Tuesday, August 11, 2009

War in Congo: Rape, the Secretary of State and Security Sector Reform (Update 2)

Secretary Clinton is on an 11 day, 7 nation trip through Africa this week and next. She started in Kenya and Angola. Today she was in Kinshasa and then Goma and highlighted the continuing use of rape as a weapon in the long-running Congolese conflict. There are a several things to flag and read if you haven't already.

First, the Washington Post has this horrifying piece about the rising rate in rape as a result of the ongoing FARDC offensive against the FDLR (in part the former Rwandan genocidaires). What I found was different about the piece: interviews with rape victims and interviews with soldiers who try to justify/rationalize their behavior. It also describes how nothing happens, even when commanders are notified of these crimes.

The story includes an interview with a soldier explaining that lack of pay, lack of food rations, and being away from home, justify rape (the can of sardines was supposed to be a food ration for several soldiers for more than a week):
"The truth is like this," said one officer, sitting under a shed and sipping a powerful local brew. "What is making soldiers to do these bad things is their treatment by the army. Imagine, one can of sardines?! And you send a soldier away for 10 years?! So, I'm hungry, I'm in need of a wife and I have no money to pay for a prostitute, he said. "If I see a woman walking on the road, and I love her, I will take her. I will help myself."
So, in Goma, Secretary Clinton, reportedly visibly shaken by her conversations with victims, announced $17 million in assistance.

She also reportedly spoke to President Kabila about improving pay, living conditions,and training for the Congolese armed forces. That sounds nice, but let's hope she provided more advice than that. Since Ambassador Rice keeps saying the US is actually going to contributing more than its substantial assessed contributions to UN operations, maybe we can figure out a way to help build capacity for military justice for example, perhaps by training others to do it given our obligations in Afghanistan.

Since we've learned a lot recently about actually paying soldiers, lowering absenteeism rates and increasing professionalism, maybe that's something we could share with the EU and the UN as they work to professionalize the FARDC. One thing is for sure, things aren't going to change in Congo until we figure out ways to make sure the FARDC aren't away from home for too long, and of course are held accountable for raping, looting, and generally behaving like a bunch thugs.

UPDATE 1: More on Clinton's plan to fight rape in DRC:
She announced that the American government would train doctors, supply rape victims with video cameras to document violence, send American military engineers to help build facilities and train Congolese police officers, especially female police officers, to crack down on rapists.
That and the Secretary also mentioned the need to better regulate the conflict-funding mineral trade in the region.

UPDATE 2: Thanks to Vanessa for pointing this out but Texas in Africa (and some people in the comments) makes the following observation about the program:
$17 million is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed to treat the tens of thousands of victims who need immediate help...That money is nowhere near enough to whip the police force into shape (and they need training on more issues than just gender-based violence), but it will certainly help.
And then a commenter:
Also on the camcorders - don't they contain coltan, and wouldn't distributing large numbers of them simply increase the demand for the mineral "they" say should be curtailed to stop the violence? Or don't they believe that?
Well, obviously, I don't know how many camcorders we're talking about but that strikes me as the deepest of ironies. The minerals are funding the conflict. The soldiers/combatants who are exploiting resources rape women. And then later the women get the camcorders, the very camcorders for which the resources are exploited and...And as Texas in Africa points out, that's money we're not spending on training/properly paying security forces.


  1. Thanks for the link. The WaPo article struck me for the same reason; you don't often see articles that note that soldier pay would probably help tamp down the rapes more than anything.

    Wronging Rights (http://wrongingrights.blogspot.com) has a great post on the irony of sending products containing coltan to the DRC. They also point out that a lack of documentary video evidence isn't exactly an impediment to getting involved parties to take steps to end the rape crisis.

  2. Thanks for the tip texasinafrica--really interesting and good to know about as well.

  3. There's more than one source of coltan in the world. DRC produces only a fraction of the global supply, so the camera argument doesn't really hold up.

  4. MK--good point...it's a gross exaggeration. Still I think the symbolic part makes it ironic.