(Aug. 23) — As many as 200 women were systematically gang-raped by Rwandan and Congolese rebels over a four-day period last month less than 20 miles from a U.N. peacekeeping base in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations and aid groups reported.
The Associated Press reported that four baby boys were also raped in the attacks that began in a key mining district on July 30. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters today the rebels blocked a key road during the raping and looting spree.The eastern Congo is known as the “rape capital of the world” where savage mobs use sexual violence to subdue the population and vie for control of the “conflict minerals” used to make cell phones and laptops around the world.Between 200 and 400 armed men began looting and raping women in the village of Ruvungi, which lies near a key mining center, in front of their families and in their homes, The New York Times reported.
A local coordinator for the International Medical Corps, Will F. Cragin, told the Times that when the rebels arrived, they told villagers not to worry and explained they just there for “food and rest.”
They lied, Cragin said.”After dark another group came,” Cragin said. “They began to systematically rape the population. Most women were raped by two to six men at a time.”
Many women were dragged in the forest and gang-raped, Cragin said. Later they emerged from the forest naked.
The perpetrators have been identified as Hutu rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, which is made up in part of those who took part in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
The FDLR is one of many predatory armies and militias that have been vying for political power and control of Congo’s vast mineral reserves – including gold, cassiterite and coltan — since the late 1990s.
They use rape as a weapon of war, aimed at civilians, and its incidence has been increasing. According to an Oxfam report released in April, rape in the eastern Congo has risen 17-fold since 2004.
Men, as well as girls as young as 4 years old, have been the victims of rape in eastern Congo.”It’s been an incredibly effective weapon of war,” David Sullivan, an expert on Congo at the Washington-based Enough Project, told AOL News. “The soldiers and rebels have been able to control, humiliate and dominate whole communities by using sexual violence and terrorism. Rape has become horrifyingly normalized.”
The women who are raped are victimized again after being attacked because of the enormous cultural taboos involving sexual violence in the Congo.
"They’re excommunicated from their villages and their families," Francisca Vigaud-Walsh of Catholic Relief Services, who is an expert in sexual violence in Congo, told AOL News. "They lose their entire support structure."
News of the attacks came a little more than a year after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the region to demand an end to the sexual violence, saying she was making ending the widespread tragedy a personal priority.
There was no immediate explanation as to why the attacks were not reported until today.