Remarks
Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Woodrow Wilson Center
Washington, DC
June 30, 2011


First, thank you for including me on today’s panel. I commend the Wilson Center and International Crisis Group for taking on this difficult and critical topic. The mass rape of well over 100 women just days ago in South Kivu is a disheartening reminder that despite international efforts, we still have a very long way to go before we can claim any success. Thank you to Dr. Mukwege for your inspiring work.

When Secretary Clinton traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in August 2009, she said that she saw humanity at its worst – and at its best. At its worst was the use of rape and sexual terror as a tactic of war. But, she said, Dr. Mukwege represents “humanity at its best.” He has given himself unstintingly to the work of Panzi hospital. He does heroic work every day to repair the mutilated bodies of the survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Not only does Dr. Mukwege save lives, but he also helps survivors rehabilitate back into society.

Sexual violence used as a tactic of war is threat to international peace and security. The international community recognized this when it adopted the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, beginning with Resolution 1325, in the year 2000.

President Obama’s National Security Strategy recognizes that “countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity. When those rights and opportunities are denied, countries lag behind.”

Secretary Clinton has noted that where women are oppressed and marginalized, societies are more dangerous and extremism is more likely to take hold. The suffering and denial of women’s rights and instability of nations go hand in hand.

No where do we see that more starkly than in the DRC. In her 2009 visit to the region Secretary Clinton highlighted the devastating role of sexual violence as a strategic weapon in armed conflict. We have since increased efforts to respond and prevent SGBV in the DRC and around the world.

In 2009, the United States introduced Security Council Resolution 1888, which created a UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and ensured that a team of experts would be deployed to conflict situations where sexual violence is likely to occur, in order to help governments strengthen the rule of law, improve accountability, and end impunity.

In support of Women, Peace and Security, the United States has also developed a comprehensive strategy to address SGBV in the DRC. In partnership with the Congolese government and civil society, the USG’s four key objectives in this strategy are to: 1) reduce impunity for perpetrators of SGBV; 2) increase prevention of and protection against SGBV for vulnerable populations; 3) improve the capacity of the security sector to address SGBV; and 4) increase access to quality services for SGBV survivors.

Across the USG, we are working with international and local NGOs, multilateral organizations and other donors to achieve these objectives. Since 2002, the USG has obligated nearly $150 million towards combating SGBV in the DRC.

USAID-funded programs have provided care and treatment services for over 100,000 SGBV survivors, including access to medical care, counseling and family mediation, social and economic reintegration support, and legal aid.

We are working with UNHCR and ICRC, as well as NGO prevention and response activities to help for returned refugee populations and internally displaced persons, many of whom are SGBV survivors.

We are also working to promote human rights, provide legal services to SGBV survivors, and build the capacity of local NGOs, justice sector and law enforcement personnel, and the media.

In the judicial and police sectors, we are providing assistance to the American Bar Association in order to increase access to justice for victims of SGBV, while at the same time increasing public awareness to the severity of these crimes and the avenues available to seek justice. INL also works with the International Organization for Migration to train members of the border police to recognize and investigate SGBV.

U.S. Africa Command has a small but growing commitment to assist in the prevention of SGBV and to help survivors. DOD funds are also being committed to provide infrastructure upgrades to facilities used by other service providers, to conduct research on SGBV, to train military officers and judicial officials on human rights and investigating war crimes, and potentially in future years to conduct SGBV prevention training with civilians as well as militaries.

Responding to, and preventing if possible, SGBV is one of the most difficult challenges that UN peacekeepers face in a situation like the DRC. We commend MONUSCO for taking on this issue more aggressively. In the case of the South Kivu rapes this month, which MONUSCO has quickly sent a mission to investigate, it was some two weeks before word of the tragedy reached outsiders, demonstrating once again that we need to find a way to communicate about such attacks in a much more timely way. And to communicate about early warning signs in a way that connects the dots and helps with prevention. The desertion of the alleged perpetrator of these rapes from the FARDC earlier in June is in retrospect a key warning sign.

We remain committed to working with the DRC government, the United Nations, and other international and local partners to strengthen the DRC government's capacity to prevent SGBV, address the threat from illegal armed entities (including through their link to conflict minerals), and break the cycle of impunity for war crimes affecting innocent men, women, and children. In addition, we are committed to supporting the full inclusion of women in the country's economic and political development. That is why it is critical that we promote women's access to small grants and skills training, which is essential to civil society's ability to effectively impact the DRC's growth and stability.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton are fully committed to advancing the agenda of women as agents of peace and security because women are critical to solving every challenge we face. No country can get ahead if it leaves half its people behind.

Women are a powerful voice for peace and an instrument of development when given the opportunity. Investing in women is not only the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do.