JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The fighters in eastern Congo raped everyone in sight: Women, men, even children. The vicious attacks prompted an international outcry, but the U.N. said Wednesday that one year later only a single suspect has been indicted.
Some of the survivors still haven't gotten the medical care they need. Even a judicial inquiry into the violence when at least 387 people were raped has been suspended after reprisal attacks targeted victims.
In a corner of the world where rape has become an endemic weapon of war, the Walikale attacks in late July and early August 2010 drew attention because of their extreme brutality.
The fighters forced husbands and children to watch as they gang-raped the villagers for four days.
"The investigators learned that most of the rapes, carried out with despicable viciousness by groups of men, were committed in the presence of the victims' children and other members of their families and community," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement Wednesday.
The U.N. mission promised to work strenuously to bring the rapists to justice, as did Congolese government officials.
But Wednesday's report by the U.N. Joint Human Rights Office in Congo noted that only one person has been indicted on criminal charges in connection with the violence.
Pillay urged the Congolese government to do more to stop the violence and called on the international community to better equip the U.N. mission in Congo.
"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," she said.
Luzolo Bambi, Congo's minister of justice and human rights, said he has given orders for criminal proceedings into the rapes, that investigations have opened and that there will be a trial.
"There are people in custody including an officer general of the army for rapes and other crimes — proof we are fighting against impunity," Bambi said.
The U.N. mission in Congo came under scathing criticism following the Walikale attacks because the rapes occurred within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of a U.N. peacekeeping base. The $1 billion-a-year mission's primary mandate is to protect civilians.
It took days for help to arrive, even though a peacekeeping patrol escorted commercial trucks through one of the villages, Luvungi, while it was held by the fighters.
A U.N. report said the patrol noticed signs of looting but took no action because no one told them what was going on. The soldiers were not accompanied by an interpreter, and few peacekeepers speak the local languages
Last year, Congolese President Joseph Kabila called for the U.N. force to leave before September 2011 so the country could "fly with its own wings." But the council only authorized a withdrawal of 2,000 troops, leaving a 19,000-strong force that will now remain in Congo until June 30, 2012.
Congo's army and U.N. peacekeepers have been unable to defeat the rebels responsible for the long drawn-out conflict in eastern Congo, which is fueled by the area's massive mineral reserves.
Victims of the Walikale rapes told doctors they had been attacked by a mixed group of fighters.
Various groups of fighters have used rape as a weapon of war in eastern Congo to intimidate, punish and control the population in the mining areas.
The U.N. human rights office said last week that Congolese government troops also had raped at least 121 women over a three-day period last month in the village of Nyakiele in South Kivu province.
Associated Press writer Saleh Mwanamilongo in Kinshasa, Congo contributed to this report.
(Photo: Udo Lachnit/Landov)