Sexual Violence in the congo

Part: 10

Clinton Leaves Her Mark on Congo's Rape Zone

Sunday, August 23, 2009

In the aftermath of Hillary Clinton's recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, women's rights and safety activists in Congo and Uganda reflect on the hope she leaves behind in one of the world's worst rape zones.

Hillary Clinton on her visit in Africa

KAMPALA, Uganda (WOMENSENEWS)--Sarah Assimwe, 13, is far from her family's former home in Bunia, a city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Now she lives here in Kampala with her mother, as members of the city's urban refugee population.

Assimwe is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. It's been seven years since she crossed the Congolese border, but memories of her father's death often cross her mind in painful flashbacks.

"The memories come three times a day," she said, at Butabika Hospital, a mental-health facility here supported by the World Bank and the Ugandan Ministry of Health. "They frighten me very much."

When Assimwe was 6, Congolese rebels attacked her family's neighborhood in Bunia and burned houses there to the ground. When rebels entered her own home, Assimwe watched them kill her father and brother with machetes and rape her mother before going on to slaughter her neighbors.

Assimwe's mother, Jacqueline Kabonesa, carried her daughter on her back as they fled to Uganda, which borders eastern Congo.

Assimwe may not have known about U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent trip to her native country.

But the kinds of suffering she has endured have a lot to do with Clinton's August 11 mission to Goma, a city in the eastern Congo at the epicenter of a massive epidemic of rape. The sexual violence that Assimwe's mother once endured there is suffered by hundreds of women and men on a daily basis.

More than 4,000 rapes have been reported in the eastern Congo this year; few assailants, usually soldiers or members of militias, have been convicted.

U.S. Funding for Rape Survivors

As widely reported, Clinton on August 10 announced $17 million in new U.S. funding to train doctors; supply rape survivors with mobile phones and cameras to document violence, and train a special female police force to protect women in the eastern Congo.

The United States has a potentially larger role to play in the Congo's peace and reconciliation process by providing foreign aid and regulating U.S. mining companies accused of working with rebel groups. It also can continue to finance Uganda's military operations against the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel army now based in eastern Congo.

"I feel that Hillary's trip to the Congo was a turning point," Eve Ensler, the playwright and political organizer, said in a phone interview with Women's eNews. "I think it's fantastic that a Secretary of State said that rape as a strategy, as a weapon of war, is a central issue. I think that's historical."

In Goma, part of an 11-day tour of seven African countries, Clinton visited a hospital and had a private meeting with two rape victims.

One woman told Clinton about being raped when she was eight-months pregnant, the Washington Post reported. Then she miscarried. There was no hospital nearby, she said, so people in her village cut out the fetus with a razor blade.

"The United States condemns these attacks, and all those who commit them and abet them," Clinton said in a roundtable with activists in Goma, according to the Secretary of State's Web site.

V-Day Leads U.S. Activism

A growing movement of U.S. activists, spearheaded by Ensler's anti-violence organization, V-Day, have been working with counterparts in the Congo and in the United States to end the rape and sexual violence that women in eastern Congo endure.

This week, V-Day launched construction in eastern Congo of what Ensler calls the City of Joy. It will be a leadership and development center, as well as a source of refuge for women survivors of rape and torture. The City of Joy will provide the survivors with educational and income-generating opportunities, activism training and leadership skills.

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Series Overview

Sexual Violence in the Congo

Part: 10

Death Threats, Via Text Msg, Scare Congo Reporters

Part: 9

Clinton Leaves Her Mark on Congo's Rape Zone

Part: 8

Rape Crisis in East Congo Tied to Mining Activity

Part: 7

Rapes Soar in Eastern Congo's Culture of Impunity

Part: 6

New Fighting Escalates Rape in Eastern Congo

Part: 5

Panel Decries Neglect of Sexual Violence in Congo

Part: 4

V-Day Spotlights Congolese Women Torn by War

Part: 3

Band of Congo Radio Reporters Aid Rape Victims

Part: 2

Mass Stigma Scars Congo's Rape Survivors

Part: 1

In War-Riddled Congo, Militias Rape with Impunity