The United Nations has admitted it seriously failed in its mission after 500 rapes in the space of a single month in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The mass rape of more than 240 women in villages close to a peacekeeping base in Eastern Congo at the start of August has eroded confidence in the UN operation. It has prompted an internal inquiry.
"While the primary responsibility for protection of civilians lies with the state, its national army and police force,” said UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping Atul Khare. “Our actions were not adequate, resulting in unacceptable brutalisation of the population of the villages in the area. Clearly we have also failed. We must do better."
The admission comes as news of another spate of mass rapes in a different part of the east African country begins to surface, which would bring the total number of victims over the past month to more than double that first reported.
UN peacekeepers sent a patrol into the area of Luvungi where the mass rapes were taking place, but troops didn’t talk to people there or find out what was going on.
Rights activists yesterday urged the UN peacekeeping mission to leave their armoured cars and get out and speak to the people they are there to protect.
"People on the ground are telling us that they don't see enough of the UN and when they do see them it's in heavily armoured vehicles from which it's impossible to communicate with anyone," said Oxfam’s Marcel Stoessel.
Mr Stoessel said people "want the UN to get out of those vehicles, speak with local communities and identify threats together". And he added: "Right now, that's not happening everywhere."
The number of victims over the past month is now more than 500. The UN’s Mr Khare said that there were at least 267 rapes in another area of eastern Congo, as well as the 242 first thought. "Graphic examples were provided to me by the victims themselves when I met them in Luvungi and in other parts where I travelled,” he told the BBC. “And I must say that this is why I feel that we have a responsibility, we owe a responsibility to the victims to make their lives better but also we owe them the responsibility of making DRC better."