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Africa
US urges justice for DR Congo women
Secretary of state says government must guarantee safety of women in war-torn east.
Last Modified: 11 Aug 2009 05:46 GMT

Women in eastern DR Congo have increasingly come under sexual attack [AFP]

The US secretary of state has said that young people in the Democratic Republic of Congo must press the government to take action against corruption and sexual violence in the war-torn east of the country.

"You are the ones who have to speak out," Hillary Clinton told university students in Kinshasa, the capital, on Monday.

"Speak out to end the corruption, the violence, the conflict that for too long has eroded the opportunities across this country. Together, you can write a new chapter in Congolese history."

Clinton has focused on women's rights during her seven-nation tour of Africa, which has so far taken her to Kenya, South Africa and Angola.

Call for justice

She is expected to travel on Tuesday to Goma, a city in eastern DR Congo, to meet survivors of sexual violence.

"I hope that here in the DRC there will be a concerted effort to demand justice for women who are violently attacked and to make sure that their attackers are punished"

Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state

The number of reported rapes in the east of the country has risen dramatically since January, when the government launched a joint operation with Rwanda against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

Clinton said Laurent Kabila, DR Congo's president, must take action to protect women from violence, while noting that some members of the Congolese military were responsible for sexual assault.

"We are now in the 21st century. It is no longer acceptable for there to be violence against women in the home or in the community," she told the students.

"I hope that here in the DRC there will be a concerted effort to demand justice for women who are violently attacked and to make sure that their attackers are punished."

'Human tragedy'

The Congo Advocacy Coalition, a group of 88 humanitarian and human rights organisations, said on Monday that thousands of women and girls had been raped by either rebel fighters or government forces since the beginning of the year.

Government forces and rebels alike have been accused of sexual violence [EPA]
More than 600 people are believed to have been killed and, according to United Nations estimates, at least 800,000 people have fled their homes due to the violence.

"The UN-backed offensive that was supposed to make life better for the people of eastern Congo is instead becoming a human tragedy," Marcel Stoessel, the head of Oxfam in DR Congo, said.

"Secretary Clinton needs to make it very clear that US support for the UN's efforts in Congo is not a blank cheque and that civilians should be protected."

DR Congo's abundant mineral riches such as coltan, which is used in the manufacture of mobile phones, have fuelled the violence in eastern areas of the country, with rival militias competing for control.
 
The resource-rich area has also attracted Chinese companies, including the state-owned Sinohydro Corp and China Railway Engineering Corp, seeking to develop copper and cobalt deposits.

One student at the university in Kinshasha drew a rebuke from Clinton when he asked what her husband, the former US president Bill Clinton, thought about Chinese investment into Africa.

"You want to know what my husband thinks? My husband is not the secretary of state, I am," she said.

"You ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I'm not going to channel my husband."

Source:
Agencies
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