebels left on Aug. 3, he said, the same day the chief of the area traveled through the villages and reported horrific cases of sexual violence. “We thought at first he was exaggerating,” Mr. Cragin said, “but then we saw the scale of the attacks.”

 

Miel Hendrickson, a regional director for the International Medical Corps, which has been documenting the rape cases, said, “We had heard first 24 rapes, then 56, then 78, then 96, then 156.”

 

“The numbers keep rising,” she said. The United Nations maintains a military base approximately 20 miles from the villages, but United Nations officials said they did not know if the peacekeepers there were aware of the attack as it occurred. A United Nations military spokesman, Madnoje Mounoubai, said information was still being gathered.

 

The F.D.L.R., which began as a gathering of fugitives of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, has grown into a resilient and savage killing machine and an economic engine in the region.

 

The United Nations, Congo and Rwanda began a military offensive against the group in early 2009, but since then, humanitarian organizations say, cases of rape have risen drastically.

 

“It’s awful,” Ms. Trassari said. “The numbers are quite worrying.”

 

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited eastern Congo in 2009 to raise awareness about widespread rape in the region, calling it “evil in its basest form,” and the United States pledged $17 million to the Congolese government to fight sexual violence.

 

(To read original article, visit this New York Times link.)

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