The United Nations is calling for urgent action in response to the mass rape of nearly 200 women and children in Congo by Rwandan and Congolese rebels.
The Security Council held an emergency session on the issue Thursday, amid growing criticism that U.N. peacekeepers should have done more to prevent the incident. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly urged Congolese authorities to launch a full investigation, stating that the U.N. will “investigate this incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
“It is of utmost importance that the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to pursue its efforts to fight impunity,” the council said in a statement.
The U.N. has confirmed 154 cases of sexual violence during the attack, which occurred about 20 miles from a peacekeeping base in eastern Congo. The Security Council agreed that peacekeepers in the area should have done more to protect the local people from the rebels — but peacekeepers have said that they were not aware the attacks occurred until 10 days later.
Roger Meese, the top U.N. envoy in Congo told reporters the mission had known there were rebels in the area, but heard no specific reports of rape.
“Our first priority is very clearly the protection of civilians so if you have an accurate or a credible report of mass rapes going on, certainly the commander in place and the Monusco forces would have tried to take action to stop whatever was going on, but we didn’t have that information,” Meese said.
The rapes reportedly occurred between July 30 and Aug. 3, according to the New York Times. Aid group International Medical Corps documented the rapes and says it notified the U.N. on Aug. 6, but the U.N. claims the notification did not come until Aug. 12.
The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or F.D.L.R., have been identified by the U.N. as the main perpetrators of the attack, but the group’s executive secretary, Callixte Mbarushimana, released a statement from Paris denying the allegations as “baseless accusations launched against them by the secretary general of the United Nations.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, responded to the events in a statement Wednesday condemning the attacks and stating that the U.S. will do all it can do to work with the United Nations to “create a safe environment for women, girls and all civilians” in the region.
“This horrific attack is yet another example of how sexual violence undermines efforts to achieve and maintain stability in areas torn by conflict but striving for peace,” Clinton said in the statement.
Eastern Congo has been beleaguered by rebel violence since 1998, causing one of the world’s most devastating humanitarian crises.