Margot Wallstrom, the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict zones, appealed to the Security Council Oct. 15 to enact sanctions against the rebel leaders who were reportedly responsible for the mass gang rapes of up to 500 women in the Democratic Republic of Congo this summer. Wallstrom also said government troops may be responsible for "rapes, killings and lootings" in the same remote regions, though not for these specific incidents.
"The possibility that the same communities that were brutalized by FDLR and Mai-Mai elements (the rebel groups) in July and August are now also suffering at the hands of (government) troops is unimaginable and unacceptable," she said, calling on the Democratic Republic of Congo's government to investigate the attacks.
In an interview with Women's eNews following her briefing to the Security Council, Wallstrom kept the focus on the perpetrators and away from herself and her own office, which has been criticized for its slow response to the attacks. Wallstrom was in Italy receiving an award when she heard of the attacks, at "about the same time as everybody else," the weekend of Aug. 21-22.
"If I wasn't among the last, at least I was not among the first to know about it, and I think this is because we are a new office and we learn from these things, as well, where we should place ourselves," she said.
Wallstrom added that her office's lag in the communication line does not reflect a lack of respect for gender-focused U.N. agencies and offices. "I think it reflected a weakness in the way our peacekeepers interpreted early warning signals and that they did not see what was happening. We have learned to assume rape when there is looting and pillaging to that scale moving forward," she said.