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Under Secretary Otero on Sexual Violence and the Political and Security Implications in the Congo

First, thank you for including me on today’s panel. I commend the Wilson Center and International Crisis Group for taking on this difficult and critical topic. The mass rape of well over 100 women just days ago in South Kivu is a disheartening reminder that despite international efforts, we still have a very long way to go before we can claim any success. Thank you to Dr. Mukwege for your inspiring work.

When Secretary Clinton traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in August 2009, she said that she saw humanity at its worst – and at its best. At its worst was the use of rape and sexual terror as a tactic of war. But, she said, Dr. Mukwege represents “humanity at its best.” He has given himself unstintingly to the work of Panzi hospital. He does heroic work every day to repair the mutilated bodies of the survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Not only does Dr. Mukwege save lives, but he also helps survivors rehabilitate back into society.

Sexual violence used as a tactic of war is threat to international peace and security. The international community recognized this when it adopted the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, beginning with Resolution 1325, in the year 2000.

President Obama’s National Security Strategy recognizes that “countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity. When those rights and opportunities are denied, countries lag behind.”

Secretary Clinton has noted that where women are oppressed and marginalized, societies are more dangerous and extremism is more likely to take hold. The suffering and denial of women’s rights and instability of nations go hand in hand.

No where do we see that more starkly than in the DRC. In her 2009 visit to the region Secretary Clinton highlighted the devastating role of sexual violence as a strategic weapon in armed conflict. We have since increased efforts to respond and prevent SGBV in the DRC and around the world.

In 2009, the United States introduced Security Council Resolution 1888, which created a UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and ensured that a team of experts would be deployed to conflict situations where sexual violence is likely to occur, in order to help governments strengthen the rule of law, improve accountability, and end impunity.

In support of Women, Peace and Security, the United States has also developed a comprehensive strategy to address SGBV in the DRC. In partnership with the Congolese government and civil society, the USG’s four key objectives in this strategy are to: 1) reduce impunity for perpetrators of SGBV; 2) increase prevention of and protection against SGBV for vulnerable populations; 3) improve the capacity of the security sector to address SGBV; and 4) increase access to quality services for SGBV survivors.

Across the USG, we are working with international and local NGOs, multilateral organizations and other donors to achieve these objectives. Since 2002, the USG has obligated nearly $150 million towards combating SGBV in the DRC.

USAID-funded programs have provided care and treatment services for over 100,000 SGBV survivors, including access to medical care, counseling and family mediation, social and economic reintegration support, and legal aid.

We are working with UNHCR and ICRC, as well as NGO prevention and response activities to help for returned refugee populations and internally displaced persons, many of whom are SGBV survivors.

We are also working to promote human rights, provide legal services to SGBV survivors, and build the capacity of local NGOs, justice sector and law enforcement personnel, and the media.

In the judicial and police sectors, we are providing assistance to the American Bar Association in order to increase access to justice for victims of SGBV, while at the same time increasing public awareness to the severity of these crimes and the avenues available to seek justice. INL also works with the International Organization for Migration to train members of the border police to recognize and investigate SGBV.

U.S. Africa Command has a small but growing commitment to assist in the prevention of SGBV and to help survivors. DOD funds are also being committed to provide infrastructure upgrades to facilities used by other service providers, to conduct research on SGBV, to train military officers and judicial officials on human rights and investigating war crimes, and potentially in future years to conduct SGBV prevention training with civilians as well as militaries.

Responding to, and preventing if possible, SGBV is one of the most difficult challenges that UN peacekeepers face in a situation like the DRC. We commend MONUSCO for taking on this issue more aggressively. In the case of the South Kivu rapes this month, which MONUSCO has quickly sent a mission to investigate, it was some two weeks before word of the tragedy reached outsiders, demonstrating once again that we need to find a way to communicate about such attacks in a much more timely way. And to communicate about early warning signs in a way that connects the dots and helps with prevention. The desertion of the alleged perpetrator of these rapes from the FARDC earlier in June is in retrospect a key warning sign.

We remain committed to working with the DRC government, the United Nations, and other international and local partners to strengthen the DRC government’s capacity to prevent SGBV, address the threat from illegal armed entities (including through their link to conflict minerals), and break the cycle of impunity for war crimes affecting innocent men, women, and children. In addition, we are committed to supporting the full inclusion of women in the country’s economic and political development. That is why it is critical that we promote women’s access to small grants and skills training, which is essential to civil society’s ability to effectively impact the DRC’s growth and stability.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton are fully committed to advancing the agenda of women as agents of peace and security because women are critical to solving every challenge we face. No country can get ahead if it leaves half its people behind.

Women are a powerful voice for peace and an instrument of development when given the opportunity. Investing in women is not only the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.

 


Spokesperson Nuland on Reports of Mass Rapes in Democratic Republic of the Congo

The United States government is gravely disturbed about the mass rapes that occurred between June 10 to 12 in a remote area of South Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and we strongly condemn these severe human rights abuses. Since we first learned of the attacks, we have been engaged with Congolese authorities, local and international non-governmental organizations, and the United Nations, including the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission to the DRC (MONUSCO) to gather the information needed to swiftly bring the perpetrators to justice.

In the meantime, our current assistance programs support survivors in the region, and we will work with our implementing partners in the DRC to determine how we can best assist the victims of this latest tragedy. The United States has repeatedly condemned the epidemic of sexual violence in conflict zones around the world and continues to speak out strongly on this issue. We support efforts to protect local populations, especially women and girls, against sexual and gender-based violence and bring to justice those who commit such acts. The United States is committed to working with the DRC and we urge the Government to fully investigate, arrest, and prosecute those found responsible for these attacks.

 


Remarks by Ambassador Dunn at a Security Council Debate on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Thank you, Mr. President. Let me also thank the Government of France for hosting this important session on the stabilization of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General, for your insightful statement. And thank you, Minister Chibanda, for your candid remarks.

The United States is committed to working with the Congolese government and the international community toward our shared objective: peace and security in the DRC and the region in which the DRC plays such a substantial role. We support ongoing efforts to increase stability, reduce the insecurity in which all too many civilians still live, ensure legitimate governance, and ensure a strong, credible democratic process for the country’s upcoming elections.

On behalf of the United States, let me again express our deep sorrow for the tragic UN air accident on April 4, in which 32 individuals lost their lives. We offer our condolences and our lasting appreciation to Special Representative Meece, the men and women of MONUSCO, and all UN personnel who work with such dedication in challenging environments.

I will focus on three points today.

First, for long-term stability in the DRC to take root, the country’s civilians need and deserve greater security. So we commend MONUSCO for its efforts to implement its mandate fully, especially its innovative efforts to protect civilians. We applaud the development of a mission-wide strategy, including the deployment of Community Alert Networks and Community Liaison Assistants. These important initiatives better connect peacekeepers with communities at risk—and enable MONUSCO, despite the all too real risks, to work quickly and effectively to respond to potential crises.

Mr. President, important progress has been made. Much of the DRC is relatively stable. Security in the east has increased. The reduction of armed groups continues. Important efforts toward reintegration and disarmament have taken place.

Nonetheless in the east and northeast, insecurity persists. State authority remains extremely weak, and violent militias continue to fuel conflict. To take two troublesome examples: the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda continue to kill, rape, abduct, and displace civilians in shocking numbers. Armed entities, including elements of the state security forces, also illegally exploit the country’s natural resources—terrorizing innocent civilians as part of their efforts to control communities that live near lucrative mining areas. That can allow them reap ill-gotten mining-related profits, which in turn sustain the conflict and prolong its suffering and abuses.

Far more must be done to deal with these violent armed groups. We remain committed to helping the DRC address this scourge, in part through security-sector reform assistance. We have trained a light infantry battalion in Kisangani, which is now operating in areas victimized from the LRA. We provided ongoing support to develop more Congolese military-justice personnel and strengthen the country’s military-justice system. We are also helping develop Congolese defense institutions.

Armed groups often rely on the mineral trade to sustain their operations. So my government is actively working to enact regulations that will require companies publicly traded in the United States to ensure that their mineral purchases do not help violent groups. We call on all member states to support Resolution 1952 and urge companies within their jurisdictions to exercise due diligence over their supply of minerals that stoke conflict in the eastern DRC. We are also working with companies, civil society groups, and governments in the region to ensure that the trade in the DRC’s minerals does not help armed groups. We continue to partner with the DRC and the region on these efforts, and we urge the DRC government to take steps to demilitarize the mines and reduce armed actors in the country’s east.

Second, second point I would like to address. The upcoming national and legislative elections could be historic. The Congolese will lead these elections, which we hope will be credible and fair. The Congolese can demonstrate their commitment as we approach the November 28 presidential and legislative elections.

Hurdles remain. A new electoral law has yet to be passed. The recently released electoral calendar is ambitious, and it leaves scant room for error. The logistical challenges are substantial. Security remains a serious concern. In the past, members of the state security forces have abused and threatened journalists. Intimidation of domestic human rights defenders continues. MONUSCO may lose key mobility and air assets that could help the elections just as they are needed most.

So we call on the DRC’s government to demonstrate the highest regard for the democratic process and to continue its work to assure transparent, open, and fair elections, with freedoms of movements for all candidates and journalists. We will be closely monitoring developments in urban and rural areas alike, as the electoral process should be credible throughout the country. We also will be providing approximately $11 million in electoral support, including election monitoring and civic education, in coordination with partners such as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and the Carter Center. We also support MONUSCO’s efforts to improve the elections’ technical and logistical aspects, as well as Radio Okapi’s work to help cover these elections.

While the international community plays an important role supporting the electoral process, ultimately, it is the Congolese government’s responsibility to provide the necessary support and security. We look forward to working with the government in this regard.

Third, let me underscore the importance of longer-term stabilization for the DRC and its neighbors. True progress will depend on tackling the underlying causes of insecurity and impunity in order to build the institutions that can support good governance.

Mr. President, the conviction of nine military personnel for ordering and carrying out mass rapes in Fizi is a milestone. By taking action, the DRC government has strengthened the message to perpetrators of sexual violence: no one is immune from prosecution.

The United States is deeply committed to ending impunity and developing democracy in the DRC, including initiatives to support free speech, governance, the rule of law, judicial independence, and accountability. For example, we have helped build up the Congolese justice system’s forensic capacity to investigate mass killings and sexual and gender-based violence. This has made it easier to prosecute dozens of rapists and perpetrators of sexual violence. We have also allocated more than $2 million in new communications technologies to better protect civilians in the Kivu provinces through early warning mechanisms and to support joint field investigations in the east by UN and Congolese military prosecutors.

The United States, working with the strategies of the DRC government and the United States*, has developed a comprehensive approach to help tackle sexual and gender-based violence. That includes $42 million in the Kivus, Orientale, and Maniema provinces to prevent future violence and take better care of survivors, as well as a three-year, $15 million initiative to scale up programs to fight HIV/AIDS. We continue to strengthen the Congolese civilian and military justice systems through long-term capacity-building and efforts to reduce impunity.

Mr. President, in conclusion, the Government of the DRC must take concrete steps to address the full spectrum of challenges the country faces. As Council members, we must also provide our political support to peace and stabilization. The United States is committed to doing so—and to working with the Congolese government and the international community toward our common objective of peace and stability in the DRC and the region.

Thank you, Mr. President.

_____________

*United Nations

 


U.S. Strategy To Address Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) includes the use of rape and sexual terror as a tactic of war in the conflict-affected eastern provinces, as well as pervasive violence against women and girls throughout the rest of the country. Men and boys are also victims of these abuses, but are often overlooked as a vulnerable population.

To further advance the efforts that are being undertaken by the Government of the DRC, the United States has developed a comprehensive strategy to address SGBV in the DRC, aligned with the strategies of the DRC Government and the United Nations. The U.S. government’s four key objectives, in support of Congolese efforts, are to:

1. Reduce impunity for perpetrators of SGBV;
2. Increase prevention of and protection against SGBV for vulnerable populations;
3. Improve the capacity of the security sector to address SGBV; and
4. Increase access to quality services for survivors of SGBV.

Beyond the specific objectives of the strategy, the U.S. recognizes that effective prevention of SGBV requires efforts to address women’s and girls’ low status in society. Increased participation of women in all aspects of society would enhance the value of women and girls. Furthermore, the DRC cannot move ahead without the full inclusion of women – including politically, economically (through agriculture and beyond), and socially, through a robust civil society movement. As Secretary Clinton noted in her 2010 statement before the Security Council to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, “the only way to achieve our goals – to reduce the number of conflicts around the world, to eliminate rape as a weapon of war, to combat the culture of impunity for sexual violence, to build sustainable peace – is to draw on the full contributions of both women and men in every aspect of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building.”

We remain committed to working with the DRC Government, the United Nations, and other international and local partners to improve the DRC Government’s capacity to prevent SGBV, address the threat from illegal armed entities (including their link to conflict minerals), and break the cycle of impunity for crimes affecting innocent men, women, and children. In addition to mitigating violence against women and girls, we are committed to supporting the full inclusion of women in the country’s political and economic development.

Women are a powerful voice for peace and an instrument of development when given the opportunity. Investing in women is not only the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.

 


Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley on the Conviction of Congolese Military Officers Accused of Mass Rapes

The United States Government welcomes the February 21st verdict and sentencing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) of nine military personnel found guilty of ordering and carrying out mass rapes in the town of Fizi on New Year’s Day. We applaud the DRC Government for taking swift and appropriate legal action to arrest and try in a local court the alleged perpetrators, including Lt. Colonel Kibibi Mutware and his subordinates. The trial and conviction of Congolese military personnel, including several officers, for committing acts of sexual violence in a conflict setting is a significant milestone. By taking such steps, the DRC Government is strengthening the message to perpetrators of sexual violence that no one is immune from prosecution for this horrific crime. Accountability for sexual and gender based violence is a shared priority for our governments and is an essential component to ending impunity for violent crimes and bringing peace and stability to the eastern DRC.

 
 

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