Sexual assault on the increase in eastern DRC


Those tasked with providing adequate security for displaced people, particularly west of Goma in the DRC, have come under fire from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

Between December 3 last year and January 5, the MSF team working in Mugunga III camp, outside Goma in the eastern DRC, registered and treated 95 victims of sexual violence. In late December, MSF teams noted an increase in admissions for trauma related directly to sexual violence, bringing the average daily number of medical consultations to six.

Despite the populations’ glaring vulnerability and the precarious living conditions in the camps, no one is providing adequate security for the displaced persons.
“The camps and surrounding villages face a glaring lack of security,” said Thierry Goffeau, MSF head of mission in Goma. “The responsible authorities and the leaders of the various armed groups all claim – without exception – that they are defending the civilian populations. They must thus assume their responsibility and ensure the most vulnerable are not subject to violence or reprisals.”

The heightened presence of soldiers and armed groups near the displaced persons’ camps has created a chronic state of insecurity in which rape is an everyday occurrence.
“All parties to the conflict must pay greater attention to the problem of rape,” Goffeau said. “Given the frequency of sexual attacks, rape has become commonplace. The individuals responsible act with impunity and are rarely punished. At the same time, very few victims file charges because they are afraid of reprisals.”
“I went out to look for food in the fields,” said a displaced person and rape victim. “Two armed men in uniform appeared and told me that if I didn’t want to die, I would have to have sex with them.”

Such statements are strikingly similar and all recount the same circumstances with attacks carried out close to the camps or in neighbouring villages when women go out to seek wood or food.

In another common scenario, women are attacked inside the camp itself. The scraps of wood and the plastic tarps used to create shelters do not provide adequate protection or deter perpetrators.
“Violence is omnipresent. It is a violence based on power, the law of the strongest, the law of the person with a weapon,” MSF psychologist Marie Jacob said.

The 32-year-old organisation, also known as Doctors without Borders, is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation committed to providing medical assistance to people affected by armed conflicts, epidemics, healthcare exclusion, natural and man-made disasters.