UNHCR criticizes lack of justice for rape survivors in Congo
GENEVA, Switzerland, April 23 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has expressed concern about the lack of justice for the thousands of women who are raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) every year, and prevailing impunity for rapists.
"Sexual violence constitutes among the most serious of crimes and should be treated as such," UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told journalists Friday. "Survivors should be helped to report incidents without fear of reprisal."
New UN figures show 1,244 women have been raped in DRC during the first three months of this year, and the numbers could be much higher because of under-reporting.
More than a third of the recorded cases are in the provinces of North and South Kivu in eastern DRC. The region hosts some 1.4 million internally displaced persons, 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 basic necessities.
UNHCR is taking steps to keep women safe, such as providing fuel-efficient stoves and firewood to women in North Kivu. Since 2008, the UN refugee agency has 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," Fleming added.
Thanks to UNHCR legal assistance, 145 survivors in South Kivu were able to file complaints in local courts. Most of the cases are still before the courts, but 24 people have been found guilty and sentenced to jail terms of between two and 10 years, and 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," said Fleming.
In DRC at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence have been recorded since 1996.