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(Zaina Niangoma, who was raped along with her 15-year-old daughter (not pictured) by three members of the Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. Photo: AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Rape is being used as a weapon of war in Eastern Congo, and the international community is doing next to nothing to stop it.

Yesterday, the United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping, Atul Khare, admitted that the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (currently the largest UN peacekeeping deployment in the world) had failed to stop recent attacks on Congolese villagers, in which over 500 people — ranging from a month-old boy to a 110-year-old woman — were raped.

According to the The Guardian, the UN mission has also been "accused of ignoring warnings from community leaders days before [my emphasis] Rwandan and Congolese rebels began [the] spree of raping and looting 20 miles from a UN base."

Khare said:

"While the primary responsibility for protection of civilians lies with the state, its national army and police force, clearly we have also failed. Our actions were not adequate, resulting in unacceptable brutalization of the population of the villages in the area. We must do better."

There are so many holes in the UN’s current strategy in Eastern Congo. Without adequate equipment and nimble rapid response capabilities, there is no chance that the DRC peacekeeping mission can establish security and intervene against a wide spectrum of belligerents. And just as important, without full-throated, full-press diplomacy from some major players — namely the United States — the UN cannot help promote a realistic and sustainable peace in Congo. Because while there are rebel leaders that need to be sanctioned immediately and brought to justice for engaging in systematic rape, there just doesn’t seem to be the political will right now in the halls of the UN to take these and other necessary steps.

What can the Obama administration do? During a press conference yesterday, U.S. UN Ambassador Susan Rice promised that the U.S. would "take up the mantle of leadership…on ensuring that the perpetrators of the violence are held accountable, including through our efforts in the [UN Security Council] Sanctions Committee to add them to the lists that exist and to ensure that they are sanctioned."

Rice’s statement is welcome, but it needs to be supplemented by aggressive and thoughtful peacemaking at the highest levels — actions which would effectively signal to the rest of the world that the U.S. is committed to ending the atrocities in Eastern Congo. What if President Obama sent Vice President Biden (a vocal Africa advocate during his time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) or Secretary of State Clinton to the DRC right now in order to show our country’s resolve against these latest human rights abuses?

Or what if the President sent himself? Since its start, the Obama administration has dispatched its best and brightest to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, East Asia, and other places on short notice in order to deal with various humanitarian and political emergencies. Is the relentless rape of Congo’s people too little of an emergency for them?

More info: The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Telegraph.

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