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'We must do better' in combating mass rape in Congo

The United Nations admits its peacekeepers failed to protect victims of mass rape in eastern Congo. In an area where rape has become a weapon of war, the UN's pledge to 'do better' must be more than a promise.

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A year ago, the practice of mass rape by militias in eastern Congo made headlines in the United States as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the region to speak out against rape as a weapon of war.

The subject has again reverberated outside that war-torn zone in the heart of Africa. On Tuesday, the United Nations admitted its peacekeepers “failed” to protect civilians from systematic rapes by armed combatants in eastern Congo at the end of July and into August.

During this time, 242 rapes reportedly occurred in and around the village of Luvungi, just about 20 miles from a UN base. In total, more than 500 rapes have occurred in the region since July, according to the UN.

Primary responsibility for prevention lies with the Democratic Republic of Congo, said Atul Khare, UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping. But “our actions were not adequate, resulting in unacceptable brutalization of the population of the villages in the area. We must do better.”

Recognizing the need to do better is helpful in problem solving. And following words with acts is imperative in this exceptionally heart-rending case.

Congo is known as the “rape capital of the world.” The reasons for this are complex and numerous. One of them is war. Though a 2002 peace agreement ended what has been called the deadliest conflict since World War II (more than 5 million killed), that’s not the reality for eastern Congo.

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