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Alarming Rise of Rapes in Eastern DRC

UNITED NATIONS , Jul 30 2013 (IPS) - Increasing numbers of men, women and children are being raped in North Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as recurrent conflict continues to displace citizens.

Since January, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reported that 705 cases of sexual violence have taken place in the region, 619 of which were incidences of rape.

Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, spokesperson for the UNHCR said in a statement Tuesday that “out of the 705 cases of sexual violence reported to our staff since the beginning of the year, 434 were perpetrated by armed elements.”

Lejeune- Kaba is concerned that displaced people face greater exposure to sexual violence and rape. The renewed fighting around North Kivu’s capital, Goma between the M23 rebel group and the Congolese army is expected to increase the danger for civilians in the region, especially women and children.

The fightinghas so far forced 6,000 – 7,000 people to flee their homes since July 14th 2013.

Additionally, continued fighting in Kamango, North Kivu between the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan based rebel group and the Congolese army has already displaced 14,000 civilians increasing the total number of internally displaced people in the Kamango area to 40,000.

There are currently over 96,000 people displaced in North Kivu following years of conflict.

“The newly displaced are staying in schools and churches in the northern part of Goma, some 10 kilometers from the frontline…we are transferring the displaced to existing camps, mainly Mugunga 3, where they receive shelter and basic humanitarian aid” Lejueune- Kaba said.

In addition, the UNHCR is also facilitating courses on how to prevent and manage sexual violence and rape cases for 96 police officers deployed in refugee camps in the area.

Lejeune – Kaba’s brieifng comes several weeks after the UN announced that nine young girls aged between 18 months and 12 years were being treated for rape, two of whom died in hospital.

The scale and extremity of rape cases that the DRC has witnessed for over a decade led Margot Wallstrom, former senior UN Offical to declare in 2010 that the DRC was the “rape capital of the world.”

This recent surge in rape cases is desperate news for a country which has endured the use of rape as a weapon of war for too long.

As humanitarian access remains limited in the area and the conflict tense, there seems little sign that the DRC is winning the battle against the use of sexual violence in warfare.

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