By United Nations

6 July - The rapes of hundreds of people in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last year could be considered crimes against humanity and war crimes, according to a new United Nations report, which urges the Government to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The report concluded that about 200 combatants from two rebel groups, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Mayi Mayi Sheka, “systematically attacked civilians” in 13 villages in Walikale territory in North Kivu province between 30 July and 2 August 2010, and “looted most of these villages, raped hundreds of civilians, mostly women, but also men and children, and abducted more than a hundred people who were subjected to forced labour.”

“By using rape as a weapon of war, as a mean of terror and to ensure the enslavement of civilians,” the armed groups breached the Geneva conventions, according to the report, co-authored by investigators from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO).

“Due to the fact that these attacks were well-planned in advance and carried out in a systematic, targeted manner, the exactions committed could constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes,” which are under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the report noted.

The team said that only one person has been arrested, despite the fact that some 150 of the more than 387 rape victims have been interviewed by local authorities.

“The security situation in the targeted villages prior to the launching of the attacks makes it clear that the weakness of the State authority in Walikale territory has been one of the causes of the proliferation of the armed groups which have monopolized control over the mining industry and are trafficking arms in the region, thus causing increasing insecurity for the civilian population,” the report said.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said “the lack of progress in official investigations and in legal action against the perpetrators poses a severe obstacle to deterring future violations,” according to an OHCHR press statement.

“Since the attacks in Walikale there have been many other instances of rape and other types of sexual violence being systematically used as weapons of war and reprisal by armed groups,” Ms. Pillay said. “The Government should pursue its efforts to bring perpetrators to justice and ensure that victims and witnesses are protected, given the high risk of reprisals.”

Roger Meece, the head of MONUSCO and the Secretary-General's Special Representative for the DRC, said that “the anger and frustration of the people, including victims of horrific crimes, who continue to live in these areas in a situation of grave insecurity, must serve as a call to action.”

“Since the violations were committed, MONUSCO has increased the number of operational bases in the affected areas and significantly improved its logistics and interaction with the civilian population there,” OHCHR noted.

Today's report from OHCHR and MONUSCO is separate from an investigation under way by an assessment mission that has confirmed that Government troops in the DRC committed mass rape and acts of pillaging in several remote villages in the country's east last month.