Imagine a little girl, nine years old. She is on her way home from school, skipping along the road, thinking about the day that has passed, when all of a sudden she is attacked by a group of soldiers. They force her down, and hold her tight as they take turns raping her. One after the other. If she is lucky, she will be left in the dirt. If not, she will be abducted and used as a sex slave.
Now imagine that the girl is Norwegian. Or American. And that the same thing were happening to hundreds of thousands of girls and women in Europe, or in the US. Would we allow it to continue?
Three weeks ago I visited eastern Congo. And I, like many before me, was struck by the scale and brutality of the sexual violence that is taking place – seemingly unchecked.
In Bukavu in South Kivu province, I met women who have survived unimaginable horrors. I also met women and men who work tirelessly, day after day, to assist the victims and to empower them to go on with their lives.
Norway supports a number of such projects in both North and South Kivu. And other governments present here today do the same. In fact the large number of public and private donors means that raising money is not the main challenge. But we need to ask ourselves: are our efforts effective?
I returned to Norway convinced that supporting UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict in developing a Comprehensive Strategy on Combating Sexual Violence in the DRC has been money well spent. I look forward to hearing Nicola Dahrendorf’s presentation later. I believe the strategy will be an effective tool to coordinate, strengthen and focus our efforts against sexual violence. And that it will be a framework for stronger involvement by the DRC Government.
It is vital that the mandated UN agencies support the strategy and align their programmes with the objectives**) that have been identified in consultation with them.
Similarly, donor countries must allow themselves to be coordinated and not only call for increased coordination. To combat sexual violence effectively we need to acknowledge the complexity of the challenge. Progress in one area of concern is ultimately dependent on moving forward on a number of fronts.
With this in mind Norway has identified three areas where we will increase our efforts:
- Protection of and assistance to victims
- Fighting impunity
- Integrating efforts against sexual violence in security sector reform
Firstly, many victims are not receiving treatment and assistance, as they have no access to hospitals or doctors. We can only imagine their suffering. Eastern Congo is vast, roads are few, and many victims lack the necessary resources to seek treatment. The vibrant church networks are among the few functioning institutions in eastern Congo. These networks have unique access, and they assist thousands of victims every year. They provide medical and psychological treatment as well as socio-economic training. Norway supports projects run by church networks in both South and North Kivu, and I was very impressed by their work when we visited them.
The most serious cases of sexual violence are referred to the now well-known Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. Unfortunately it does not have the capacity to treat all the victims. There is a great need in eastern Congo for more specialised hospitals that can treat women with severe injuries. Norway is now actively considering how we can strengthen medical response to sexual violence.
Secondly, we must do more to prevent sexual and gender-based violence. The moral fabric of society has broken down after years of conflict. Girls and women are considered to have little value by an increasing number of civilians, not only among soldiers. More must be done to change the attitudes of boys and men, and to sensitise them. Again, church networks have unrivalled access to both ordinary citizens and community leaders, and civil society organisations are important partners. It is also crucial to address attitudes in the security sector. Soldiers and police must be trained to fulfil their obligation to protect civilians. Another important aspect of prevention is fighting impunity. If there was a real risk of arrest and prosecution, many men would think twice before they raped and abused women. But today the perpetrators can continue the sexual violence, safe in the knowledge that there is little risk of ever having to face justice. We must do more to fight impunity, and these efforts must be integrated into the Security Sector Reform process in the DRC.
Lastly, it is crucial that we assist the DRC Government in their efforts to combat sexual violence. It is the government that has to be in the driving seat. It is the government that has the main responsibility to ensure that concrete measures are incorporated into policies and institutional reform processes, in particular of the security forces and the judiciary. But the international community must be willing to provide support.
Before I conclude, I would like to tell you about one of the women I met in Bukavu. She had been raped and left for dead when armed men attacked her village. After surgery at Panzi Hospital she had been nursed back to health at a community centre run by a local church. Keen to return to her village, she made the difficult journey home only to find that her husband had been killed. Her three children had not been seen since the attack on the village. Church workers found her standing in the road waiting for them. They were returning to town with yet more women whose sexual organs had been mutilated. In the van crowded with women smelling of the urine they could no longer control, she explained that she had nowhere else to go.
Thank you for your attention.