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Last week I posted about an event I attended promoting the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). The event featured guest speaker Rose Mapendo, who shared her own story as a survivor of rape and ethnic violence in the DRC. I was moved by her story and am excited to see IVAWA passed. Today the BBC reported that the UN has moved to address the issue of sexual violence in the DRC. It is an interesting article so I thought I would share.

Don’t forget to contact your representatives urging them to support IVAWA. You can also visit www.PassIVAWA.org for more information on the legislation and how you can take action.

DR Congo sexual violence victims speak to UN

September 30, 2010

Village of Luvungi, DR Congo. Photo: 6 Sept 2010
Victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo have begun telling a high-level UN panel about their experiences as part of efforts to improve treatment and support.

The hearings began on Thursday in the troubled eastern region of South Kivu.

The panel will travel to provinces throughout the DRC.

The move follows the release of a preliminary UN report into the shocking rape of hundreds of civilians in North Kivu province two months ago.

The report, released last week, documented a four-day attack on the eastern town of Luvungi, and nearby villages – which are within miles of a UN base.

It said three groups of armed militia raped 235 women, 52 girls, 13 men and three boys – many of them “multiple times”. The militia looted more than 900 houses and abducted 116 people.

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I’ve worked as a Pennsylvania-certified sexual assault and domestic violence counselor since I was nineteen years old. I’ve counseled women as young as fifteen who have been assiduously cheated by the United States justice system, wandering through the remainder of their lives helpless and destroyed.  I’ve witnessed the way sexual violence breaks a woman’s spirit. But I’ve only done work in the United States, where victims have access to free counseling services and medical attention.  Across the globe, in war-ridden communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, women are forced to make do, to piece themselves back together and reintegrate back into society, without such resources.

congo-rape-victim

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, rape is an inescapable reality.

Policymakers in the Western world tremble in fury each time news of an honor killing or gang-rape in the Muslim world reaches their ears. Three years ago, when former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf banned gang-rape victim Mukhtar Mai from leaving the country so she wouldn’t “blacken her country’s reputation,”  Washington erupted in rage. Condoleezza Rice personally ordered the travel ban reversed. Mai was vindicated.

The U.S. government has taken similar actions in Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern countries. But why have our policymakers not exercised the same resolve to aid women in the DRC, a country with the highest rate of sexual assault in the world? Up to 70 percent of Congolese women are estimated to have been raped at some point in their lives.

Stories of their ordeals are nothing short of horrifying. Many women are reported to have bullets shot into their vaginas, others raped by multiple soldiers. Still others are sexually assaulted using tree-branches and bayonets. Rape in the Congo has evolved into a war strategy, utilized by various rebel groups to force their enemies into submission.

Last fall, Vice-President-elect Joe Biden co-sponsored the International Violence Against Women Act, a bill that will provide one billion dollars over the course of five years in U.S. aid to international programs that deal with sexual violence.

Both President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect  Joe Biden have demonstrated their commitment to supporting the I-VAWA and providing aid to the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo. President-elect Barack Obama personally wrote a letter defending the legislation and rebutting a group’s claim that the I-VAWA is an example of anti-male, anti-family propaganda. He also wrote a letter to Condoleezza Rice, urging her to take action on behalf of the rape victims languishing in this central African country.

So, while it remains to be seen how the Obama team addresses violence against women in the DRC, perhaps there is hope. It would be a shame if our concern for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence continued only to extend to countries of geopolitical and strategic interest.

Hey all!

My name is Sahar Durali and I’m a new blogger for Americans for Informed Democracy’s Global Development Program. I’m finishing my last year at Penn State University, where I study History and Political Science and am looking forward to writing about and discussing global development issues with you! Anyhow, I wanted to call all of your attention to the worsening situation in Congo.

A few weeks ago, I read a BBC opinion poll asking readers what can be done to stabilize the crisis-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo and if current UN peacekeeping efforts are enough. Though there were a few responses from South Africa and Nigeria, comments predominantly streamed from the US, Canada and Europe. Many expressed outraged at the prospect of more aid committed to what they saw as a politically-inept, chronically war-ravaged continent of Africa. More than one responder listed recolonization as the only way forward for a continent “clearly incapable of governing itself.”

Yet, many fail to understand the complexity of Western aid relations in Africa.

The Rwandan genocide of the 1990s left approximately one million dead. Countries around the globe recoiled in collective shame at their indifference to intervening in this bloody humanitarian crisis. Today, Rwanda is one of the United States’ staunchest allies in Africa. Surprisingly, however, Rwandan officials have been publicly denounced by the UN as exacerbating conflict through backing of Congolese rebel forces led by Laurent Nkunda, who claims to be defending ethnic Tutsis.

The New York Times reports the recent resurgent fighting has 250,000 people internally displaced and in need of immediate assistance. In some towns, up to 70 percent of women are reporting to be victim of rape and sexual assault, now recognized by UN officials as the highest in the world.

Congo is the size of Western Europe, and many call it the “fulcrum of Africa.” The conflict has the potential to destabilize much of the continent and has already drawn in neighboring Angola.

The U.S. State Department claims it aggressively pursues a policy of stability and democracy-building in Africa. But so long as the United States and other governments continue to provide support to Rwandan officials without holding them accountable for their share in the violence, the fighting in the Congo will not cease.  The unscrupulous comments of responders to the BBC poll not only overlook the devastating and lasting impacts of colonialism, but also reveal a mass ignorance regarding past and current US foreign policy in the region.

President-elect Barack Obama recently stated that resolving the Congolese conflict would be critical to a prosperous Africa. Let us hope that his administration does not fall trap to the same short-sighted policies of increased militarization of the past, but assumes collective responsibility along with other African governments to ensure progress and a process of peace that protects the political rights of the Congolese people.

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