On Sunday in New York, I saw the play "Ruined," by Lynn Nottage, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for drama. The show takes place in a Congolese brothel, where rape victims, shunned by their families in a time of civil war, turn to prostitution as their only viable option. It is simultaneously devastating and uplifting , and I strongly recommend it.
In the real-life Congo, however, mass rape isn't set to a soundtrack of music and dance. A very important Washington Post story describes how sexual violence is a defining feature of the current, U.S.-backed military operation in the country, intended to quell rebel militias. Tens-of-thousands of newly-minted government soldiers — many of whom were fighting as rebels until a recent peace agreement — are raping and pillaging their way through Congolese villages, supported by American and United Nations dollars, helicopters, and trucks. Rape victims range in age from pre-pubescent girls to 70-year old women. In some villages, women are voluntarily adhering to a 6 p.m. curfew to avoid rape, hesitating to leave their padlocked bedrooms even to use the toilet.
As our own Michelle Goldberg has reported, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has promised to make women's issues — and sexual violence in particular — a cornerstone of her foreign policy. Clinton appointed Melanne Verveer the first-ever ambassador-at-large for global women's issues. A test of their commitment will be how strongly they insist the Congolese authorities — who are benefiting from U.S. support — confront their military's rape culture. In Kinshasa, Congo yesterday, Clinton said of rape, "We have to speak out against the impunity of those in positions of authority who either commit these crimes or condone them. … There are even some cases of these terrible crimes committed by members of the Congolese military."
But although a few human rights trainings are being held in the field, none of the five senior army officials accused of rape have been prosecuted. That negligence trickles down the ranks. A condition of U.S. support for the Congolese government should be a top-level commitment to fighting sexual violence, beginning with prosecutions of the highest-level offenders.
Read the whole report, by Stephanie McCrummen, at the Washington Post.
Update: Today in the Congo, Clinton committed $17 million in response to sexual violence. The money will fund gynecology training, video cameras for women's security, and anti-rape training for police. But still no word on pressuring the Congolese government to prosecute high-level rapists.
cross-posted at TAPPED
Photo from the play "Ruined," at the Manhattan Theater Club