Sexual atrocities in Congo's volatile province of South Kivu extend "far beyond rape" and include sexual slavery, forced incest and cannibalism, a U.N. human rights expert said Monday.
Yakin Erturk called the situation in South Kivu the worst she has ever seen in four years as the global body's special investigator for violence against women. Sexual violence throughout Congo is "rampant," she said, blaming rebel groups, the armed forces and national police.
"These acts amount to war crimes and, in some cases, crimes against humanity," said Erturk, who just came back from an 11-day mission there.
Most of the worst abuses have been committed by rebel groups, many of whom fled to Congo after taking part in the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s, she said.
"Women are brutally gang raped, often in front of their families and communities. In numerous cases, male relatives are forced at gunpoint to rape their own daughters, mothers or sisters," she said.
Saying the situation required immediate attention from Congo's government and the international community, Erturk reported that 4,500 cases of sexual violence had already been counted so far this year. The U.N. investigator said the actual number of incidents was probably much higher.
Erturk said government forces and national police are responsible for nearly 20 percent of all cases of sexual violence reported.
Army units have deliberately targeted communities suspected of supporting militia groups "and pillage, gang rape and, in some instances, murder civilians," she said.