UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Systematic sexual violence continues to be carried out against Congolese women and girls caught up in mass expulsions from Angola to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a U.N. envoy said on Friday.
Community leaders recorded 182 reported rapes in seven villages along the border in January alone, while a U.N. assessment mission confirmed 1,357 reported rape cases in one village in a six-to-eight-month period last year, said the official, Margot Wallstrom.
“My findings strongly suggest that sexual violence is systematically being carried out against Congolese women and girls in the context of expulsions from Angola to (Congo),” said Wallstrom, who visited the area last Sunday.
“Many of the survivors who I spoke with confirmed that these violations occur in detention facilities in Angola as well as on the Congolese side of the border,” she said in a statement.
“Women recounted that they were raped by uniformed security forces during expulsion from Angola,” Wallstrom said, adding the figures had probably been under-reported.
The rapes first came to light last November when a report by the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, seen by Reuters, said that more than 650 people had suffered sexual violence during expulsions from Angola to Congo in the previous two months.
Tit-for-tat expulsions between Angola and Congo reached an estimated 211,000 people in 2009.
Angola helped Kinshasa’s government fight off Rwandan- and Ugandan-backed rebels during fighting between 1998 and 2003, which drew in several neighboring countries.
But deteriorating relations between the two countries followed disputes over border demarcation, offshore oil ownership and closer relations between Congo and Rwanda and Uganda, its neighbors to the east.
Wallstrom, U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, called on Angolan and Congolese authorities to investigate the rape allegations “as a matter of urgency.”
“I intend to engage closely with both the government of Angola and (Congo) on this issue, and expect them to cooperate to find a solution to this grave violation of human rights,” she said.
In a separate statement, Wallstrom praised Congo’s government for taking action over alleged mass rapes in eastern Congo. Eleven soldiers accused of raping more than 60 women on January 1 in the town of Fizi went on trial at a military court on Thursday.
Rape, murder and pillage have been endemic for years in Congo, where more than 5 million people died during the 1998-2003 conflict. In one case that prompted an international outcry, at least 303 people were raped in the eastern town of Luvungi between last July 30 and August 3 by rebel militiamen.