QUESTION: (Inaudible) making the problem worse?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there is no doubt that the ongoing conflict makes the problem worse. Unfortunately, we have seen in the late 20th century and now in this century a terrible trend of using sexual and gender-based violence as a tool of war to intimidate and demoralize populations and to force them to flee their homes.
And I think this is going to take a concerted effort from the Congolese Government as well as other governments in the region who have interests in the DRC. It’s going to take NGOs and civil society. It has to start with making sure that the military of the DRC does not engage in any sexual and gender-based violence, and there has to be no impunity for anyone who does, and there has to be an effort to cut off the funding for the militias and resolve the underlying political tensions in the east.
But sexual violence is a problem across the country, as it is in many countries, and there have to be stronger laws against domestic violence, against criminal rape that happens on the street of Kinshasa or any other city. There has to be strong prosecution and law enforcement and judiciary actions to make it clear that this is unacceptable, that there is no excuse for it. And that’s what I hope we will see.
QUESTION: And what in practical terms can the government of the United States do to help this problem?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we are trying to do several things. We’re working, of course, with the United Nations and we’re the largest supporter of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in eastern Congo. And there was a report that just came out which said that the problems that might have existed before in terms of gender and sexual-based violence among UN troops has been cleaned up. We are working with President Kabila’s government and the Congolese military to try to train and imbue human rights and respect for the rights of women in the military. And of course, we are providing healing and health services to those women who are victims.
QUESTION: But in terms of the human rights record of the Congolese Government, how would you asses that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s in desperate need of improvement. The Congolese Government, of course, came out of many years of war, and that is very destabilizing to societies and very often human rights are considered a luxury during a wartime. But there are no excuses any longer, and there has to be more expected from the government here. The United States and other countries, as well as the United Nations, stand ready to assist the government in taking actions to both promote human rights, including women’s rights, and to punish violators of human rights and women’s rights. But there needs to be much more action and a greater commitment from the government.
QUESTION: When people look at this country, they look at Chinese development here, they look at the roads that are being built, the hospitals that are being built as well. What in practical, concrete terms can the United States do on the ground that people here will recognize as being a contribution by the United States?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s interesting because I’m aware of the commitment that China has made, and I think that building roads is a very important development goal for this country. But so is good governance. So is protecting and promoting human rights. So is building an independent judiciary, a free press, the institutions of democracy that will hold up over time. It’s important to build a free market, to stand against corruption, to ask for more transparency, and the United States has been working to achieve those goals.
It’s not either/or, and I’m aware that sometimes people can see the road more than they can see the protection for human rights. But you can have a country with roads that still deprives its people of human rights, that still has no economic development, so that there are no goods and services going down those roads that will actually help the people. So I think it has to be a comprehensive effort, and I believe the United States, with our help in education and health, is playing a very important role. And we are here to determine what else we could do.
QUESTION: What will you be saying to President Kabila tomorrow?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’ll be saying pretty much what I have said both at the town hall and in this interview, that President Obama would like to forge a new chapter in the relationship between the Congolese people and the American people, that I’m here to explore ways that we could work together, but that we believe strongly there must be an end to impunity, an end to corruption, more transparency and accountability; that the mineral and other natural resource riches of this country should be used for the benefit of the Congolese people, not for a very small group that have historically benefitted, not just for outside corporations or countries that extract the riches and leave with them without really putting back the commensurate investment in the country. And we think there’s a lot of areas where we could be helpful, and we’re going to explore whether that’s possible.
Interview by Jaldeep Katwala of Radio Okapi on August 10, 2009