Twelve senior officers in the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo have been arrested and charged with responsibility for mass rapes committed in the region last November, according to a report by the Associated Press. The arrests come after weeks of pressure from the United Nations, which threatened to suspend its peacekeepers’ cooperation with the Congolese army units suspected to committing the rapes, which are considered a crime against humanity and a war crime under international law.
According to the AP, the rapes occurred near the city of Goma, in eastern Congo, where M23 rebels had routed the army and seized control of the provincial capital. As the army retreated, “commanders lost control of their troops, or were unwilling to impose discipline over their men who regrouped some 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Goma in Minova.” For several days, the army units rape, killed, and looted, apparently in revenge for their defeat. Human Rights Watch says an estimated 126 women were raped, but the Congolese government says the number is likely to be even higher. The AP notes: “Congo has a track record of letting crimes of sexual violence go unpunished, in particular when committed by the military.”