Investigations into the new year’s day rape at Fizi implicate the Congolese military and it’s local commander, Lt. Col. Kibibi Mutware. Reports say 7 soldiers have been arrested and the Colonel has been transferred from the area.
Shortly after New Years Day, Medecins sans Frontiers(MSF) reported that they had been treating civilians in Fizi, South Kivu, after a mass rape committed by armed men. As the investigations have continued, more and more accusations are being levelled at the Congolese Army (FARDC) and the local commander, Lt. Col. Kibibi Mutware.
Scale still unknown
The initial releases by MSF had reported that 33 women had been raped but it was forecast that more would emerge as survivors returned to their homes. Many had fled into the surrounding countryside to escape. The latest tally has risen to 51 and it may be that some are not reporting their ordeal for fear of stigma or reprisals-
“I’m ashamed, very ashamed. If I meet two or three people who are having a discussion, I assume they are talking about me, even though it is not the case.” a survivor reported to the BBC
The BBC has reported that victims and a U.N. investigation, quoting local leaders and police sources, are pointing to the army commander, Lt. Col. Kibibi, as the orchestrator of the attack. One survivor even names Kibibi and his body guards as the group that raped her.
Lt. Col. Kibibi has denied the accusations but, as a former member of the CNDP rebel group that was integrated into the military during a peace agreement in 2009, he will find it hard to get support from outside his own troops.
How did it start?
The origins of the atrocity seem to be getting clearer. A soldier of the FARDC was murdered after arguing with a Fizi resident. The FARDC then sought retribution through a campaign of violence, rape and terror that lasted all night. Kibibi is accused of ordering this attack but claims that his soldiers disobeyed his orders to stay in camp that night.
What is yet unclear is why the argument began. At the time, reports suggested that residents were unhappy that the army had failed to protect them from another, earlier attack. Now the reports state that the argument was an ‘everyday’ one – over a woman. It seems that a soldier injured or killed a local resident during this argument and was then lynched by a mob in return. All mention of an earlier attack has been dropped from media reports.
Arrests of FARDC soldiers
Seven FARDC soldiers have been arrested in relation to the attacks and it has been stated that a zero-tolerance policy is to be implemented. But, Lt. Col. Kibibi has been transferred away from the area and it is uncertain what is to be done about the allegations against him.
There are already calls for the military to be subject to investigation and punishment. Accountability is recognised as a key factor in reducing corruption and systemic violence. Anneke Van Woudenberg, the senior researcher on Congo for Human Rights Watch, said the Congolese government had begun to address the issue of rape but needed to start holding senior army officials to account if it was to be taken seriously.
It will remain to be seen whether Lt Col Kibibi Mutware will be officially accused of leading this attack and whether he will be subject to the zero-tolerance policy that his subordinates look set to face.
In the meantime, the U.N.’s MONUSCO force has had patrols in the town and there have been no more clashes.