The United States will provide $17 million to help survivors of rape and prevent sexual violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced during an unprecedented visit to the eastern city of Goma.
Clinton, the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the war-ravaged eastern Kivu region in the DRC, met individually August 11 with two rape survivors, and then attended a roundtable discussion with medical providers, health care activists and other Congolese now living in camps after fleeing the fighting in the DRC's long-running conflict. She said she was "overwhelmed" by what she saw in the camps and by meeting the rape survivors, and she strongly condemned the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war.
"The atrocities that these women have suffered, which stands for the atrocities that so many have suffered, distills evil into its basest form," Clinton said in remarks at the Heal Africa Hospital, where many rape victims are treated. "The United States condemns these attacks and all those who commit them and abet them. And we say to the world that those who attack civilian populations using systematic rape are guilty of crimes against humanity."
More than 5 million people have died during fighting in the DRC dating back to the mid-1990s; the conflict remains one of the longest-running, and deadliest, in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly 5,000 rapes have been reported in the Kivu region in 2009, although the actual number is believed to be much higher, according to news reports. The soldiers of the chronically undertrained and unpaid Congolese military are often accused of being the worst perpetrators of systematic rape, while high-ranking Congolese government officials and members of the United Nations' peacekeeping force in the DRC also have been accused.
The United States, already a leading donor to the DRC, will use the $17 million in new funding to provide medical care, counseling, economic assistance and legal support to 10,000 women in areas including North and South Kivu, the secretary said. Part of the money will be spent to train health care workers in the complex surgical procedures needed by survivors of rape, such as fistula repair.
Nearly $3 million in separate funding has been approved to recruit and train more police officers, particularly women police officers, and to investigate sexual violence, Clinton said. The United States will also send teams of civilian, medical and technology experts to the DRC to help survivors of sexual violence, and send military engineers from the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) based in Stuttgart, Germany, to offer additional help for sexual violence survivors, Clinton said.
A senior administration official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said the AFRICOM assistance would consist of medical and health care personnel, engineers to build sanitation and latrine facilities, and technical support for technology experts who are searching for ways to use mobile phones to document and report instances of sexual violence.
"Our commitment to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence did not begin today, and it will not end today," Clinton said. "As we provide this assistance, we are redoubling our efforts to end the fundamental cause of this violence: the fighting that goes on and on here, in the eastern DRC. We will be taking additional steps inside our own government, at the United Nations, and in concert with other nations to bring an end to this conflict."
Clinton met with DRC President Joseph Kabila while in Goma, and described her "very frank discussions about sexual violence," which included urging the Congolese government to prosecute and punish all who commit such crimes. "That is particularly important when those who commit such acts are in positions of authority, including members of the Congolese military," she said.
Yet, in the end, it is up to the Congolese people themselves to demand and bring about the changes that will improve the country, Clinton said. "Just as President Obama said in his historic speech in Ghana, the future of Africa is up to the Africans," she said. "The future, ultimately, of the Congolese people is up to the Congolese people."
Reciting a Congolese proverb -- "No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come" -- Clinton spoke of the hope and courage she saw among the people of Goma, and pledged that the United States would continue to work hard with the Congolese government, private sector, civil society and individuals to help the DRC.
"You are all helping to hasten the days coming, when thousands of Congolese women will be able to walk freely again, to go to their fields, to play with their children, to walk with their husbands, to do the work of collecting firewood and water without fear," Clinton said. "We want to banish the problem of sexual violence into the dark past, where it belongs."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called Clinton's visit to Goma "the most powerful day" of her 11-day trip across Africa, which began August 4 in Kenya and includes South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, Liberia and Cape Verde in addition to the DRC. Clinton is scheduled to return to Washington August 14.