A Broken U.N. Promise in Congo
BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of Congo — Just over a year ago, in answering whether sexual violence in conflict was an issue that the U.N. Security Council should take on, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proclaimed, “I am proud that, today, we respond to that lingering question with a resounding ‘yes!’ ” With this statement, and with the cooperation of other power brokers at the table, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1820, which finally recognized sexual violence as a widely used strategy of warfare and cleared the path for the council to respond to it worldwide.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is to report to the Security Council today on implementation of Resolution 1820. What will we learn? A year after adopting the resolution, Congo remains the worst place on the planet to be a woman. Over 12 years, in a regional economic war for resources, hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped and tortured, their bodies destroyed by unimaginable acts. The Security Council’s implementation of Resolution 1820 in Congo — the very place that inspired it — has been an utter failure.
Rape as a weapon of war has increased in eastern Congo since June 2008. In January, military operations were launched in North Kivu with the supposed goal of arresting the rebel leader Laurent Nkunda and neutralizing his National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) troops as well as the FDLR, the former Rwandan Hutu genocidaires. Even now, with Resolution 1820 in place, no one considers the women. Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch, just back from the front lines in both North and South Kivu, told me Monday that in nearly all the health centers, hospitals and rape counseling centers she visited, rape cases had doubled or tripled since January.
Rapes continue to be committed with near complete impunity. While the number of criminal prosecutions has risen marginally, only low-ranking soldiers are being prosecuted. Not a single commander or officer above the rank of major has been held responsible in all of Congo. Rapes by the national army are increasing, too. MONUC, the U.N. peacekeeping mission, is not only allowing perpetrators to go unpunished but is also providing logistical support to them for their movements in the field. A blacklist of war criminals and rapists who were commanders in current operations was shown to the Security Council, which gave it to President Laurent Kabila. Despite incriminating evidence, none of the commanders was removed. Resolution 1820 was supposed to make the United Nations more sensitive to the issue of sexual violence. How is it possible that in the past year, the United Nations became complicit in supporting rapists as commanders in its operations?
The U.N. spin on operations in the Congo is upbeat. The secretary general lauded their success in a March 8 commentary in the International Herald Tribune. Successful for whom? Chantal, a 3-year-old who was raped so brutally by militia soldiers that she died on the way to the hospital? All her sisters were raped, too.
Resolution 1820 must be enforced with seriousness by the Security Council and the secretary general. Arrests need to be made immediately of known rapists and war criminals at the highest levels. The United Nations must stop supporting military actions, because they are doomed in Congo. And the root economic causes of the war need to be addressed with the leaders of countries in Africa’s Great Lakes region who commit violence to reap benefits from Congo’s minerals, as well as their Western corporate partners. They, too, are liable for these atrocities.
President Obama and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice should send a very clear message to the world. It is within U.S. power, as a member of the Security Council, to push for measures to end impunity and to carve out an enduring peace through careful diplomacy for the people of Congo.
A few days ago, I sat in a dark shack with 30 survivors of rape. These women had fled their villages after being brutally terrorized and had randomly found each other. They banded together to form a grass-roots group called I Will Not Kill Myself Today. The women of eastern Congo are enduring their 12th year of sexual terrorism. The girl children born of rape are now being raped. What will it take for the United Nations to finally do something meaningful to stop the violence? The women are waiting.
Eve Ensler, a playwright and activist, is the founder of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls.
Note: If you would like to learn more, get involved, or donate, plase visit the V-Day web site.