UNHCR condemns endemic rape in DRC, helps survivors

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 23 April 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is alarmed by the large numbers of women who continue to be affected by sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). During the first 3 months of this year, UN data shows 1,244 women being sexually assaulted throughout the country - an average of almost 14 assaults each day.

A similar number of sexual assaults were recorded in the same period last year and we fear that the real numbers could be much higher considering that many survivors keep silent for fear of being ostracized.

UNHCR is disturbed by the lack of justice and prevailing impunity. Sexual violence constitutes among the most serious of crimes and should be treated as such. Survivors should be helped to report incidents without fear of reprisal.

More than a third of the recorded cases are in North and South Kivu provinces in eastern DRC. The region hosts some 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), including 100,000 in camps run by UNHCR.

In many cases women are raped when they venture out of their villages or camps to collect firewood, water and other essential means to survive. UNHCR is doing its utmost to reduce the exposure of women in IDP camps. In North Kivu, for example, we provide fuel-efficient stoves and firewood so that women need not venture beyond safe areas. Since 2008, we have provided fuel efficient stoves and firewood to some 4,200 families.

In addition to such prevention methods, we are also working to follow up on rape cases brought to our attention, by providing counseling, medical treatment and legal advice. Last year for example, we provided legal assistance to 145 survivors in South Kivu. Through our support, these families were able to file complaints in local courts. While most cases are still in progress, in 24 instances people have been found guilty and sentenced to jail terms of between two and 10 years. Some have also been ordered to pay compensation. This represents a significant development for justice but overall the number of cases in which criminal charges are being brought is tiny compared to the vast scale of the problem.

In DRC at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence have been recorded since 1996.