Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Clinton Advocates The Right Things In Congo

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo--particularly her stop in Goma--was a tremendous step toward bringing an end to the violence that keeps that nation on its knees. Not only did her presence draw renewed attention to the epidemic of sexual violence that has victimized hundreds of thousands of Congolese women, children, and even men, but the very specific steps she advocated are exactly the ones I believe need to be taken to bring peace to the DRC. What's more, she pledged specific actions (and money) from the U.S. to move the process along.

During her tour of Magunga Camp, where 18,000 displaced people live in crowded temporary housing after being uprooted by the fighting that continues in the eastern provinces, Clinton pledged $17 million in American aid to help fight the gang rape and sexual mutilation that have destroyed so many lives in the region. At least $10 million will go toward training and equipping doctors to treat the victims of attacks. Some funds will also be used for prevention.

"We believe there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender-based violence committed by so many — that there must be arrests and prosecutions and punishment," she said during a press conference.
Clinton said that the U.S. supports military efforts to pacify insurgents who continue to victimize the population in order to control valuable mineral resources in the region. While acknowledging that civilians suffer from military action, Clinton was very clear in her advocacy of firm action against the perpetrators. Not unsurprisingly, she stopped short of offering U.S. troops to support the effort. She did, however, urge the United Nations to intensify its efforts to defeat the FDLR and other militias.

The Secretary of State pulled no punches when it came to the Congolese army, either. She bluntly said that Congolese soldiers and commanders need to be held accountable for their abuses of civilians as well. Congolese forces have repeatedly been reported to have raped and brutalized villagers in an effort to extort money and supplies from them. Clinton laid much of the blame for that at the feet of the government:
"We believe that a disciplined, paid army is a more effective fighting force. We believe that more can be done to protect civilians while you are trying to kill and capture insurgents."
Clinton also said the U.S. will send a team of legal, financial, and other experts to come up with specific recommendations for overcoming Congo's problems with corruption. She said Congolese President Joseph Kabila accepted that offer during their meeting in Goma.

I found it particularly refreshing that Clinton's remarks went far beyond the usual hand wringing and finger pointing that characterize so much of the rhetoric surrounding the situation in the DRC. She identified the problem (conflict-driven sexual violence), pinpointed its cause (the fight over control of the Congo's mineral wealth), and offered specific, deliverable actions that will help solve it. Are the simple steps she advocated a silver bullet? No, but that's exactly why they stand a chance to make a difference.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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