UN Special Representative, Pramila Patten, expressed her ‘deep concern’ on Thursday over increasing allegations of sexual violence against women and girls being carried out in camps for the internally displaced (IDPs) around Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“Allegations of grave cases of sexual violence against civilians, including children, in particular affecting IDPs fleeing conflict in the eastern DRC, is a matter of profound concern which requires immediate action,” said the top UN official who advocates for women and girls impacted by sexual violence.
The representative spoke of how she was “deeply troubled” by some attacks which have been taking place in broad daylight, affecting the daily lives and livelihoods of women and girls in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
Protecting women and girls
She noted that the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has reported an alarming number of Gender Based Violence (GBV) cases in 2022, and that IDP camps represent a ‘volatile security environment’ , especially for displaced women and girls.
“More than 38,000 cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV) were reported by UNICEF for all of 2022 in North Kivu alone. Humanitarian actors report they have provided assistance to over 600 survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in six IDP camps over the course of two weeks in a volatile security environment. In most cases, survivors reported being attacked by armed men and displaced men in and around the camps,” she pointed out.
No immediate ‘life-saving’ aid
Ms. Patten also called attention to how women and girls are disproportionally affected by sexual violence in thousands of cases reported by humanitarian partners, with some unable to “access life-saving services, including Post-Exposure Prophylaxis kits, during the crucial 72-hour window after an attack”.
She said the best way to protect women and girls in such conditions was to provide medical assistance, but also offer routes for escaping violence and other insecurities in the first place.
“Immediate medical and psychosocial assistance must be accompanied by protection measures, to ensure that those who have been forced from their homes due to violence and insecurity, including women and girls fleeing conflict in Masisi and Rutshuru territories in North Kivu province, are able to access services and are not placed at further risk of sexual violence.”
She said the UN rights office in DRC (OHCHR) was liaising with humanitarian partners and other UN agencies in the country to document allegations and provide needed support.
Justice for victims of sexual violence
Ms. Patten also called on authorities to fulfill their human rights obligations by working with the UN to provide protection to civilians fleeing conflict violence, in addition to investigating and prosecuting perpetrators.
“I urge the Government to ensure its national police secures all IDP camps in accordance with their primary obligation to protect civilians under international humanitarian law and their responsibilities to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights obligations.
Ms. Patten called on donors to help ensure protection for victims of sexual violence in DRC and said her office was available to assist partners in providing support.