French President Francois Hollande's companion Valerie Trierweiler answers reporters' questions after a side event on mutilation of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, during a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva May 30, 2013. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Geneva - France's first lady Valerie Trierweiler on Thursday urged the international community to help bring to justice those responsible for hundreds of thousands of rapes committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the past two decades.

“I want bring an end to the silence surrounding this tragedy, a tragedy that has been going on for more than 20 years. 500 000 women have been raped,” she lamented.

Speaking at a side event to an ongoing session of the UN human rights council in Geneva, Trierweiler launched an urgent appeal to help the women of DR Congo, often described as “the rape capital of the world.”

In her address before numerous diplomats from western and African countries, she insisted that “a strong response from the United Nations human rights council is necessary to establish a mechanism to protect human rights” and “fight impunity.”

Trierweiler, who met with UN human rights chief Navi Pillay before the event, spoke in her capacity as ambassador of the France Freedom Foundation, which co-hosted the panel discussion with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

Raping and mutilating women has been turned into a weapon of war in conflict ravaging eastern DR Congo, she lamented.

She stressed that the international community could do a lot to address the problem by simply enacting the many measures and initiatives it had already agreed upon, adding though that more stringent safeguards were needed to bring an end to violence inflicted on civilians.

A representative of the UN agency focused on AIDS and HIV, also spoke up at the event, pointing out that around 20 percent of DR Congo's rape victims end up with the deadly virus, and that the babies they give birth to are more often than not infected as well.

“We hope that your personal involvement will allow us to create a space for dialogue so we can fight this together,” he told the gathering.

Sexual violence against women in DR Congo increased sharply last year as a new rebellion engulfed the region in fresh unrest, with rebels and army soldiers alike accused of using rape as a weapon against the opposite side.

More than 5 000 women were raped in the restive eastern province of North Kivu alone in 2012, according to a local hospital.

Trierweiler's organisation has sent four doctors to DR Congo, especially to help train local physicians. - Sapa-AFP