LONDON (TrustLaw) – "I went out to look for food in the fields. Two armed men in uniform appeared and told me that if I didn't want to die, I would have to have sex with them."
Testimony like this – from a woman uprooted by fighting in eastern Congo – is all too common and points to the pervasive nature of sexual violence in and around camps for displaced people in Goma, Medecins Sans Frontieres says.
There is poor security in the Goma camps and Congolese authorities and warring rebel groups are failing to take action to protect civilians in the area, the medical charity said in a statement.
Much of eastern Congo remains under the control of armed insurgencies and militia groups accused of rapes and killings.
"Violence is omnipresent," MSF psychologist Marie Jacob said in the statement. "It is a violence based on power, the law of the strongest, the law of the person with a weapon."
MSF said between Dec. 3, 2012 and Jan. 5 2013, its team in Mugunga III camp, a few kilometres (miles) west of Goma, treated 95 patients who had been subjected to sexual violence.
It also said there was an increase in admissions for trauma related to sexual violence in late December, which raised the average number of daily medical consultations to six.
The increased presence of soldiers and rebel fighters near the camps has created a chronic state of insecurity, with rape an everyday occurrence, MSF said.
“The individuals responsible act with impunity and are rarely punished. At the same time, very few victims file charges because they are afraid of reprisals," said Thierry Goffeau, MSF head of mission in Goma.
The camps are home to 100,000 people who fled an upsurge in fighting last November when rebels captured the strategic city of Goma for 11 days before withdrawing.
Makeshift shelters cobbled together with scraps of wood and plastic tarpaulin offer little protection against perpetrators, aid workers say.
Congolese troops, aided by U.N. peacekeepers, have been battling M23 rebels – who U.N. experts and Congolese officials say are backed by Rwanda and Uganda – for nearly a year in the volatile east of the country.
The Tutsi-dominated M23, named after a 2009 peace deal that saw a previous rebellion integrated into the army, initially took up arms saying the Kinshasa government had failed to respect the terms of the agreement.
It later expanded its demands and threatened to march across the vast Central African nation and topple the government of President Joseph Kabila.
M23 leaders announced a unilateral ceasefire on Jan. 8 ahead of a second round of peace talks with the government in Kampala.