Congolese rebel groups such as M23 accused over recent sharp increase in sexual violence against women and children
Heal Africa, which runs a hospital for rape victims in the eastern city of Goma, said it had registered 2,517 cases in the first half of this year. The total comprised 2,339 females – 105 of whom became pregnant – and 178 males. The number of perpetrators was 2,134.
There has been a sharp increase in sexual violence in recent months, Heal Africa added, although figures since June are not yet available.
A six-month uprising by the rebel group M23, led by war crimes suspect Bosco “the Terminator” Ntaganda, has caused fresh turmoil in eastern Congo and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. A UN report claims the rebellion is being supported by neighbouring Rwanda.
Emmanuel Baabo, leader of Heal Africa’s project dealing with sexual violence, said: “The numbers are rising because several armed groups – not only the M23 – have increased their activities over several months. In times of fighting you usually see also rape, refugees, stealing, killing and the burning of houses going up.
“The staff of Heal Africa are frustrated to see all this. We are working for a change in Congo and now it is getting worse. And of course you are always thinking: ‘What has happened to this girl can happen tomorrow to my sister, daughter or wife.'”
Heal Africa did not have comparative statistics for last year, but said the 745 child victims it recorded marks a significant shift.
Baabo said: “More and more children are being raped. The reasons are disrespect of children’s rights, brutalisation of society as a consequence of the unrest in eastern Congo for such a long time, and also some cultural and traditional habits. For example, some people think that they can be healed from Aids if they sleep with a child.”
The health organisation said an estimated two thirds of women and girls in North Kivu province had experienced sexual violence. Its work is now being hindered by the renewed fighting as some villages are not longer accessible.
Baabo added: “We had also some cases where some armed men stopped our car and stole money and mobile phones. They even took a driver, went with him in the forest and held a gun to his head saying they will kill him. Luckily they let him go, but he was very afraid.
“Several armed groups also have road blocks, stop cars and ask for money or food. In some villages which are occupied by some armed groups they take you in some office and interrogate you for hours.”