UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – The Democratic Republic of Congo army has suspended 12 senior officers over mass rapes in the strife-torn east of the country, a UN spokesman said Thursday.
The action follows pressure from the United Nations which had threatened to withdraw cooperation with units implicated in 126 rapes in the eastern town of Minova in November as the army retreated from a rebel advance.
“The Congo military has suspended the commanding officers and deputy commanding officers of two units,” UN peacekeeping department spokesman Kieran Dwyer told AFP.
“They have suspended the commanding officers of eight other units,” Dwyer added.
The DR Congo government informed the United Nations of the action after the UN mission in the country, MONUSCO, gave the government one week from March 25 to act over the Minova rapes. Earlier UN deadlines set in February were ignored.
All of the suspended officers are now liable for prosecution and interviews of victims and suspects have started, Dwyer said, quoting the government’s account.
“It is a signal of the commitment of the Congolese authorities, but we need them to follow through and hold accountable those who carried out these terrible crimes,” Dwyer said.
The UN says at least 126 women were raped in and around Minova from November 20 as the army retreated from an assault by the M23 rebel movement on the regional capital of Goma. Widespread pillaging was reported.
Human Rights Watch says that over a 10-day period the soldiers “went on a raping and looting rampage in Minova and neighboring communities.”
The rights group said in a report released in February that several women told investigators that “soldiers in official army uniform forced their way into the women’s homes at night” demanded money and carried out the rapes.
The feeble DR Congo army has been much criticized for its brutality against civilians and corruption. UN officials said it “melted away” during the M23 advance last year.
The DR Congo army is heavily reliant on UN equipment and military support in its efforts to control the armed groups that hold sway in resource-rich eastern DR Congo.