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The fragility is there for all to see. A decade and a half after the ratification of the Dayton Agreement that brought the war in Yugoslavia to an end, the threat of violence in Bosnia hovers ominously over the Balkan region. Two weeks ago, tensions reached dangerous new heights when Croatia’s president threatened to use force to prevent Serbian attempts to partition Bosnia. After the relative harmony of the 1995 peace agreement, Bosnia appears to be careering unstoppably towards another violent conflict – one that will have grave consequences for the fragile Balkans region and shatter the illusion of European unity promoted by the E.U.

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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.

As discussed in The Nation, Senator Obama has narrowed his choice down to who he wants as his running mate. John Nichols puts it rather well:

Obama needs a running-mate with foreign-policy "stature." That’s not a
governor, and it’s probably not Bayh — whose record of accomplishment
in the Senate can best be summed up as "Democrat from Indiana."

So that leaves Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, and Clinton, whose international credentials are actually a
good deal more solid than even her advocates recognize.

Senator Biden would trump any potential candidate on foreign policy, including Senator McCain and his eventual choice in the number two spot. The VP debate would be a sight to see as Senator Biden is known for his verbosity, which would be a factor, but also his quick wit and vast experience. He can play every role necessary moving forward and while perhaps not infallible, certainly a strong and steady hand who knows his way around Washington.

It’s quite possible that Senator Obama is also considering someone who could really help navigate legislation and govern in a post-election victory. Governor Kaine or Senator Bayh can manage in their own states, certainly, but a veteran Senator with any number of chairmanships and friends on both sides of the aisle would be a whole new level that could be the most productive first hundred days in history. Senator Biden as the Vice President would create the most balanced (and potent) ticket possible, minus former Vice President Gore whom is also being whispered.

Obama/Biden is a winning combination for the party, and more importantly, for the country.

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