What Legal Response To Mass Rape in the Congo?

In October 2007, John Holmes, United Nations Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told the New York Times:

The sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world. The sheer numbers, the wholesale brutality, the culture of impunity – it’s appalling.

It seems as though not much has changed over the last three years.

Last month, civilians were brutally attacked and raped by armed elements of the Mai-Mai and the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According to Will F. Cragin, the International Medical Corps’ coordinator for the region, between 200 and 400 men entered the village of Ruvungi and systematically raped more than 150 women. The victims, most of whom were raped by two to six men at a time, were often violated in front of their families.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is understandably outraged by the attacks, and has dispatched Assistant Secretary-General Atul Khare, Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, to the DRC, and has instructed his Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, to take charge of the UN’s response and follow-up to this incident. But will anyone actually be prosecuted for the atrocities?

The International Criminal Court (ICC), established by the 1998 Rome Statute, was created as a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals guilty of ‘unimaginable atrocities that deeply shock the conscience of humanity’ – namely, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.

The Rome Statute draws on twentieth century legal precedent regarding sexual violence; influence is visible from the 1949 Geneva Convention, 1977 Additional Protocols from the Geneva Conventions, and the proceedings and ruling of both the ICTY and ICTR. The ICC defines sexual violence broadly as ‘coercive acts of the perpetrator, including threats and psychological oppression’, and Article 7 of the Rome Statute gives the ICC jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, including in section (g): “rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity” – all of which are also considered war crimes under Article 8, section 2, part (xxii). As of August 2010, the Court has issued arrest warrants involving situations in four geographical areas: the Central African Republic, Darfur, Uganda, and the Democratic of Congo. Of the fourteen publicly issued arrest warrants, eight include charges of sexual violence.

Although the mass rapes that have gained worldwide media attention were allegedly perpetrated by Rwandan nationals (Rwanda has not signed the Rome Statute), Article 2, section 2(b) grants the Court jurisdiction over crimes committed in the territory of a state party to the treaty – like the DRC. So, will the Court attempt to prosecute members of the FLDR, perhaps even Major General Sylvestre Mudacumura – the leader himself? That remains to be seen. But could they legally open an investigation? Absolutely.

Follow me on Twitter @cminall!

Some interesting articles on this terrible atrocity (sent graciously by @denisfitz):

– from Channel 4

– from AP

– from Al-Jazeera English

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