UNITED NATIONS – Congolese army commanders signed a declaration to combat rape in war, a move the United Nations welcomed Tuesday as an important step in the fight against sexual violence during conflicts.
The declaration, signed in Congo's capital, Kinshasa, is part of a government plan adopted in September to end sexual violence by the armed forces.
The Congolese military has been notorious for violent sexual crimes.
A U.N. report in April 2014 said more than 3,600 women, children and men were subjected to rape and other sexual violence in Congo from 2010 to 2013 by the country's defense and security forces or armed rebels. It said about half the attacks were by government forces and half by rebel groups, though the percentages varied year by year.
The declaration requires every Congolese military commander to pledge to take a series of actions including respecting human rights and international humanitarian law against sexual violence in conflict, ensuring prosecution of alleged perpetrators under their command, and sensitizing soldiers to the "zero tolerance policy" on sexual violence in conflict.
It requires commanders to facilitate access for military prosecutors to areas under their command and to hand over any soldier who is under investigation or who has been indicted or convicted. It also requires that commanders take specific measures to ensure protection of victims, witnesses, judicial members and others involved in addressing sexual violence.
Zainab Hawa Bangura, the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, joined military commanders, government ministers, and U.N. peacekeeping officials at the signing.
"This is a day we will all remember as a giant leap forward in the fight against conflict-related sexual violence," Bangura said, adding that it demonstrates "the progress we can make when political will and commitment are coupled with concrete action and support from the international community."