United Nations peacekeepers and Government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) today seized one of the rebel leaders suspected of being behind the mass rape of more than 300 civilians two months ago in the country's east.
“This is very good news for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström, who is on a visit to the vast country, said of the capture of ‘Lieutenant Colonel' Mayele, a commander of the Maï Maï Cheka.
“It is a victory for justice, especially for the many women who have suffered rapes and other forms of sexual violence. The numerous criminal acts committed under ‘Lt. Col' Mayele's command cannot be undone, but let his apprehension be a signal to all perpetrators of sexual violence that impunity for these types of crimes is not accepted and that justice will prevail.”
The joint operation by peacekeepers from the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the Government army was launched in the Walikale area of North Kivu province where the rapes were perpetrated.
Those attacks, which took place mostly after dark, were carried out between 30 July and 2 August by some 200 members of three armed groups – the Maï Maï Cheka, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and elements close to Colonel Emmanuel Nsengiyumva, an army deserter who has in the past been involved with the rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).
The known victims include 235 women, 52 girls, 13 men, and 3 boys, some of whom were raped multiple times, according to a UN human rights report issued last month. At least 923 houses and 42 shops were looted and 116 people were abducted in order to carry out forced labour.
“It is crucial that the victims of the rapes in Walikale and in so many other places in the DRC see justice done,” said Ms. Wallström, who is on her second visit to the country in six months. “I call on the Government to ensure a swift, rigorous and open process of justice.”
Noting that the “terrible events” created a global outcry, she stressed again that “we must put the spotlight on the perpetrators of these vicious acts and ensure that they are held accountable.
“I am therefore particularly pleased that we have now apprehended “Lt Col” Mayele, and I congratulate MONUSCO on this significant success.” she said.
“I also came to the DRC to listen to survivors of these mass rapes, and to see what we as the United Nations can do better. We will continue our close cooperation with the Government of the DRC.”
MONUSCO noted that the arrest was executed within the framework of the mission's mandate to support the Government in its struggle against impunity and “Lt. Col” Mayele had been handed over to DRC military investigators.
“MONUSCO reiterates at this juncture its willingness to continue to support the efforts of the DRC to bring the authors of these crimes to justice,” it added in a news release.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, welcomed the “timely action” of MONUSCO in today's arrest, noting that among the many victims in the Walikale incident were children, both girls and boys.
“Sexual violence against women and children is an appalling crime for which there must be zero tolerance,” she said in a statement.