Tens of Thousands Said Raped in East Congo

2 hours, 1 minute ago

World - AP

By BRYAN MEALER, Associated Press Writer

KINSHASA, Congo - Militiamen and renegade soldiers have raped and beaten tens of
thousands of women and young girls in eastern Congo, and nearly all the crimes
have gone unpunished by the country's broken judicial system, an international
human rights group said Monday.

Hundreds of new rapes are reported every week, but only 10 soldiers and
militants have been convicted of rape in relatively lawless eastern Congo since
the end of the country's devastating war in 2002, New York-based Human Rights
Watch said in a report.

"Perpetrators of sexual violence are members of virtually all the armed forces
and armed groups that operate in eastern Congo," according to the 52-page

"The Congolese justice system has to date failed to address the egregious

Rape is often a preferred weapon of armed groups fighting the east's myriad
battles, as it was during the 1998-2002 war — Monday's report quotes a World
Health Organization (news - web sites) study that documented over 40,000 rapes
in two eastern provinces during the conflict.

Marauding gunmen gang-raped children as young as 3-years-old, and often raped
women and young girls — some to the point of death — as their families
helplessly watched, the report said.

At least 10 women were being raped every day in the tiny, embattled town of
Bunia as recently as October 2004, according to the report.

Warring ethnic Hema and Lendu militia continue to terrorize Bunia — kicking down
doors in the night and snatching girls in the fields — despite the presence of
thousands of U.N. peacekeepers based there.

Peacekeepers in Bunia have also been accused of raping young girls living in the
town's sprawling camp for those displaced by fighting, or trading sweets and
pocket change for sex.

The United Nations (news - web sites) reported Saturday that Lendu militia in
the northern Ituri province had kidnapped thousands of people and used many of
them as sex slaves.

In some cases, even boys and men were being raped by armed groups.

In all, the report states that "tens of thousands" of rapes had been reported,
and many more are believed to have gone unreported.

Despite the creation of a transitional government in 2003 that ended Congo's
five-year war, the long arm of the law has yet to reach the troubled east.

Outdated rape laws, lack of police and criminal courts, and widespread failure
to see rape as a crime make it impossible for the few prosecutors to pursue
rapists, said Juliane Kippenberg, researcher and spokeswomen for Human Rights

"Prosecutors rarely have the support or the funds to properly do their jobs,"
said Kippenberg. "Most of these cases eventually get thrown out. The justice
system is failing these people."

Kippenberg said many young girls are also too afraid or embarrassed to report
rape to their parents, or to military authorities in the region. Many die from
lack of medical attention after being raped, and some commit suicide rather
than seek help.