Good afternoon distinguished USIP experts, members of the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) for organizing this important session. I have followed USIP’s work on the issues of gender-based violence and the recruitment of the child soldiers and, on behalf of the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I thank you for all that you have contributed.
I would also like thank Ms. Nancy Lindborg and Dr. Kathleen Kuehnast for the kind welcome to this prestigious institution, and Ambassador Johnnie Carson for agreeing to moderate this session; it is a great honor. Finally, I’d like to recognize the DRC Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Faida Mitifu.
The Office of the Personal Representative (OPR):
This is my first official trip to Washington since being appointed by President Joseph Kabila as the Personal Representative in charge of the fight against sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers one year ago.
For those of you who have followed the work of my office, you may know that my team spends the majority of our time in the field, in areas of recent conflict, particularly in the Eastern Congo. In just one year, we have started a public dialogue that once was taboo and have sought to tackle the issues of impunity and accountability, both in the military and in society as a whole.
Our work is conducted face-to-face, community by community, and village by village. Through achieving success in one area, we inevitably unearth several more challenges which require our attention and intervention. It is daunting.
As I speak before you today, during my first official visit to Washington, DC, I find myself with a different challenge– navigating the complexities of the politics of the Great Lakes region. At the conclusion of my remarks, you can tell me which is more daunting.
I started my professional life in the banking sector, where I spent my days adding up numbers, considering issues of profit, growth and budget. I decided to transition into government, hoping to bring my private sector experience and management into service for my country. I wanted to earn the respect of my countrymen and women. I won election to Parliament in the territory of Bumba, in the Equateur Province, my home area, becoming the first woman ever elected from Bumba.
When I took on this position at the request of our President, I left my seat in Parliament with a heavy heart, as I had fought hard to for the right to represent the people of Bumba. But in my current role, I am empowered to fight for ALL the people of the DRC, and especially for our women and children. It is where I belong.
It is with great humility that I come here today to speak about what we have accomplished and the challenges that remain in the fight against sexual violence and the recruitment of the child soldiers. As I share this information with you, and the context upon which my efforts are occurring, I kindly ask that you open your minds to the fact that we are making substantial progress.
Is it enough? No, it is not. Will it ever be? I hope so. But is this progress significant? Yes.
The Six Pillars of the OPR:
As I am amongst experts, I will dispense with a lecture on our history of conflict, the many nations who fought their wars on our soil, the millions dead, the grave and unspeakable suffering of our civilian population, and the generational loss of educational and economic opportunity.
I will start instead with February 24th, 2013, after the surrender of the M-23, when we created an opening for peace and stability which permitted our government to address two of the most complex legacies of our decades of war – sexual violence and the use of child soldiers.
My appointment was a statement by our President that we must make the dividend of peace meaningful for our population, we must change the narrative, we must take ownership of these legacies of conflict; we must address them in partnership with the Congolese people.
We have created a roadmap around six main pillars which include an assessment of progress made, the fight against impunity, prevention through education, economic reintegration, the duty of memory, and continued advocacy and communication efforts.
The Fight against Impunity:
The fight against impunity is a top priority for my office, as it is the foremost priority of our people. In pursuit of this objective, we have built partnerships with both the military and civilian justice systems.
I work alongside a small but dynamic team of dedicated individuals. Our success lies in our partnerships, first with our own government ministries and institutions, in addition to partnerships with key stakeholders including UN agencies, national and international NGOs, bilateral partners, the private sector partners, and community, traditional and religious leaders.
In 2014, under the leadership of the military prosecutor and the military justice system, 135 military officials were convicted for sexual violence. This included very senior officers, such as Lieutenant Colonel Bedi Mobuli Engangela, alias “106”, and General Jerome Kakwavu. We were also able to convict over 150 civilian perpetrators.
Further, this past April, five top FARDC unit commanders, each leading over 3,600 troops, signed a declaration formalizing their commitment to prevent sexual violence and assuming responsibility to seek justice in cases where it does occur. Additionally, the Army has appointed, for the first time, three female Generals. Their responsibilities include managing civic education and the education of the military on sexual violence.
We are also working to extend the reach of the justice system into underserved portions of the country. Last month, a mobile court system concluded in Bunia, the capital of Ituri District, resulting in the conviction of 46 rapists. Such initiatives demonstrate the political will that exists in maintaining a strong commitment to our cause. And yet, while statistics are critical in demonstrating our clear and concrete progress, they do not necessarily reflect the human impact.
Catherine, a 15 year old girl, revealed to us that she had been crying herself to sleep for over two years, hoping that one day, justice would come for her younger sister. Catherine’s 6 year old sister, a victim of sexual violence, is unable to walk because of injuries sustained in her brutal attack. With justice having been served, Catherine noted that her family is at peace, but that they still require support to recover from the pain and trauma.
On April 15th, 2015, I addressed the UN Security Council on the matter of sexual violence, another first for me and for our government, and presented feedback on the UN Secretary General Report on Sexual Violence in Conflict by Ms. Zainab Bangoura, who will be presenting at USIP next week. In her report, she recognized the substantial progress made by the DRC in reducing incidents of sexual violence from 15,323 in 2013 to 10,882 in 2014. This translates to a 30% reduction over the course of one year.
Again, is it enough? No. Is it progress? Yes.
Support for the victims:
As our six pillars indicate, we must change the mentality. We must talk about sexual violence. We must address the societal challenges to the empowerment of women and girls. We must break the silence.
And so, our office has started the Break the Silence campaign, setting up a national call center to which victims can call anonymously to report abuse and seek support on caring for themselves and counsel on how to hold their perpetrators accountable. Every day our office gets phone calls, visitors, and receives letters from women who tell us, “I am following what you say, I am breaking my silence.”
As important as the fight against impunity is, we must remember that punitive measures must be paired with efforts to support victims. This support comes in many different forms including medical care, providing services for emotional recovery, and, importantly, socio-economic reintegration and empowerment.
As part of the government’s ongoing commitment to facilitate the successful reintegration of victims of sexual violence and demobilized soldiers into society and the national economy, we have just launched a vocational training program in Kibumba, approximately 35 km from Goma, in North Kivu. Here, participants will receive training in areas such as literacy, agriculture, livestock rearing, and soap making, in partnership with the National Institute for Professional Preparation. Resources permitting, this training program will be replicated in several other areas across the country. We hope that long term monitoring and evaluation will show that participants are empowered to pursue self-employment, and that they are able to contribute to improving their local communities.
In collaboration with the Global Campaign for Education, the DRC government and the Ministry of Education have made progress in expanding our education budget from 6% in 2010 to 16% of the national budget. The number of children enrolled in school has risen by impressive rates, including the enrollment of girls. In the past 10 years, we have seen school attendance rates surge from 7 million to 17 million. With approximately 1,000 schools being constructed each and every year, this initiative will surely have a lasting impact.
The Child Soldier:
The government of the DRC has had an action plan to eliminate children from conflict since 2004 and our efforts have achieved great results. A recent audit conducted with UNICEF revealed that not one child serves today in the Congolese military. Our challenge remains the continued use of child soldiers by armed rebel groups.
Last month, the Secretary-General released his annual report on children in conflict at the Security Council, which outlined some of the progress made in the DRC. The report says that, “Despite security challenges and instability, the Government consistently demonstrated its commitment and ownership with regard to the implementation of the action plan signed with the United Nations in 2012 to end the recruitment and use of children, by funding and chairing joint coordination mechanisms and ensuring their decentralization to conflict-affected provinces.”
The 2015 US State Department Human Rights Report likewise confirms that the government of the DRC has taken steps to reduce and limit the use of child soldiers, including the implementation of the UN-backed action plan, and through working with partner organizations to develop training programs to prevent child recruitment. This same report confirms that FARDC commanders have increased efforts to demobilize the child soldiers of surrendering rebel military groups.
We are now working with the UN on a road map to de-list the DRC as a country by 2016 and, on this trip, are asking for US support.
For too long, headlines on the DRC have consisted of reports on instability and violence. I am charged with changing both the situation on the ground, and the larger narrative on my country – a country ready to move forward, refusing to leave behind the victims of sexual violence and former child soldiers, and refusing to stand idle as perpetrators operate under impunity.
This transformation will be achieved not through propaganda, but through effective and sustained programs that bring about concrete change supported by objective facts and figures. This is an issue that the DRC must take ownership of, but we will undoubtedly continue to count on your support and collaboration.
Finally, I think it is important to recognize the enormous challenges obstructing our path to success, including: the vast size of my country, scarce resources, ongoing destabilizing activities being carried out by armed groups in the eastern Congo, and the need for increased coordination among various stakeholders in the field. Notwithstanding, I believe the DRC can become a model for post-conflict Africa in the fight against sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers.
Thank you for your time and I look forward to answering any questions you may have.