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Two weeks ago, Yawo Douvon, CARE’s country director in the Democratic Republic of Congo, found himself showing Angelina Jolie and UK foreign minister William Hague around the Lac Vert camp for displaced people near Goma, where they had come to meet rape survivors. Today, as the G8 foreign ministers gather in London to sign a declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict, he calls on them to listen to the voices from Goma, support Hague's initiative, and provide the means to make it work.
"Eastern DRC is known as the ‘rape capital of the world’ and, as VIP visitors have come and gone over the years, it is easy to become cynical and wonder if warzone rape can ever truly be tackled given its prevalence and complex causes.
Some within the media were sceptical when the British Foreign Secretary and the Hollywood actress visited DRC, thinking perhaps it was more of a PR trip than anything. But, guiding them around the camp as part of Hague’s initiative for preventing sexual violence in conflict, I was struck by their sincerity and passion.
We introduced them to women like Marie and Josephine who recounted the horrific experiences they had suffered. We also showed them CARE’s work helping survivors of sexual violence with their immediate needs for medical care, shelter, water and food, as well as the longer-term psychological support and financial assistance they need to move on with their lives.
Hague was particularly interested in hearing about the situation of rape survivors in order to better understand how they can be supported in the aftermath of an attack and protected from future violence. He was moved by meeting unaccompanied children and asked what was being done to reunite them with their parents. Jolie was shocked by the level of atrocity experienced by the women she met, and wanted to know more about what could be done to help them. She was interested in how important cash transfers were to the women she spoke to and how they represent hope for them to be able to rebuild their lives.
As the G8 Foreign Ministers’ meeting takes place in London tomorrow, I hope that Hague will bring the voices of Marie, Josephine and the others like them that he met on his visit to DRC and Rwanda to the attention of his fellow foreign ministers. The task of tackling warzone rape may be colossal, but I applaud his efforts to seek an end to an atrocity which has brought so much misery and terror not only to so many ordinary Congolese people, but also to countless others the world over.
Hague has declared a campaign to tackle impunity. By seeking to put in place an international protocol to increase prosecutions, he aims to send the message to perpetrators of warzone rape that their crimes will no longer go unpunished and rape will no longer be seen as an inevitable consequence of conflict. He has invested in a team of experts to gather evidence, investigate and prosecute such crimes. This is important first step on what will be a long and arduous journey.
It’s encouraging to see a world leader – and a man – take a stance on this difficult issue and stake his reputation on it. I see in the villages in which CARE works in DRC how much more progress is made when not only women but also men challenge custom and practice, and take a stand against sexual violence.
I know of course that more is required to address the root causes of violence in Eastern DRC, which are complex and deep-seated. They involve competition for control of natural resources by various armed groups and deep grievances over power between different ethnic groups. Impunity for sexual violence crimes is rooted in wider lawlessness, which requires the wholesale reform of the national justice and security sectors.
An international protocol to tackle impunity together with deployments of UK experts can therefore help, but they cannot substitute for – and will not work without – long-term, difficult work to reform such institutions on the ground.
So, the diplomatic initiatives launched at the G8 will need to link to long-term aid programmes, to address the unique and complex set of circumstances faced by the DRC and the different – but no doubt just as complex – sets of circumstances faced by every other state or region affected by conflict.
And, if they are to benefit from this work, the survivors themselves must see their immediate needs met – for life-saving medical assistance, as well as longer-term health, counselling and livelihoods support to put their lives back together.
This is what I showed Hague and Jolie during their visit to Lac Vert and it is this support which remains chronically underfunded.
What I hope now is that the G8 nations will review their funding to countries affected by conflict, and work with the UN and agencies like CARE to assess how to plug the gaps in frontline services for survivors. It should not be beyond our collective ability to ensure that whoever needs life-saving assistance receives it. We have just lacked the resources and political will to make this happen, until now.
As I said earlier, I hope that the stories of Marie and Josephine are still vivid in Hague’s mind and that he will share these with his fellow foreign ministers. I ask the other G8 countries, on behalf of the many rape survivors we at CARE have assisted over the years in DRC and other war-torn states, to listen to the voices from Goma and act to end the heinous crime of warzone rape.
By launching his initiative to prevent sexual violence in conflict, Hague has said ‘enough is enough’. Now it is time for the other powerful governments of the G8 to join his call and provide the means to put it into action."