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Combat the terror of rape in Congo

The world must act to stop this weapon of war.

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While the Rwandan Army's recent arrest of the leading eastern Congolese rebel leader, Laurent Nkunda, is a step toward ending the impunity in DRC, it is unclear how this development will affect the many militias still operating in the region. Without a sustained effort to prosecute perpetrators of extensive sexual and other atrocities, it will remain nearly impossible to cultivate peace and foster development.

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The United Nations Security Council took a step in the right direction last June when it adopted Resolution 1820, which officially denounces this type of sexual violence as a form of "warfare" to humiliate, dominate, and instill fear. Yet, thus far, the international community's response is woefully inadequate.

The UN's 17,000 peacekeepers in the DRC struggle to protect civilians because its force remains far too small to end violence and warfare in a country the size of Western Europe. Worse, some UN soldiers have been accused of contributing to the sexual abuse of civilians.

That's why the Obama administration must act boldly. His team can demonstrate America's commitment to upholding human rights and forcefully moving against all forms of terrorism.

They should work with other Security Council members to vigorously implement Resolution 1820, dramatically bolster the UN peacekeepers' work (while prosecuting those guilty of sexual crimes), and press the current mediators for the eastern DRC crisis, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and ex-Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, to highlight the issue of eradicating sexual terrorism during deliberations with the main military actors in the region.

The International Criminal Court, moreover, should expand its investigations and prosecute the chief architects and perpetrators of mass rape for crimes against humanity and even genocide where the rapes have been systematic and widespread.

Coordinated steps should be taken by other actors, too, including the African Union, the government of the DRC, as well as nonstate actors, such as international and Congolese nongovernmental organizations, to address these issues.

Justice for the victims is needed, but so is work to address the causes of the conflict and ensure that the long-term patterns of truly extreme violence are finally broken.

Marc Sommers is an associate research professor of humanitarian studies at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Kathryn Birch has published work on sexual violence in Africa and is working for Premier Healthcare Alliance.