Rape, murder and pillaging are chilling features of ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an MP has said.
Pauline Latham secured a Westminster Hall debate yesterday to highlight the "alarming humanitarian situation" in the African country.
A new rebel group, the March 23 movement or M23, has formed and has come into conflict with DRC forces, with devastating consequences on women and children.
Mrs Latham said "rape, murder and pillaging" have resulted from the fighting, which has displaced hundreds of thousands people, including many who have fled to neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, as well as within DRC.
Charity Tearfund estimates 48 women and children per hour are raped in the country, mostly by armed groups as well as civilians.
The UK is one of the largest aid providers to the DRC in terms of humanitarian aid and she demanded action from the government.
Mrs Latham said that children are also being drawn into the conflict.
"An M23 combatant who recently spoke to Human Rights Watch was candid about the recruitment of child soldiers in Rwanda," she told MPs.
"He said and I quote ‘We recruit everywhere in Rwanda and street children are very susceptible to recruitment.'"
She added: “Rape as a tool of war is in my opinion, a war crime and it must be condemned in the strongest manner possible by the whole of the International Community. Let me also be very clear about where I stand on this issue of the recruitment of child soldiers - as far as I am concerned Rwandan military and civilian officials who recruit children under the age 15 for the M23 are responsible for war crimes”.
The organisation ‘War Child’ has said the DRC is “the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman".
Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire replied to Mrs Latham. He said the humanitarian situation in the DRC is "deteriorating".
"There are 2.3 million internally displaced people, up from 1.7 million at the end of last year. The strengthening and proliferation of armed groups in 2012 as the national army has redeployed to tackle M23 has led to a sharp increase in the number of attacks on civilians, including alarming levels of sexual violence, forced recruitment and other human rights abuses," he told MPs.
Mr Swire said the UK government "utterly condemns" the use of sexual violence in conflict, wherever and whenever it takes place.
"In the DRC in particular, that horrific situation persists and will leave lasting scars," he said.
Mr Swire said that while the DRC remains one of the most challenging environments in which to deliver aid, "we are committed to providing a minimum of £27 million of assistance each year until 2016."
Response: Rob Williams, chief executive, War Child
Pauline Latham did well to distract MPs attention long enough to have a proper discussion of the acute crisis in Democratic Republic of the Congo. Renewed fighting has lifted the number of people living in displaced people’s camps to 2.5 million. A huge challenge in a country that has seen over a decade of fighting costing over 6 million lives. Yes, that is 6 million human beings dying from fighting, hunger, or excess disease following destruction of hospitals and clean water supplies.
Fighting has also opened the flood gates to an overwhelming tsunami of sexual violence which sees soldiers gang raping women and taking girls into sexual slavery. In their thousands.
Hugo Swire, the Foreign Office Minister, said in the debate that the UK has committed £27 million of aid per year to DRC up to 2016. This was presumably intended to sound like an impressive commitment. In fact this is less than quarter of what the UK spent on aid to DRC two years ago. At a time when even the Minister admits that the humanitarian situation is deteriorating. So was he poorly briefed or is the UK government really downgrading its commitment to help the most vulnerable population in Africa?
Justine Greening, the new Secretary of State for Development, told a conference of UK aid organisations this week that she would be focussing on the core issues of girls, women and conflict affected states. In DRC, these priorities collide in those areas where fighting has broken out again. In August a War Child team found a girl called Jeannette who had seen her family burnt to death when their village was bombed in the fighting between M23 and government forces. She had made it to the camps but was on her own amongst a sea of 50,000 other homeless people. She told us ‘Without a family, in a displaced people’s camp, with no food, I will go with the first person to offer me a family life. I am not really old enough to get married. But really I do not know what to do. I have no tent, no family, nothing.’
Before Jeannette and other girls like her became victims of sexual violence themselves, we set up a child protection programme in the camps and moved the most vulnerable girls to safety elsewhere. But this work is hard to finance because of a shortage of donor funds going into the DRC. The UN assistance plan for DRC has only received 46% of what it needs from donors. Humanitarian aid to DRC is dropping off just as the needs are again on the rise. Leaving thousands of girls like Jeanette highly vulnerable to abuse, hunger and death.
This is not the time to be looking away from the DRC.