KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo - The United Nations yesterday named two Congolese Army colonels who appear to be blocking an investigation of soldiers accused of mass gang-raping at least 47 women in eastern Congo and said if the attackers are not identified the officers themselves should stand trial for the crimes committed by those under their command.
Government troops carried out the mass rapes in the remote and mountainous villages of Bushani and Kalambahiro in North Kivu province from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1, according to witnesses and victims cited in the report from the UN human rights office.
A Congolese military spokesman called the report premature and said they had not concluded their investigation.
The incident occurred when 100 soldiers attacked villagers with whips, machetes, and rifles, accusing the inhabitants of supporting rebels, the report said.
Those raped were aged from 16 to 65 and included pregnant women. Some were raped in front of their children. Some were raped by two to four men, the report said.
It said the actual number of victims probably is much higher than 47, since many villagers remain hidden in the forest or other towns for fear of another attack and since many victims do not report being raped for fear of being rejected by their husbands and communities.
The report said the Congolese military has failed to fully cooperate with investigators, hindering attempts to prosecute the attackers. It said five battalions were operating in the area at the time and identified two colonels in command.
Colonel Chuma Balumisa was commander of the operational area including the attacked villages, and Colonel Bobo Kakudji was commander of overall operations in North Kivu.
“Given their hierarchical position, they should have been aware of the troops’ movements . . . and should therefore be able to identify the battalions responsible for the violations,’’ the report said. As the identity of the soldiers responsible has been impossible to establish, the colonels “themselves could be considered responsible for the actions committed by their soldiers.’’