Ahead of the six-year remembrance of a mass rape of more than 300 civilians residents of the Walikale region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by armed groups, the United Nations envoy on sexual violence in conflict has called on the international community to be relentless in seeking accountability for the crimes.
“We must never forget the victims of one of the most shocking mass rapes in recent history. To all the victims in Walikale and beyond, we say: justice may have been delayed, but it should not be denied,” said Zainab Bangura, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, in a press release.
“As Walikale remembers today, the world will remember, and will continue to call for the prosecution of all perpetrators, reparations for all victims, and deterrence for the future,” she added.
In 2010, in Walikale territory, North Kivu Province of DRC, civilian residents in 13 villages on the Kibua-Mpofi road were attacked by a coalition of about 200 soldiers from the Maï Maï Sheka/Nduma Defence of Congo militia, led by Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka; the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), led by Serafin Lionso; and a group of army deserters.
Over a period of four days – from 30 July to 2 August 2010 – 387 civilians, including 300 women, 55 girls, 23 men, and 9 boys, were systematically raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence by the assailants in one of the worst mass rape incidents in the country.
During the attacks, other human rights violations, including murder, ill-treatment, abduction and looting also occurred, with 1,429 total victims affected, Ms. Bangura said.
“The gravity of these crimes indicates that they were not only orchestrated under the command of Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, but were used as part of a deliberate strategy to target and intimidate the civilian population – particularly women and girls,” the envoy said.
“Six years on, we salute the resilience of the survivors as they continue to wait for their perpetrators to be brought to trial. The international community stands with them and will not relent in its quest for accountability for these crimes,” she added.
The Special Representative noted that the Congolese Government has already completed investigations into the rapes and has issued eight arrest warrants for the crimes.
She also said that in March, the military justice authorities in North Kivu Province included the Walikale rapes among a list of priority cases of the gravest international concern for immediate domestic prosecution.
“It is, therefore, time for the Government to enforce the existing warrants and bring the perpetrators to justice, including Mr. Serafin Lionso, who is currently in detention,” Ms. Bangura said. “Moreover, with regional and international support, efforts must be made to immediately arrest Mr. Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka who is currently under sanction by the Security Council and continues to commit further crimes.”
“My Office will pursue its support to the DRC’s efforts to address all sexual violence crimes,” the Special Representative also said.