UN signs agreement with DR Congo to tackle sexual violence

New York, Apr 3 : A United Nations envoy has praised the efforts of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to address conflict-related sexual violence, and announced the signing of an agreement with the country's authorities to address this pervasive issue.

"I am concerned about the scale of sexual violence in conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but I have also been encouraged by the steps taken by the Government and the work being done by the UN and other international and national actors," said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, at the end of her 10-day visit to DRC.

"Many challenges still remain, however. We are committed to helping the Government address these, and I sincerely hope and believe that the Joint Communique will serve as a good tool in this respect."

The Joint Communique lists commitments made by the Government, including fighting impunity for crimes of sexual violence, accelerating security sector reform efforts, creating vetting mechanisms when integrating former combatants into the national army, ensuring a better control of mineral resources, and greater support for services to survivors.

In the agreement, which was signed by Bangura and Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo Mapon on 30 March, the DRC also committed to working with partners, including State entities, donors, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to prevent sexual violence committed by armed men, which is rampant in the eastern part of the country in particular.

"As an African woman from a post-conflict country - Sierra Leone - I recognize the many challenges the Congo is currently facing," Bangura said. "Conflict-related sexual violence is among the most urgent of these, and one which requires the leadership, ownership, and responsibility of the Government of this country. I am therefore pleased to note the DRC Government's readiness to take tackle this head on."

During her visit, Bangura also met with President Joseph Kabila and other senior officials. She also held meetings with legislative authorities, members of parliament, survivors of sexual violence, and women's groups.

In addition, Bangura organized discussions with both the leadership and the soldiers of the national army (FARDC), the national police, religious leaders, health workers and NGOs.

While in the DRC, the Special Representative also welcomed the Security Council's extension of the mandate of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the country (MONUSCO) until March 2014, as well as authorizing the deployment of an intervention brigade tasked to carry out targeted offensive operations against armed groups that threaten peace in the eastern part of the country.

"I welcome the adoption of the new resolution, including the authorization of the intervention brigade. The Congo cannot let its image be tarnished and taken hostage by criminals committing sexual violence," she said. "We need to change the conversation and create a new narrative for the DRC, but only the Congolese, with the backing of the international community, can do this."

--IBNS (Posted on 03-04-2013)

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