AFRICOM to aid Congo rape victims
Stars and Stripes August 16, 2009
STUTTGART, Germany — U.S. Africa Command will soon deploy a team of specialists to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of an effort to assist thousands of women who have been raped in the country’s war-torn eastern region, where attackers often are members the Congolese military.
In the coming weeks, AFRICOM will be sending medical and other experts to conduct an assessment of the country’s many needs.
During her visit to the city of Goma last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a $17 million aid package aimed at preventing and responding to future acts of sexual violence.
“[W]e will be deploying a team comprised of civilian experts, medical personnel, and military engineers from the U.S. Africa Command to assess how we can further assist survivors of sexual violence,” Clinton said during her stop.
Much of the aid program will be managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Some 10,000 women are expected to receive assistance in the form of medical care, counseling, economic assistance and legal support.
“This assistance will be distributed to organizations across the Eastern Congo, and is being targeted to respond to the specific needs that you have identified, such as training for health care workers in complex fistula repair,” Clinton said. A fistula can occur when the bladder wall is damaged during repeated rapes, resulting in chronic incontinence and other problems.
Health care programs represent the bulk of the aid plan. However, $3 million will be dedicated to recruiting more women police officers and training law enforcement to better protect women and investigate sex crimes.
The aid is being directed in an area of conflict where Congolese troops are working to root out Rwandan rebels. Though the DRC soldiers were deployed to provide protection to civilians from those rebels, they also have been accused of raping people they are supposed to protect.
The U.S. aid also seeks to equip women with mobile phones, which will enable them to more effectively report instances of rape and document evidence with photographs and video.
AFRICOM’s role is still being defined, however.
The mission will come into better focus after the initial assessment is conducted, AFRICOM officials said.
“It is premature to discuss potential activities until we have a clear picture of what is already being done and how our capabilities can add value to activities already being accomplished by other organizations,” AFRICOM spokesman Ken Fidler said in a prepared statement.