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Last Updated: Monday, 30 July 2007, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
Shock at sex crimes in DR Congo
Congolese woman
Many rapes go unreported in DR Congo
A UN human rights expert has said she is shocked at the scale and brutality of sexual violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Yakin Erturk said the situation in South Kivu province was the worst she had seen in four years as special UN investigator on violence against women.

She said women had been tortured, forced to eat human flesh and men had been forced to rape relatives.

She said rebels, soldiers and police were responsible.

Last year's UN-supervised elections were supposed to end years of conflict in DR Congo but violence continues, especially in the east.

Over the weekend, Humanitarian Affairs Minister Jean Claude Muyambu said that some six million people had fled their homes because of the fighting.

Rape as punishment

"The atrocities perpetrated by these armed groups are of an unimaginable brutality that goes far beyond rape," she said in a statement after visiting the region.

"Women are brutally gang raped, often in front of their families and communities."

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Ms Erturk said some 4,500 cases of rape had been reported in South Kivu this year - with many more cases believed to have gone unreported.

"Most victims live in inaccessible areas [and] are afraid to report or did not survive the violence," she said.

She called on the international community to do more to protect Congolese women - there are some 16,000 UN peacekeepers in the country.

She also said no action had been taken against security forces who had raped civilians.

"There seems to be a pattern of using rape as a planned reprisal to punish communities suspected of supporting opposition groups," she told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

She also warned that sexual violence was becoming common outside areas of conflict.

"Violence against women seems to be perceived by large sectors of society to be normal."


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