Goma, DR Congo - Rape by armed men of displaced women is on the rise to an alarming extent in camps around Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a medical charity.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders) took in 95 victims of sexual assault between December 3 and January 5, the charity said in a statement released Wednesday.
Most of the attacks happen on a hill where women from displaced people's camps go to fetch wood for cooking, Thierry Goffeau, the MSF chief in the unstable and strife-torn North Kivu province, told AFP on Friday.
MSF deplored a “lack of involvement by bodies responsible for the protection of the civilian population”, since the reinforced presence of government troops and armed movements close to the camps “created chronic insecurity, where rapes are common currency”.
“On Thursday alone, we had 27 cases,” Goffeau said, adding that word of mouth details about clinical facilities could explain the growing number of raped women who come to MSF at the Mugunga III camp west of Goma, the capital of North Kivu, where they receive confidential treatment.
In mid-October, the Heal Africa hospital, which deals notably with rape cases, expressed concern about the “dramatic” increase in sexual assaults in North Kivu, adding that it had registered “about 5 000 raped women since the beginning of the year” 2012.
The hospital particularly blamed “armed groups” active in the region and added that government soldiers were also guilty of rape.
Goffeau said that “armed men” appeared to be attacking women spontaneously, rather than following a longstanding policy of systematic rape aimed at destroying the social fabric and as a “weapon of war”.
No rebels from the March 23 Movement (M23) - which seized control of Goma for 11 days at the end of November - were present on Rusayo hill, which was instead occupied by soldiers of the Congolese army, Goffeau said.
He accused a local tribal militia, the Mai Mai Nyatura, and rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) - two movements regularly blamed for atrocities - of operating in the area, as well as prisoners who broke out of Goma jail when M23 took the city.
The Mugunga III camp is run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Congolese government is supposed to maintain order. Troops of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country are responsible for external security.
Since M23 left Goma, only 450 policemen have returned to the city, which has about one million inhabitants. The army is based about 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of Goma, mainly at Minova.
Government troops are suspected of having raped 126 women, killed two civilians and gone on a looting spree, according to UN sources.
Fighting between M23 and the army has displaced 500 000 people since April, according to the UNHCR. After the battles that led to the rebel occupation of Goma, more than 100 000 people took refuge in displaced people's camps around the town.
Before Goma fell, the Mugunga III camp alone sheltered 17 000 people, but its population is growing daily because of the closure of small makeshift camps set up as M23 advanced, Goffeau said.
Latrines and a water supply system have been created, but food distribution has been suspended because occupants of the camp came under regular nightly attack by armed men who stole the food just after it was handed out. - Sapa-AFP