August 11, 2009
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday demanded an end to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war by army and rebel troops fighting in Congo. Clinton spoke in the eastern city of Goma, an epicenter of gang rapes and other sexual assaults in the protracted battle for the country's mineral wealth.
Since the conflict broke out in 1996, at least 200,000 sexual attacks have been committed against girls and women, according to the UN. "The entire society needs to be speaking out against this," Clinton told university students in the capital city, Kinshasa. "It should be a mark of shame anywhere, in any country. I hope that that will become a real cause here in Kinshasa that will sweep across the country."
Though fighting has slowed since a 2003 peace accord, army and rebel groups are still attacking villages, murdering civilians, and committing other atrocities. Clinton planned to meet in Goma with President Joseph Kabila, whose soldiers are said to be perpetrating some of the rapes. The secretary also planned to meet with survivors of sexual violence and with UN peacekeepers deployed there. Clinton is the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Goma, and she did so despite senior staffers' concerns over security and logistics.
"We have to speak out against the impunity of those in positions of authority who either commit these crimes or condone it," Clinton said. The United States supports UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's recent call for international action to stop the use of sexual violence in war, said Clinton, who promised to press the issue hard with Congo government officials.