GENEVA Rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) responsible for hundreds of violent rapes are not being brought to justice in the vast, lawless country, United Nations officials said Friday.
A report by the U.N. human rights office in Congo pointed to serious shortcomings by the Congolese army and police and said their failure to prevent or stop the attacks was compounded by further failings in the U.N. peacekeepers in Congo, known as MONUSCO.
MONUSCO forces had not received any specific training in protecting civilians in the region, it said.
The U.N. investigation into a series of brutal rapes in North Kivu province of the central African country was itself curtailed by continuing violence in the region and reports, still unconfirmed, of further rapes.
The report into the atrocities in 13 villages in North Kivu said at least 303 civilians -- 235 women, 52 girls, 13 men and 3 boys -- were raped, in many cases multiple times, between July 30 and August 2. No deaths were confirmed.
"We would hope that this would lead to people being arrested and prosecuted, and if guilty, convicted," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
But he said that such an outcome was difficult given the security problems and poor communications in the huge country.
"There are cases brought to courts in DRC ... but it's very few and the conviction rates are low and very often when people are convicted they escape from prison," he told a briefing in Geneva.
The U.N. report said three armed groups had cooperated in the attacks -- the Mai Mai Cheka, the Rwandan Hutu FDLR, and forces around army deserter Colonel Emmanuel Nsengiyumva.
The Congolese government has banned mining in the region, which is rich in the coltan used in many mobile phones, the tin ore cassiterite, as well as gold. But it said Tuesday it would lift the ban shortly.
Victims interviewed by the investigators said they believed the main motive for the attacks was to intimidate local people seen by the rebels as government supporters.
The presence of Rwandan rebels among the perpetrators will fuel controversy over a forthcoming U.N. report into atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1993 and 2003, in which tens of thousands of people were killed.
The U.N. postponed publication of that report until October 1 after a leak last month, in which Rwanda was accused of genocide in the former Zaire, prompted Rwandan President Paul Kagame to threaten to withdraw his country's peacekeepers from around Africa.
(Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)