New UN network wants DRC brothels closed

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Twenty-four United Nations (UN) entities combined to form a strong front calling for immediate action to protect women and girls and prevent the use of sexual violence in and around internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Calling itself the UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict Network it is led by the UN Special Representative in DRC Pramila Patten.

A network statement reads: “The UN Action Network is concerned about the dramatic increase in recorded cases of sexual violence in eastern DRC and the targeting of women and girls by armed men in and around IDP camps as they search for food, water and firewood”.

“There are reports of about a thousand locations in Goma, North Kivu where displaced women and girls are forced to engage in survival sex, including at IDP sites. A related concern is the risk that other serious crimes like human trafficking become prevalent in the context of armed conflict. This includes sexual exploitation, enslavement, forced marriage and recruitment and use of children, including in combat.

“The DRC gender-based violence area of responsibility (GBV AoR) reports a 78% increase in survivors seeking GBV response services in North Kivu from 2021 to 2022. In the first three months of this year, 10 339 survivors in North Kivu, of who 66% were raped, sought GBV services. Over the same period 5 292 survivors sought similar services in Ituri and 4 582 in South Kivu. The violations may amount to atrocity crimes. In a context of high insecurity and displacement, as well as under-reporting due to fear of stigma and shame, these figures are merely a snapshot, with many more survivors who could not or have not yet been able to seek care. The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC is liaising with partners and other UN agencies in the country to document allegations and facilitate access to support survivors.”

The Network states further: “It is vital that women and girls are not placed at further risk of sexual violence. We strongly encourage the DRC government to expedite implementation of its decree to close brothels used for sexual slavery, including 145 brothels identified, of which 67 are in IDP sites at Karisimbi and Goma. The actions include immediate closure of all brothels, referred to locally as maisons de tolérance, and adherence to government commitments to strengthen safeguarding of at risk communities”.