, GENEVA, Apr 23 – Fourteen women are sexually assaulted every day on average in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN refugee agency said Friday as it expressed alarm at the extent of rape in the country.
During the first three months of this year, 1,244 women were sexually assaulted throughout DR Congo, according to United Nations data.
That amounted to "an average of almost 14 assaults each day," said Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Over the past 14 years, through some of the country\’s most violent recent history, at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence have been recorded.
"UNHCR is alarmed by the large numbers of women who continue to be affected by sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo," Fleming told journalists.
"A similar number of sexual assaults were recorded in the same period last year and we fear that the real numbers could be much higher considering that many survivors keep silent for fear of being ostracised."
Aid agencies have frequently expressed concern at the degree of impunity and the lack of justice for victims, especially in conflict torn eastern regions.
More than one-third of the recorded cases of sexual assault were in North and South Kivu provinces in the east, which host some 1.4 million internally displaced people.
Fleming said the UNHCR was working on prevention and support for victims and also trying to follow up with rape prosecutions.
Families were helped to file complaints in courts last year in 145 cases, leading to at least 24 convictions, including compensation, in those that have been judged so far.
"This represents a significant development for justice but overall the number of cases in which criminal charges are being brought is tiny compared to the vast scale of the problem," said Fleming.
More than half of the rapes committed in the east, ruled by militias and rebel movements, were by "armed men," a report by charity Oxfam International said recently, while army soldiers have also been accused of sexual violence.