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U.S. condemns Congo sexual violence after soldiers rape 248

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The United States condemned sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Wednesday, spurred by sexual attacks on 248 women and children by government troops last month in the same region as a mass rape by rebels last year.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the latest rapes in the southeastern Kivu region of the central African nation in June were "gravely" disturbing.

"We strongly condemn these severe human rights abuses," Ms. Nuland said. "The United States is committed to working with the [Congo], and we urge the government to fully investigate, arrest and prosecute those found responsible for these attacks."

Congolese government troops attacked women and children in three villages from June 11 to 13, only a year after rebel soldiers sexually assaulted 387 in the same region. Victims in the 2010 mass rapes in Walikale included a month-old boy.

A judicial investigation into those attacks was suspended in November because of threats to victims, a report from the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office said on Wednesday.

Despite the testimony of 150 victims, only one person has been arrested in connection with last July's rapes.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said the lack of action against the men who carried out the attacks has led to even more displays of "despicable viciousness."

"Since the attacks in Walikale, there have been many other instances of rape and other types of sexual violence being systematically used as weapons of war and reprisal by armed groups," Mr. Pillay said. "The government should pursue its efforts to bring perpetrators to justice and ensure that victims and witnesses are protected, given the high risk of reprisals."

More than 12 percent of Congo's female population between the ages of 15 and 49 have been raped, about 48 women per hour, according to a study released in June by the American Journal of Public Health.

The United Nations has called Eastern Congo the "rape capital" of the world, but the U.N. mission in the Congo has faced severe criticism for failing to prevent the attacks.

The 2010 rapes in Walikale occurred only 12 miles from a U.N. peacekeeping base, but the U.N. troops took several days to provide relief for the victims.

During the attacks, peacekeepers even escorted a commercial caravan of trucks through the district and noted the looting and chaos without responding. The U.N. report said troops did not have a translator to explain what was going on.

The United Nations has 19,000 peacekeeping troops in the country in a $1 billion-a-year mandate to protect civilians and monitor a ceasefire agreement that was supposed to have ended one of Africa's worst civil wars, which claimed three million lives.

However, the Congolese government still is battling remnants of the rebel marauders in the eastern part of the country.

• This article is based in part on wire services reports.

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