UN envoy hails study into extent of sexual violence in DRC

09:41, May 13, 2011      

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The UN envoy leading the world body's efforts to eliminate sexual violence during conflict on Thursday welcomed the release of a new study on sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which estimates that almost 2 million Congolese women have been raped.

The study, published on Wednesday in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), indicated the prevalence of the crime is much worse than previously reported, and said that women and girls are victimized at a rate of nearly one per minute.

Margot Wallstrom, the UN secretary-general's special representative on sexual violence in conflict, issued a statement describing the study as "a commendable effort that helps to fill the gap in empirical research in this area."

Wallstrom is tasked with tackling sexual violence committed during conflicts or in post-conflict situations while the AJPH study examined a broader field that included acts of domestic violence.

"This inevitably makes the AJPH figures higher," she said, noting that official UN figures tend to be conservative because the United Nations can only report to the Security Council on sexual violence that it has been able to verify.

In September 2010, a UN human rights team confirmed that more than 300 civilians were raped from July 30 to Aug. 2 in the Walikale region in eastern DRC by members of armed groups including the Mai Mai Cheka and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The mass rape cases have led to strong condemnation from the UN Security Council, which urged the DRC government to immediately open a probe into the tragedy and bring the perpetrators to justice at an early date.

"The UN cannot extrapolate from a small sample the incidence of sexual violence throughout the DRC," said the statement. " Additionally, the UN has ethical obligations that are not generally incumbent upon academic researchers -- namely to avoid interviewing survivors or exposing them to any risk of reprisal/re- traumatization in the absence of the ability to deliver services or follow-up on the case."

However, the envoy stressed that 'studies like this are important, and valuable in shedding light on risk factors, such as age, or region of residence, which moves the analysis beyond isolated incident reports to convey a sense of patterns."

Meanwhile, Wallstrom also underscored that conflict-related sexual violence remains one of the biggest obstacles to peace in the DRC.

"Although a lot of work remains to be done, achievements include the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 1960 last December, which gives us the instruments needed to ensure that mass rape is never again met with mass impunity," the statement added.

Source: Xinhua
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