U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a visit to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo this week to highlight her concerns over the absolutely appalling level of sexual violence occurring as competing forces battle for control over the region’s natural resources.
Few international dignitaries venture to the war-torn region and Clinton (whatever the politics behind the move) deserves applause for giving attention to a situation that has sickened even the most seasoned humanitarian workers.
Women and girls in eastern Congo are being subjected to a concentrated campaign of sexual violence perpetrated by rebel forces and government troops that has been going on for more than a decade. The United Nations has recorded some 200,000 cases since conflict engulfed the region in 1996. Most observers firmly believe many more cases go unreported.
Gang rape and vicious assaults designed to create permanent damage to the victims’ bodies are commonplace. Perpetrators act with complete impunity.
Battles to control the mining and sales of tin, tantalum and tungsten fuel and finance the conflict (to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year). The minerals are used in everyday electronic products like cell phones and laptop computers.
Human rights campaigners have launched a campaign to get the electronics industry and Western governments to demand higher standards of transparency and accountability in the sourcing of the minerals, in an attempt to cut funding to the warring parties.
The women and girls of Congo can’t even begin to hope to recover emotionally from the damage inflicted upon them until this long-running conflict comes to end. Visits like Clinton’s help keep their plight on the international issues radar screen and should be lauded by every global citizen of conscience.