The United Nations on Friday named two Congolese Army colonels who appear to be blocking an investigation of soldiers accused of raping at least 47 women in eastern Congo, and said that if the attackers were not identified, the officers themselves should stand trial for the crimes committed by the troopers under their command.
Government troops carried out mass rapes in the remote and mountainous villages of Bushani and Kalambahiro in North Kivu Province from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1, according to witnesses and victims cited in the report from the United Nations human rights office.
A Congolese military spokesman called the report premature and said it had not concluded its own investigation.
The attack occurred when 100 soldiers attacked villagers with whips, machetes and rifles, accusing the inhabitants of supporting rebels, the report said.
Those raped were between the ages of 16 and 65 and included pregnant women. Some were raped in front of their children; some were raped by two to four men, the report said.
It said the actual number of victims probably was much higher than 47, since many villagers remain hidden in the forest or other towns for fear of another attack, and since many victims do not report being raped for fear of being rejected by their husbands and communities.
The report said the Congolese military had failed to fully cooperate with investigators, hindering efforts to prosecute the attackers.
It said five battalions were operating in the area at the time and identified two colonels in command.
One, Col. Chuma Balumisa, was commander of the operational area including the attacked villages, and the other, Col. Bobo Kakudji, was in charge of overall operations in North Kivu.
“Given their hierarchical position, they should have been aware of the troops' movements,” the report said, adding that they “should therefore be able to identify the battalions responsible for the violations.”
As the identities of the soldiers responsible have been impossible to establish, the colonels “themselves could be considered responsible for the actions committed by their soldiers,” the report continued.
A military spokesman, Col. Sylvain Ekenge, said army officials were working with United Nations officials in the area to investigate the rapes.
“We can't act on simple allegations,” he said. “After investigations, if any of the troops are found responsible we will not hesitate to punish them.”
He added: “We are surprised by the publication of this report, because we are investigating and await the conclusions.”
But the tone of the report indicated great frustration that, more than six months after the crimes were committed, no suspects have been charged.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health this year concluded that more than 1,000 women are raped in Congo every day.