A year after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the central African nation of Congo and pledged $17 million to fight the epidemic of sexual violence, innocent women, girls and even boys are still being raped at will — and in shockingly large numbers.
But what is most disturbing about the situation is that the United Nations has had a peacekeeping force in the country for 10 years, and yet the civilian population remains at risk.
Congo, which is rich in minerals, has been plagued by civil war for more than 15 years. A U.N. report was released this week documenting the atrocities committed between 1993 and 2003. More than 5 million people died.
The report singles out the military of neighboring Rwanda for war crimes and genocide. It has been widely reported that the troops, mostly of the Tutsi tribe, and rebels allied with them, slaughtered tens of thousands of the Hutu ethnic group.
Against that background, the epidemic of sexual violence, which was illustrated by the mass rapes that took place over a four-day period this summer, demands an aggressive response from the United Nations.
Indeed, in August, the U.S. ambassador to the world organization, Susan Rice, made it clear that the Obama administration wants to know why the rapes are occurring and what can be done to prevent a repeat of the summer violence.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon sent top officials to investigate the rapes.
But as the New York Times revealed this week, the gang-raping of at least 200 women in the village of Luvungi took place while dozens of peacekeepers were based just up the road.
The Times story focused on an 80-year-old woman who was repeatedly raped by four armed men who broke into her house, slapped the children and threw them down and then had their way with her.
The newspaper quotes the elderly woman as yelling to the attackers, “Grandsons, get off me.”
The Times explains what is taking place this way:
“Luvungi, a village of about 2,000 people, is a crucible where so many of Congo’s intractable problems converged: the scramble for minerals; the fragmentation of rebel groups; the perverse incentives among armed groups to commit atrocities to bolster their negotiating strength; the poverty that keeps villages cut off and incommunicado; and the disturbing fact that in Congo’s wars, the battleground is often women’s bodies. United Nations officials call the sexual violence in Congo the worst in the world.”
The international community cannot remain silent any longer. The Unites States, which is preoccupied with the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and the establishment of a stable civilian government in Iraq, as well as pursuing terror groups in Pakistan, has a responsibility to lead the way in protecting the civilian population in Congo.
Human decency demands no less.