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R. Mountain: Progress has been very disappointing bringing sexual violence perpetrators to justice

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MONUC - November 6, 2007

With the continuous tense situation in East of the country triggering more sexual violence against women, we talked to MONUC Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Ross Mountain, about this issue and the efforts that the international community and the DRC government are doing to solve the problem.

With the continuous tense situation in East of the country triggering more sexual violence against women, we talked to MONUC Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Ross Mountain, about this issue and the efforts that the international community and the DRC government are doing to solve the problem.


INTERVIEW


Is sexual violence a long term societal problem in the DRC or it is just a result of war?

The further tragic dimension is that while the conflict has largely stopped, this practice continues on.

The tradition, as I understand it, has been to look after women and protect them in the different societies. Therefore, it is very largely a result of a protracted conflict in this country.

The further tragic dimension of this, however, is that while the conflict has largely stopped, this practice continues on, and frankly, given the very large number of cases, it continues to face women across this country.

Did you get any statistics on the number of victims of sexual violence?

It is quite hard to get specific statistics. Overall, I am sorry to say that we are dealing literally with hundred of thousands of victims over the last couple of years. For example, there was a UNFPA survey of roughly half of the health centers, last year, and that found 50,000 cases reported. If that many cases were reported, how many cases are really there.

In South Kivu alone, in 2006, we were looking at something like 25,000 cases. This is an extraordinary large problem. It is not just an anecdotal problem but a massive one that demands we all combined try and make sure that essentially not only women who are victims of rape and abuse are treated but that sexual violence must stop.

Who are the perpetrators?

Historically, it has been men in uniform on demand and, indeed, they remain the largest perpetrators as well. Today, they include clearly militias and the armed forces of this country as well as, and I am sorry to say, the police. That remains the prime group of perpetrators.

At the same time, however, the proportion that has been committed now by civilians, who are not military and uniform personnel, is increasing. That is a very troubling sign.

Is the government doing anything special to change this situation?
The proportion that has been committed now by civilians is increasing. That is a very troubling sign.

The government has been involved with the international community in what is called the “initiative conjointe” which brings together a number of UN agencies as well as national and international civil society and various ministers.

They deal first with the treatment of victims such as medical treatment and psycho-social treatment, and then, with their reinsertion back into their community or another community because of the stigmatization problem that unfortunately lingers on.

The government is also concerned with the issue of bringing perpetrators to justice. I am sorry to say that this is the weakest part of this exercise. While some progress has been made on the treatment side, and we have remarkable examples like Panzi Hospital, and MSF Hospital in Bunia, in terms of bringing the perpetrators to justice, progress has been very disappointing.

There have been some examples, such as in Equateur, where some seventy eight members of the military battalion were accused of having raped nearly 120 women. With the support of the international community and MONUC human rights, we managed to get some 12 of them brought before military justice where about six were convicted.

Unfortunately, with the current state of the prisons in this country, after a month or two nobody was in custody. I offer this as an example of the challenge that is before us and that is why we are working with our government partners to see how we can focus indeed specially on the area of justice and impunity. Without that, we fear that the dissuasion that is necessary for those who continue to repeat such practices will not have effect.

What exactly MONUC is doing?

MONUC is very involved with the humanitarian community in the protection of civilians. Our military forces are deployed around internally displaced camps and accumulations to provide protection and to discourage violence against civilians.
Unfortunately, with the current state of the prisons in this country, after a month or two nobody was in custody.

MONUC combine with the UN country team here, which is in this area led particularly by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to put together an integrated program that deals with all aspects of this. We are actively working with government partners in terms of making sure that this is denounced at all levels, that such violations are reported.

We are doing what we can collectively to ensure that those who are identified can be brought to justice. It is a long road, but it is a road that certainly has been started and we are determined that progress will be made.

What are the humanitarian agencies doing for sexual violence victims?

In my capacity as a humanitarian coordinator, I do have fund at my disposal for humanitarian work. This is one of the areas we have prioritized to ensure that, on one hand, protection is provided to avoid more of this happening, and on the other hand, victims of sexual violence do receive the kind of comfort and support that is obviously very important.

Currently we are concerned about the conflict that is going on in North Kivu where since September, there are about 150,000 people, including women and children, who have been displaced from their homes. Indeed, since last December, we were up to 350,000 displaced. That means in the province as a whole, we have currently about 800,000 displaced persons.

Unfortunately, we have seen at the same time an increase of sexual violence in the province again mostly perpetrated by men in uniform and that is something that clearly the UN agencies and the NGO partners as well as MONUC military are very sensitive about and very concerned that they do all that is possible to, on one hand stop these thing from happening and protect the population, and, on the other hand, try to bring relief, comfort and care to those who are victims.


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