Roundtable With NGOs and Activists on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Issues
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you, Dr. Lusi, and thanks to everyone here associated with HEAL Africa and all of the other groups that are working so hard. I appreciate your welcoming us here today, and I am deeply moved and admiring of the heroic work that you and your colleagues are doing.
Yesterday, I spoke with a group of young people in Kinshasa, and I said that here in Africa we can find humanity at its worst and humanity at its best. And we have seen both here, in Goma. My delegation and I have been working hard, even before we came, to see what we could do to try to assist in the ongoing efforts to end the conflict and the violence that still stalks this land, and to help the Congolese people, who have suffered enough.
I have just come from a meeting with two survivors of sexual attacks. The atrocities that these women have suffered, which stands for the atrocities that so many have suffered, distills evil into its basest form. 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. These acts don't just harm a single individual, or a single family, or a single village, or a single group. They shred the fabric that weaves us together as human beings. Such atrocities have no place in any society.
Amid such abject inhumanity, we have also seen the hope and the help that you represent. We have seen survivors of these attacks summon the courage to rebuild their lives and their communities. We have seen health care workers sacrifice comfortable careers so they can treat the wounded. We have seen civil society leaders come together to combat this appalling epidemic.
In the face of such evil, people of good will everywhere must respond. The United States is already a leading donor to efforts aimed at addressing these problems. And today I am announcing that we will provide more than $17 million in new funding to prevent and respond to gender and sexual violence in the DRC.
This assistance will be distributed to organizations across the Eastern Congo, and is being targeted to respond to the specific needs that you have identified, such as training for health care workers in complex fistula repair. Working through USAID, we will provide medical care, counseling, economic assistance, and legal support to 10,000 women living in North and South Kivu, and other areas.
We are dedicating almost $3 million to recruiting and training police officers, particularly women, so that they understand their duty to protect women and girls, and to investigate sexual violence. We will be sending a group of technology experts to the eastern DRC next month, as part of an effort to equip women and front-line workers with mobile devices to report abuse, using photographs and video, and to share information on treatment and legal options.
And we will be deploying a team comprised of civilian experts, medical personnel, and military engineers from the United States Africa Command to assess how we can further assist survivors of sexual violence.
We are raising this issue at the highest levels of your government. I had very frank discussions about sexual violence yesterday with your prime minister and other ministers, and today, in my meeting with President Kabila. I made the point that these crimes, no matter who commits them, must be prosecuted and punished. That is particularly important when those who commit such acts are in position of authority, including members of the Congolese military.
This problem is too big for one country to solve alone. And I am pleased also to announce a new partnership with the Norwegian government to upgrade a medical facility in North Kivu, so that health workers there will be able to provide better treatment to survivors of sexual violence and serious maternal injuries.
Our commitment to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence did not begin today, and it will not end today.
I have come here with my long-time friend and colleague, Melanne Verveer, who many of you already know. Melanne, for many years, was the chair of Vital Voices. And some of you, I know, were with us in Washington, when we made awards to heroes on behalf of women. She now serves as the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Women's Issues. She will continue to be a voice for you inside our government, as we work together to combat this scourge.
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.
I am looking forward to hearing from you. But before I turn it over to each of you, I want to thank every one of you. I want to thank you on behalf of women and men everywhere, who know what you are doing, who care about your patients, who ache for the survivors. I know the hours are long, and the work is very hard. The conditions are harsh, and I am sure that, at times, the task you face can seem overwhelming.
I was told yesterday that there is an old Congolese proverb that says, "No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come." You are all helping to hasten the days coming, when thousands of Congolese women will be able to walk freely again, to go their fields, to play with their children, to walk with their husbands, to do the work of collecting firewood and water without fear.
We want to banish the problem of sexual violence into the dark past, where it belongs. I thank you very much, and I look forward to now hearing from you all. Thank you.
DR. LUSI: Thank you very much, Madame Secretary. We are encouraged and heartened to know that Congo has found a friend, a friend of women. And now I would like to turn it over to the people around the table, who represent so many of the organizations who have worked hard, and long, and continually, and with great commitment. And they will add some ideas, as well, of what our friend can do to help us.
So, let me start with Justine.
SPEAKER: (Via translator.) Thank you, Madame Secretary, dear guests. Women in North Kivu would like to welcome you all, and allow us to say something about impunity, as impunity is one of the problems that we -- that the populations who are a victim of violence, sexual violence and other crimes -- is a problem that we fight, impunity.
Impunity in the DRC exists because the -- our leaders don't have much of a willingness to prosecute the authors. For instance, Aganda, and other authors of these crimes. And the weakness to implement laws, especially laws that deal with sexual violence, in particular part of the problem, and the fact that we cannot have access to criminals that belong to LRA and FLDR. Children are killed, women are raped, and the world closes their eyes.
The international justice is not (inaudible) to this -- can be (inaudible). Justice exists, can act, it's credible, but it's slow, and that's a limitation. And because it is slow, evidence disappears, and there is a limited number of trials. And there is the distance that separates, you know, the place where the crimes were committed, and the place where trials are held.
So, in view of this, we would like to propose the creation of mixed courthouses that -- be created with international courts. So these mixed chambers, or joint chambers, would be credible, because the personnel would be made of foreigners and Congolese. They are independent, and they do not suffer from interference and corruption. And they bring those who should be judged closer to justice.
Time is short. It is easy to carry out investigations that goes a little faster than when international justice alone does it. But that's better than national, domestic justice.
There is -- it doesn't -- these mixed courts do not replace entirely national justice. But I think it is a way for -- thank you very much.
SPEAKER: (Via translator.) Madame Secretary of State, His Excellency the Ambassador, CARE International wants to thank -- all the intervention that were designed to fight impunity must go along with helping the victims of sexual violence.
Now, CARE International and other humanitarian agents are asking for access to health care, and also confidentiality, in the context of a strategy that is led by local authorities that could help the local people, and especially pregnant women and those who have a need for health, reproductive health.
Except and besides medical assistance, and besides help to the victims, there needs to be a psycho-social assistance that could help and assist also financially and economically, to help survivors to be helped to reintegrate into society.
CARE also commits to help in multi-sectoral areas, to help in the community, and help the women's role in society. All these interventions have the goal to prevent violence through behavioral change. And I thank you.
SPEAKER: Security will come. Peace will come. But we have other challenges. The education is the main one. Somewhere, where Children's Voice are doing activities for helping children, only five percent of children have been to school. Somewhere in other activities, 95 percent of the population do not know to write or to read. Most of kids or young persons recruited in army -- I mean in armed groups -- have not been at school. And those people will be in the army and police.
Of course, the country needs to develop many things. The villages will be again full. I mean the (inaudible) will be back. But what will happen if you need -- I mean, when you want to help a country? Please think about children and young people.
Of course, we have many challenges in this country. We are very happy that you are here. The international community has already done their best, really. But very nice that you are here. And we hope that you will help the country, you will help the government of DRC, to do what is very important for people. We need to educate pupils, young men, young women, and then the development will follow.
Of course, we have many children in the street. That is because most of parents don't know what to do, how to help them, because scholarship is not there. Scholar fees are paid by the parents. Parents are not paid any more. We hope that you will be our ambassador to your country, to your government, and you will be back to help this country. Thank you.
SPEAKER: (Via translator.) Madame Secretary of State, Madame Ambassador, we waited a long time for this particular moment here, and we -- for engagement against the sexual violence struggle. We need peace, we need security, and I think this is the priority of all priorities, to stop, to put an end to the cycle of violence.
The military operations are -- continue to be carried out. But these military operations are not a solution to the problem. That's why, when it comes to security, we would like that you -- the leaders of the countries of the Great Lakes -- Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda -- so that -- will take on their responsibility to protect their citizens.
We all know that it's not just a Congolese problem. So that's why we think that, for peace and security to come back, we have to pressure the neighboring countries so that they accept (inaudible), so that the (inaudible) will peacefully go back to their country --
SPEAKER: -- because we now know the worst -- with villages, they are burned down, numerous cases of sexual violence, and other problems.
Still talking about security, we know that the DRC does not have a Republican Army. And therefore, it is considered like the soft belly of this region. And, therefore, it's a real base for terrorists, and this continues to be the case for as long as security measures are not taken here.
So, the situation here is a mixture of civilian and militaries of all types and categories. The people would not have the same laws.
SPEAKER: The reason we ask the United States to help the DRC to form a Republican Army, united, with no roots, who could take the place of the United Nations, when it leaves. And this army should be complemented by police, a police with women
SPEAKER: And thank you very much for what you said during your presentation, Madame Secretary. You said that there will be police with women here to protect civilians, and particularly women and children.
And, finally, I will also plead for the freedom of the press. Many media outlets have been banned here, in the DNC. And even a radio station, Radio Mudanga, was banned. Therefore, we ask you to please plead in favor of freedom of expression. Thank you.
SPEAKER: Madame Secretary, first of all, I want to thank you for considering to come in Congo, and specifically in Goma, because it shows us that this administration considers Congo as -- and the people of Congo -- a vital component of U.S. foreign relations.
Resolution 1820 was supposed to make the United Nations more sensitive to the issue of sexual violence. But yet we still see too many women and too many children have been raped, violated, not far from those camps of UN sometimes. And we have seen cases of UN soldiers and UN staff, not only UN but even other international organizations, committing those rapes. We want to know what is happening with them. If they have been judged in the country, I think the population of Congo needs to know what the judgment has been.
SPEAKER: Another problem we are having that we need to address today is the presence of this many UN staff and international NGOs. Their presence has caused the cost of life to go very high all over the country, and specifically here, in Eastern Congo. We are having problem -- local people having problem -- to even find comfortable housing, affordable housing, because ex-pat have the cash and locals don't have the cash.
We are asking that Resolution 1820 be enforced. We are asking, as well, that the rule of the international community and the UN be redefined, because if they cannot protect our women and our children, I don't see why they should stay here.
SPEAKER: Madame Secretary of State, Madame Ambassador, as those who preceded me, I would like to say that we are very honored by your visit here, in the Eastern Congo.
I would like to talk about the self-congratulations of certain agencies. And I think that the obligation to protect is the obligation of international law. So that should be the first role of the United Nations.
Today -- and I am talking as someone who had come to her province, to her country after 20 years of war -- we know, we really know, the stakes. We have received many, many visitors, each more important than the one before. We have received many, many celebrities, too. At the end, we have the impression that people only came to consume human poverty, human misery. And, in the end, all that we got was a pile of business cards.
SPEAKER: And after, to, you know, have good conscience -- and I am talking as a native of this country -- the only thing they had for their good conscience said that -- through the radio we heard about the millions of dollars that "we gave to the Congo," but when you went to the more distant villages, the beneficiaries didn't even have access to the aid that was given to the people themselves.
So, coming back to the responsibility to protect, in 2004, when we -- the (inaudible) was attacked, we saw the UN take care of the expatriates, rather than the Congolese, for whom they had come to the Congo for, so we were really vexed by that.
SPEAKER: So, you see around this room -- you see (inaudible). That means, you know, the posters here. Women are more precious resources, but we look to the Congo for mineral resources, forgetting that our first more important resource is the woman. Woman is who gives life, the life that we're destroying here.
SPEAKER: Madame Secretary of State, besides your function as Secretary of State, you are a woman, like us. We know your history, political history, and you have the chance, the fortune of -- to have at your side Ambassador Verveer, who is also our ambassador. And she represents hope.
And I want to come back to the war that we have here, in Eastern Congo. This is a stake only to really get the resources from DRC. Certain western countries that I will not mention here, because the reports are everywhere -- and those are UN reports, really -- those reports mention certain western companies, and I hope that they will not be forgotten. And I think that they will be acted upon. And the investigations must take place, so that responsibilities must be found out and responsible parties must be punished.
As Ms. Chou Chou said, the problems of Congo -- international problems, not just Congolese problems -- many western countries really manipulate certain neighboring countries because they want to take the resources here. And, Madame Secretary, we want you to be our spokesperson, our voice, Madame Secretary, so all this stops.
So, if they want to explore our minerals, but they -- let -- do it legally and adequately, so that the Congolese take a really -- reap the benefits of this (inaudible) our riches. Thank you very much.
DR. LUSI: We are now going to ask Dr. Mukwege to summarize what he has heard.
DR. MUKWEGE: It's a very difficult task. Madame Secretary of State, this is a very important day for us. This is not a day to be receiving business cards, but this is a day to find a solution, and a solution that will be long-lasting to the problems that have torn this country apart. And we are honored for your visit here, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Those who spoke before me tried to paint the situation. And what we can remember here is the two things that have been said most often: rape and peace. And when we summarize, we see that there is sexual violence because there is no peace. There would be no solution if we don't understand why there is no peace.
Now, if you analyze what the previous speakers have said, there is a problem of a lack of commitment, political commitment of regional leaders in the Great Lakes region that do not want to stop the situation that has been going on for the last 15 years. There is also an army in the Democratic Republic of Congo that is not well trained. And with all these resources, mineral resources, there is a real problem when the army is not trained and well paid.
What we have also understood is that all the citizens, based on the international law, have the right to be protected. And the United Nations, through MONUC, are here. But the way the United Nations operate is a serious issue, because the local population are not protected as they should be.
And we believe that, Mrs. Secretary of State, the solution goes through this solving of fundamental issues. And she said that. And we suggest that the very first thing to do would be to tell regional leaders to be conscious and responsible of the populations. And it is important that we help the Democratic Republic of Congo. Because as long as there will be weakness and turmoil, soft belly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there will always be a problem in this region.
The mineral resources of the Congo, the exploitation of those mineral resources, must be under strict rules so that we will not allow those who rape, so that they will not continue to use the mineral resources to carry on their evil tasks.
We also want organizations that take care of the socio-economic conditions of the population.
We also want to stress the fact that we do have a justice system, but there is also an international justice system through the international courts. But you understand that the international tribunal cannot take care of all the issues that are taking place in the Congo. So, my suggestion is that we will have in place a tribunal that will take care, or rule, over cases that -- or crimes that have been committed since 1983.
There is also the problem of illiteracy that makes the population that, even if there is peace in the land, and is not trained or intellectual, or cannot read or write, literate, there will always be a problem.
Mrs. Secretary of State, we are very honored, and we have understood that the first introductory words that you said were very complete. And, as Christine said, right now we will not just receive a business card, but there is going to be long-lasting solutions, because we know that you have compassion for women in the Congo. And I would like to thank you.
DR. LUSI: Madame Secretary, we would like to know if you have any questions to ask the panel.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me tell you how grateful I am for the very specific suggestions, as well as the analysis concerning the overall situation that the people of the Congo face.
I think it is important to try to work with your government to address a lot of these. And I told President Kabila today that if he were willing, I would send a team of legal and technical and financial experts to try to provide suggestions about how to do a number of the things that you are talking about.
For example, you need new laws and regulation to protect the mineral resources of your country, for the benefit of the Congolese people. You need an army that is, as the doctor just said, well paid and well trained, that will protect the people and not feel as though it has to feed off of the people, and victimize the people.
There needs to be a process that President Kabila began with his outreach to President Kagame, which I know was controversial, but which I thought was an act of leadership. Because, as several of you have said, unless there is a regional agreement to try to end the violence and build a better future for the region, it will be difficult for the DRC to do that alone.
On each and every one of the points that you made, we will try to help. But I want to emphasize something I said yesterday, when I spoke with the young people. Just as President Obama said in his historic speech in Ghana, the future of Africa is up to the Africans. The future, ultimately, of the Congolese people is up to the Congolese people. There have to be changes, politically. There have to be changes in the impunity. There have to be changes that only the people of this country can demand, and can help bring about.
We will try to provide the help that we're both asked for and that we think could be useful. But, ultimately, that help has to be received, changes have to be implemented, people have to be committed. And I hope that we're beginning to see that, here and in the region and internationally.
I will also raise the issues that have been raised concerning the UN and the problems that come with the NGO community arriving in a location such as Goma and displacing people, and raising the cost of living. Those are very real problems that have quite severe effects on many people.
So, there is much to be done. I do not want to overpromise. I am not just here to leave a business card, but I don't have a magic wand, either. But what I do pledge to you is that we will work. We will work hard. We will work with your government, we will work with groups like many of you represent. We will work with individuals, the private sector, civil society, to try to help resolve the conflict and provide a better future.
But it is ultimately up to the people here. And I have seen so many examples of courage. I know the Congolese people do not lack in courage. And I know they do not lack in hard work or perseverance or survivorship.
So, I hope that we will see the changes from within and outside that will lead to the end of these problems so that our children will not even know what we were talking about. Thank you.
DR. LUSI: I would like to say once again, in the name of everybody around the table and everybody in this room, how much we are grateful for your visit, and how we have listened with attention to what you have to say. And we know that you have listened with attention to what we are saying.
Now, Secretary Clinton will have to leave, because she has such a tight schedule. And I ask you to please stay seated in the room, please, while the delegation leaves. Thank you very much.