The intensification of armed conflict in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has led to increasing accusations of sexual violence against women by both soldiers of the DR Congo national army and combatants of the various armed groups.
The most recent case was made public on March 25. It was the rape of a young lady in the night of March 17 to 18 in the Lengabo territory by armed individuals believed to be senior officers of the Congolese army.
The president of the Ituri civil society organization has, in a strongly-worded statement, called on the military authorities to take immediate action.
“Last week, we treated a lady who was assaulted in the night by armed men wearing the uniform of the national army. The lady told us that she went out of her house and was moving towards the toilet when she met some armed men who assaulted her sexually. They also entered into her house and took away valuable objects”, Noella Alifwa, Coordinator of the Karibuna Wa Mama Centre of Sofepadi revealed.
The Coordinator revealed that the lady reported to them the day after the incident and they gave her the necessary assistance as she was severely bruised.
When contacted on March 25, the Congolese army spokesperson in Bunia, Jules Ngongo said the army had no knowledge of the said attack against the young lady adding that there are firm instructions that such behavior would not be tolerated within the ranks of the armed forces.
Dieudonne Lossa, President of the Civil Society in Ituri on his part made pertinent recommendations to the Congolese army concerning cases of sexual violence.
“We have been informed of a case of sexual violence carried out by suspected senior military officers in the Lengabo territory, two kilometres from Bunia. It is a situation we deplore. We know that the state, through its army has a mission to protect the populations and their goods. If that unfortunately happened, we call on the army hierarchy in Bunia to search for the perpetrators of these acts and bring them to justice because this comportment cannot be tolerated. Let military justice take control of the dossier so that the guilty should be sanctioned”, Dieudonne Lossa said.
The president of the civil society expressed the fear that Lengabo territory may sooner or later be deserted by the population if such acts of sexual violence against their women implicating uniformed men continue.
“We call on the Congolese state to protect the population. There were clashes recently between the army and militias in this zone. If the population discover that the national army is guilty of sexual violence against their women, they would desert this zone and no longer inhabit this part of the town.
“Let the Congolese state put in place a mechanism to follow up the actions of soldiers on the ground and in cases where offenses occur, let the perpetrators be brought before the law. There should also be a court chamber installed in Lengabo to serve as a lesson to military officers suspected to have committed these acts”, Lossa added.
On her part, Noella Alifwa revealed that during the first three months of 2021, 150 cases of sexual violence against women have already been registered.
“Women are very exposed in this conflict zone. They sometimes leave town to go to the farm to search for firewood or food to feed their families and it is generally at this moment that they are attacked.”
“We call on the perpetrators of these sexual assaults to consider that these women could be their mothers or their sisters and that these acts could be committed against members of their families too. The law must be enhanced so that these acts are not repeated”, Noella Alifwa said.
It should be recalled that during his last press conference as chief of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), Leila Zerrougui, the former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to the DR Congo called on the judiciary to sanction each soldier found guilty of sexual violence in the east of the country.