Opening of the City of Joy

Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Bukavu, South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo
February 4, 2011

It is truly a joy to be here to celebrate the opening of the City of Joy. I know this is a dream come true; a project long in the making and one that will transform the lives of all who are touched by the goodness here.

When I was in eastern Congo with Secretary Clinton about a year and a half ago, she said that this region has seen the worst of humanity in the crimes and atrocities that have been and still are perpetrated here, and the best of humanity. You represent the best of humanity.

I want to thank my friend Eve Ensler for her enduring commitment to end, once and for all, violence against women and girls. She had a dream for the City of Joy, and I know she and Christine Schuler Deschyrver, who has been at her side, have worked so hard for this day. I want to salute Dr. Mukwege, a saint of our times, who has given himself unstintingly to the work of Panzi Hospital and who does heroic work every day to save lives.

But I really came on behalf of my country – on behalf of President Obama and Secretary Clinton – to salute and support the women of this region. You have endured systematic sexual violence that we cannot imagine or comprehend and yet you persevere. You refuse to be destroyed by the violence. For those who need evidence, this center is proof that if you, the brave women here, make your voices heard and come together to create a better future for yourselves, your families, and your community – you can make all the difference in the world. The City of Joy is proof of what you can do.

I also want to tell you that I did not come here alone. I am joined by Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky, staff from the U.S. Congress, the State Department, and the Embassy and USAID Mission in Kinshasa, led here today by the Charge. The U.S. will continue to stand with you as we work on many levels as a partner with others working to end the conflict and the atrocities, the systematic rape that is nothing less than crimes against humanity. There are times you may feel alone but we are here to assure you that you are not alone. We in the U.S. are continuing and accelerating our efforts to support you and we are doing this on many levels.

A little over a year ago, Secretary Clinton came to eastern Congo, to Goma, and saw firsthand the urgent need for greater efforts to address sexual violence against women. She heard your plea for an end to impunity and for a legal system that punishes the perpetrators of these crimes from top commanders down. She heard your message that the national army needs to be reformed. It needs to be a force that protects people – a force trained and paid. She heard you tell her the minerals trade should be a source of wealth for people, not a source of violence, and that there must be laws and rules to regulate it. She heard you when you said that we all need to do more to put an end to sexual violence.

She took your message to President Kabila, to your government. Inaction is not an option. In the end it is your government that must meet its obligation and responsibilities here. She took your message to the United Nations Security Council where the U.S. introduced Resolution 1888, which was adopted by all members of the Council, to strengthen the international community’s resolve to prevent sexual violence. Through this resolution, Margot Wallstrom, who is here today, was appointed Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to lead, coordinate, and advocate for additional efforts to end sexual violence in conflict and to bring new resources to bear.

She also took your message back to the U.S. government to determine how we might take more effective steps. We continue to partner in a variety of ways with the government of the DRC, Congolese civil society, and NGOs on the full range of issues that need to be addressed. In December, USAID launched $42 million in programs in the Kivus, Orientale, and Maniema provinces to prevent future violence and improve access to care for survivors. Panzi Hospital is one of our key partners here. As part of the on-going commitment by the U.S. government to respond to GBV, the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief has committed $15 million to support the response to GBV through HIV/AIDS programming over the next three years. And today we announce an additional $3 million to protect orphans and vulnerable children, especially girls, by focusing on access to education, well functioning child protection systems, food security, economic strengthening, and shelter and care. Investing in girls is essential to building a society where girls are safe and valued.

Just a few months ago, Secretary Clinton returned to the UN Security Council where she announced that the U.S. Government would develop a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. If we collectively are 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 – we must draw on the full contributions of both women and men in every aspect of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building. She also told the Security Council that although important new steps have been taken here in the DRC to end the violence, that not enough has been done yet by the Congolese Government, the United Nations or the international community, to help bring about an end to the conflict and to the ongoing impunity.

MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping force, is working to do a better job to protect civilians through additional tools and commitments, such as the provision of cell phones, joint patrols, and increased presence. And the DRC Ministry of Defense is working to make greater progress on military justice, through the increased apprehension of those who have committed violence against women.

In seeing you here today and your remarkable accomplishments, we are inspired and humbled. In Kinshasa when I meet with officials of your government on Monday, I will tell them about what you have created here and will bring your message to end the atrocities and to address the range of issues you raise.

I will offer them the continued support of the US to assist the Government of the DRC in fulfilling its responsibilities to its citizens. In our partnership with the Norwegian government, which is represented here today by Vice Minister Ingrid Fiskaa, and our colleagues in the international community, we will support your vision of the future you and the Congo so richly deserve.

But ultimately it is the responsibility of the government of the DRC to address the challenges here. You are raising your voices, and the upcoming elections provide you an important opportunity to use your voice to demand that the government at all levels respond to your needs and those of your fellow citizens.

I hope you will come together as you have in creating the City of Joy – that you will grow as a powerful women’s peace movement, joined by your sisters and all good men around the country. This community and this country need you to build a better future for the people of the DRC. We know that when women progress, countries progress. And no country can get ahead if it leaves half its population behind.

As Secretary Clinton said, the day must come when the women of the eastern Congo can walk freely again, to tend their fields, play with their children and collect firewood and water without fear. When you move from pain to power, you live in a region of unrivaled natural beauty and rich resources. You are strong and resilient. You are powerful agents for change. You can, if given the opportunity, transform this land. You inspire all of us and we thank you for your example and the work that you do, and for our part, we will stand with you.