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Displaced women North Kivu, DRC

During days of armed conflict in the region of North Kivu in Africa’s DRC – Democratic Republic of Congo, a line made up of mostly of displaced women and their families hope to be able to get food aid and shelter. Image: S.Modola/©UNHCR

(WNN) United Nations, New York, UNITED STATES, NORTH AMERICA: A United Nations special representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has spoken out against the recent verdict of a court case in the North Kivu region of the DRC – Democratic Republic of Congo. Stating that the recent trial only convicted two people for rape crimes,  Special Representative Zainab Hawa Bangura said the verdict does not reflect the magnitude of the crimes committed against women.

“The Special Representative regrets that the verdict does not reflect the magnitude of the crimes of sexual violence that were committed and fails to do justice to all victims who had the courage to bring this case to court,” outlined the office of the Special Representative.

In a region wracked by the most recent political violence for over a decade, DRC military forces have battled rebel army insurgents, many from Rwanda or Uganda, resulting in waves of displacement by families seeking safety during armed conflict. But women caught in-between opposing armed forces have also faced the impunity of soldier rape from both sides of the conflict, highlighted UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay in 2009.

It is an issue that must be addressed, say numerous global women advocates.

Severe gender-based violence against women during conflict worldwide continues today to occur in regions where impunity exists, outlines a campaign launched by the UN called Stop Rape Now: UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict.

“Conflict-related sexual violence is an issue of pressing importance. This grave human rights abuse is as destructive as any bomb or bullet,” emphasized UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon during an open debate in the UN Security Council on April 24, 2014 .

The Operational Military Court in North Kivu did convict 2 soldiers from the FARDC, the national DRC armed forces, of rape during the trial that brought prosecution against 39 individual soldiers and officers.

According to UN sources the DRC Operational Military Court sentenced 26 national armed forces members in total. In addition to the two soldiers sentenced for rape crimes during conflict, one was charged with murder and the others were charged with “…more minor charges such as looting and disobedience.”

The crimes outlined in the case occurred in the region surrounding the town of Minova in the eastern DRC region two years ago. Fourteen officers in the FARDC were acquitted of any crimes during the court hearing.

Problems of corruption within the ranks of the Congolese judicial system is well-known by agencies that have worked to help women inside the region, including the UN.

“…most cases of sexual violence are never investigated or prosecuted, and very few are even reported,” said an official short report filed by the OHCHR, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in Geneva in April 2014. “One of the main obstacles is that many victims do not report incidents for fear of retaliation by the alleged perpetrators, stigmatization and/or rejection by their families and communities. Impunity for crimes of sexual violence is further exacerbated by various other factors such as the limited efforts of some Congolese authorities to prosecute such crimes, lack of financial, operational and human capacity as well as cases of corruption within the judicial system,” continued the report.

As 3,635 rape crimes have been documented during conflicts throughout the DRC from  January 2010 to December 2013, according to the  United Nations Joint Human Rights Office have identified FARDC military officials as those who have been reportedly responsible for 1,281 crimes of sexual violence during that time in the Congolese regions of North Kivu, South Kivu and Orientale.

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