June 23, 2009 / 9:35 AM / 11 years ago

Rioting Congo prisoners rape 20 women

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Rioting inmates raped around 20 female prisoners during a failed prison break in Democratic Republic of Congo’s violence-ravaged east, the country’s U.N. peacekeeping mission said.

Two people were killed and 12 others were injured when prisoners detonated two grenades inside the central prison in Goma, capital of the eastern border province of North Kivu, during an overnight escape attempt that began late Sunday.

“The group of mutinying soldiers ... raped around 20 female inmates,” said the statement released late Monday by the U.N. mission, known as MONUC.

Congolese police and military surrounded the prison, which holds a number of rebel and militia fighters, soon after the riots began, and no prisoners escaped.

With small budgets and poor facilities, Congolese prisons are generally overcrowded. Malnutrition and easily preventable illnesses are common. In many cases, soldiers, women, and children are mixed in with the general inmate population.

The United Nations blames a growing wave of attempted jail breaks and mutinies on a lack of food and access to healthcare in Congo’s prison system.

New York-based rights campaigner Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Congolese authorities of repeatedly ignoring calls to improve the country’s crumbling prison infrastructure and failing to protect vulnerable inmates.

“The rape of female prisoners in a government institution is deeply distressing. This is a horrific example of what has been happening across the prison system throughout Congo,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, HRW’s senior Congo researcher.

Reporting by Joe Bavier; Editing by Daniel Magnowski

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