The United Nations said Wednesday it would investigate dozens of claims of rape by army officers and rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The UN’s mission in the country, Monusco, said that 126 cases of rape were recorded between November 15 and 30 last year in and around Minova, in the restive eastern province of South Kivu.
Monusco will lead “an inquiry into rights violations by the army and the M23” rebel movement, spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai said Wednesday.
He said the UN would “support judicial investigation” into the violence and push “Congolese authorities at the highest level to take appropriate action and ensure justice is done”.
The rapes were reportedly carried out as the army retreated from an assault by the M23 rebels on the regional hub of Goma. Widespread pillaging was also reported around Minova.
The launch of the investigation comes as a separate UN report into rights violations in the resource-rich east -- home to a number of armed groups -- nears completion.
Its damning content has already led DR Congo’s military to suspend 12 officers, who could face charges, said Kieran Dwyer, spokesman for the UN’s peacekeeping operations unit.
Earlier this month, the UN and DR Congo signed an accord aimed at reducing rape and sexual violence in conflict zones.
It includes providing help to victims of sexual violence and reinforcing specialized police units that deal with protecting women and children.
Rape is widespread in DR Congo, with perpetrators including Congolese and foreign rebel groups, but also the national armed forces, which have been much criticized for their brutality against civilians and corruption.