UN peacekeepers “failed” when they did not stop the mass rape of more than 500 men, women and children in the Democratic Republic of Congo a senior official has admitted
The number of assaults is twice that previously reported in the country’s east, Atul Khare told the UN Security Council.
Aid workers who reached a village captured by rebels in late July found that 242 women and children had been raped in the course of four days.
A unit of two dozen armed UN peacekeepers stationed less than 20 miles away did nothing to stop the assaults.
“While the primary responsibility for protection of civilians lies with the state, its national army and police force, clearly we have also failed,” Mr Khare, assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, said after returning from a trip to eastern Congo.
“Our actions were not adequate, resulting in unacceptable brutalisation of the population of the villages in the area. We must do better.”
The UN’s mission in Congo, MONUSCO, is its largest and most expensive in the world, but has regularly been criticised for being ineffective, weak and badly managed.
Peacekeepers have in the past been sent home after they were accused of sexual abuse of children in areas they are supposed to be protecting.
The UN had earlier said that it was not aware of the most recent attacks until after Congolese and Rwandan rebels had left Luvungi town, despite running at least one patrol there while the attacks were ongoing.
But emails reportedly sent between the UN’s humanitarian office, other UN agencies and aid organisations allegedly alerted officials to the rebel takeover, and of at least one rape.
Ban Ki-moon expressed his “outrage” at the attacks and dispatched Mr Khare to investigate last week.
Rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout eastern Congo’s two decade civil war, which was supposed to have ended with a peace deal in 2003.
But violence continues as armed groups battle for control of lucrative mines producing metals vital for consumer electronics, including mobile phones, laptops and games consoles.