The United Nations has said more than 3,600 women, children and men were subjected to rape and other sexual violence in Congo over a four-year period by the country's defense and security forces or armed rebels.
A UN report published on Wednesday documented 3,645 victims of sexual violence between January 2010 and December 2013, with nearly three-quarters of the victim’s women.
Large-scale rape has been used as a weapon of war or to punish civilians for their perceived collaboration with a rival party
Ranging in age from two to 80-years-old, 73 percent of the victims were women, 25 percent were children and 2 percent were men, the report said.
Just over half the rapes documented were committed by members of armed groups that operate in eastern Congo. The remainder were attributed to state agents, including soldiers in the military (FARDC), who were implicated in around one in three rapes.
The report said the period from 2010 through 2013 had been characterised "by the persistence of incidents of sexual violence that were extremely serious due to their scale, their systematic nature and the number of victims."
In some incidents in the volatile east, "large-scale rape has been used as a weapon of war or to punish civilians for their perceived collaboration with a rival party to the conflict in the struggle for power over areas rich in natural resources," it said.
Violent sexual crimes were committed during attacks on villages, and alongside killings, abductions and looting; and many women were raped in their homes, while working on farms, going to market or fetching water, the report said.
In 2011, the American Journal of Public Health reported more than 400,000 women and girls were raped in a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007.
Congolese troops, aided by UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO, have been battling M23 rebels in the resource-rich east of the country.
The UN human rights chief Navi Pillay told authorities in DRC that more prosecutions were crucial to fight impunity, including against "those suspected of having command responsibility."
"Unfortunately the political will at the highest level is not sufficiently translated on the ground," she said.
|Rape in DR Congo: A 'weapon of war'
"Not all Congolese authorities are prepared or equipped to conduct thorough investigations into all cases of sexual violence and to prosecute the most senior officers."
The UN said it has observed "slow but steady progress" in prosecutions, including against 39 soldiers accused of crimes against humanity including rape stemming from alleged sexual violence against at least 102 women and 33 girls in and around the town of Minova in eastern Congo in November 2012.
But the UN said most cases "are never investigated or prosecuted, and very few are reported."
It cited fears of stigmatisation, retaliation and the costs for victims and the difficulties of arresting perpetrators and deficiencies in Congo's judicial and prison systems.
In the 18 months from July 2011 to December 2013, the UN said it recorded 187 convictions by military courts for sexual violence, mostly rape.
It said 136 of those convicted were from the army but only three were senior officers, 47 were from other state bodies, and just four were from armed groups.