Sexual exploitation and abuse rife in DRC

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Ten years after a United Nations (UN)/Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) joint communique aimed at combatting sexual violence entered into force, sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) is still widespread in the strife-torn central African country.

“I visited Bulengo camp for displaced persons in Goma and was struck by the brutality of sexual violence,” was how Pramila Patten, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, opened her address to a mid-June event in Kinshasa to mark the anniversary.

Speaking to officials from the DRC government and Presidency, NGOs (non-government organisations) and activists against sexual violence she expressed “shock” at the increasing levels of violence perpetrated against women and girls in areas plagued by insecurity, notably North Kivu and Ituri.

She told those present from April 17 to 30 this year Médecin Sans Frontière (MSF) teams treated 674 victims of sexual violence in six IDP (internally displaced persons) sites in North Kivu. In the first quarter of 2023, MONUSCO documented 187 cases in North and South Kivu, Ituri and Maniema. Last year UNICEF reported more than 38 000 cases of gender-based sexual violence in North Kivu.

Patten sad further “even” UNICEF reports an upsurge in sexual violence against children, with victims as young as three sexually abused.

On the positive side she welcomed enactment – in DRC last December – of a law laying down fundamental principles for protection and reparation of victims of conflict-related sexual violence and victims of crimes against the peace and security of humanity. “This law will make it possible to settle a historic debt in terms of reparations for survivors of sexual violence. It is urgent to act now so this situation, temporary in essence, does not become perennial and uncontrollable”.  ”

DRC Armed Forces General Batabombi Apanza, chair of a monitoring and evaluation commission for the fight against sexual violence in place since 2015, said 1,291 military perpetrators of rape have been brought before the military justice system, 550 have been tried and 541 cases are under investigation. He added “the army is committed to this fight and soldiers found guilty are facing the rigours of the law. We are pleading with the UN to remove us from its blacklist, considering the efforts made”.