Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gravitas. Or Not. Will UN Peacekeeping Forces Intervene to Protect Women from Mass Rape?

Image drawn from the United Nations' own unread reports?

In 2009 the United Nations Security Council ratified a resolution that mandated UN Peacekeeping Mission forces protect women in vulnerable areas of the world from rape. On August 6th the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström held a nice press conference on progress. And so you can ask yourself, if you think like me, how it is that in one of the most dangerous areas of the world to be female, 179 women have been confirmed to have been raped between July 30th and August 3rd, 2010 in Northern Kivu, Congo. A UN Peacekeeping Misson station is 30 kilometers (19 miles) away from the center of strife and reportedly the Mission knew that rebel forces had amassed in the area. Madnoje Mounoubai, spokesperson for the UN mission claimed that they were alerted to the crisis by NGO humanitarian aid workers on August 12th. However Margaret Aguirre, spokeswomen for International Medical Corps, which operates in Eastern Congo, told CNN that IMC had reported the mass rapes to the UN Peacekeeping force on August 6th, the day following their having visited the villages and treating victims there. Not only is there no explanation for the almost weeklong delay in response, the UN Mission states "We had regular patrols in this area during that period," Mounoubai told CNN by phone from Kinshasa Wednesday. "Unfortunately, the villagers and the local authorities never brought this issue to our knowledge. If we are not informed, it will be difficult for us to know," he added. (emphasis mine)

Furthermore, again quoting CNN:

Roger Meece, a representative for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the United Nations was alerted to rebel activity in the area but was not notified of the mass rapes. "There was no particular question of an attack, much less the kind of events like mass rape," Meece said Wednesday.

The UN forces claimed they did not know that the villages women were at risk of being systematically terrorized and raped? Oh, really? Large groups of Congolese rebels have had no history of attacking, terrorizing, raping and murdering women? Really?

I direct my readers to African Renewal. The 2007 issue linked here specifically talks about Rape in Congo. Headline:

Congolese women confront legacy of rape

War and sexual violence leave survivors in desperate need

Clearly Congolese women are still needy.

The UN does many things right. But the lack of timely intervention is just scandalous. There are simply no excuses that suffice for at least 179 women and girls being gang raped for four solid days in front of their families. In fact, Al-Jazeera has reported that the UN forces may have waited until the rebels left the area to act. There is every indication that the local UN forces knew on July 31st what was going on and that they could have intervened but did not. See here, after minute 9:00, for instance. (Complete deflection of the issue that it was known on July 31st.)

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has condemned the use of rape in war in a statement issued yesterday. Ban Ki-Moon said he was "outraged" by the rapes. All fine words. Too bad, so sad.

Enough with the rhetoric, the statements that it's just so awful. I just want to know when they are going to DO SOMETHING to stop the rape sprees. The Sexual Violence in Conflict program is largely vested in Congo and the UN Peacekeeping force in Congo has a budget of over a billion USD a year. Clearly neither history or money are enough to keep the women of Congo safe. IN 2009 Al Jazeera reports that over 5,400 women in neighboring Southern Kivu province alone were raped.

What is the UN doing to change things? And what, asks Inner City Press, is the UN going to do to make it possible for women in these villages to contact the Peacekeeping forces when they are being attacked? Satellite phones, flares?

Or how about just paying attention to the fact that masses of rebel men menacing villages have always turned out badly for women in those villages?
How about looking at local history and giving a damn? 
If Peacekeepers are afraid to stop war crimes, then what is their purpose? 
Can even the UN Mission in Congo be so inured to rape in war that it's not important enough to try to stop it?
Answer me that Mr. Mounoubai. Answer me that.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010


  1. No, I don't think the UN will do anything. I think the UN is mostly talk-and ineffective talk at that.

  2. No, the UN won't do anything. They didn't do anything in Bosnia or Somalia, so I can't see them stepping up now. I seriously question their existence when timely intervention is so rarely, if ever, forthcoming.

    I feel for those Peacekeepers who want to act but are under direct orders not to.