GENEVA, Switzerland - The widespread raping of women and girls in eastern Congo is condoned by both the country's army and its rebel groups and has been used as a weapon of war, a leading human-rights group said yesterday.
Amnesty International said that much of the sexual violence committed by all sides was directed at ethnic groups from opposing communities.
Failure by the army and rebel groups to stop or punish rape "suggests that, at the very least, they systematically condone the crime and thereby implicitly encourage its persistence on a mass scale," the group said.
Human-rights researchers who visited the country three times in recent weeks were told that some rape victims had been threatened with death if they ask for medical help.
Irene Khan, secretary-general of Amnesty International, said U.N. peacekeepers were rarely able to protect civilians, even in the refugee camps where many have fled to since new fighting flared in August.
Yesterday, two young girls were shot at U.N.-run camps at Kibati, north of the provincial capital of Goma. One died, while the other suffered critical injuries, said Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
"Another woman was raped by armed men in the vicinity of Kibati camp" Thursday evening, he said.
"We remain extremely concerned for the safety of the displaced Congolese population in Kibati" because fighters continually violate the two UNHCR-run camps there, he added.
Amnesty's Khan also criticized the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council, which last week condemned the abuse of civilians in eastern Congo but stopped short of blaming the government for failing to control its soldiers.
"The council believes that by taking this approach of not naming and shaming [governments], they will get more cooperation," Khan said. "Experience shows that you have to be honest and straightforward about those who are responsible for violations."