01 March 2009

Secretary-General Calls Attention to Scourge of Sexual Violence in DRC

Ban Ki-moon met with medical personnel and survivors of sexual violence in  DRC.
Photo: Teun Voeten

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — A recent visit by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the Heal Africa hospital here called attention to the plight of thousands of women and girls who have survived brutal episodes of sexual violence.

After being briefed by the head of the hospital, the Secretary-General and his wife, Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, heard directly from women and girl survivors of violence.
"I am humbled, saddened and shocked by what I have just seen," Mr. Ban said moments after his meeting with them inside the hospital.

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, which organized the visit in conjunction with UNICEF, the United Nations Children Fund, supports the hospital’s provision of comprehensive range of reproductive health care and assistance to the victims of sexual violence.

"(This visit) has allowed me to meet with many sexually abused and internally displaced people and it has given me resolve," Mr. Ban said. He pledged that the United Nations would prioritize the issue of sexual violence in DRC.

The DRC has witnessed some of the highest levels of sexual violence in the world, due to its long running conflict, which has claimed up to 5 million lives, either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and hunger. Rape has been used as a weapon of war by all sides involved in the conflict, and an estimated 200,000 women and girls have been assaulted over the past 12 years, with more than 18,000 cases reported between January and September 2008 alone. While sexual violence is rampant and prevalent throughout the Congo, the most affected areas have been in north-eastern provinces, where young girls aged10 and 17 are the most vulnerable.

UNFPA, along with sister UN agencies, the DRC government, and nongovernmental organizations, is actively involved in a joint initiative in eastern DRC aimed at bringing a holistic solution to the epidemic of sexual violence in the country. Through awareness campaigns and trainings and efforts to create more disciplined and professional security forces, and to strengthen the judicial and penal systems, the joint initiative works to prevent sexual violence and abuse. It is also bringing direct assistance to survivors by providing medical/psychological support, and helps them reintegrate into their communities.

During his trip, Mr. Ban also visited camp Kibaki, north of Goma, where some 200,000 people displaced by clashes in the region have taken shelter. Through its partners, UNFPA provides condoms, kits to test for and treat sexually transmitted infections and provide post-exposure prophylaxis in cases of rape, and clean delivery kits. It also helps with sensitization campaigns in the camp to help build respect for the human rights of the displaced women.