Sunday, August 23, 2009


A silent war is raging around the world. It stretches across nations and ethnic groups, claiming one casualty every six minutes in the United States, eight every week in Liberia and thousands more in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this year alone, according to Amnesty International and ActionAid International. The victims of this war are primarily women and girls, and the weapon used to victimize them is sexual violence.

In this war, which targets the security and dignity of women, college student Kambale Musavuli is fighting on the front lines.

Mr. Musavuli, 28, is a native of the DRC and a national spokesperson and student coordinator for the D.C.- based advocacy group Friends of the Congo. Mr. Musavuli, a civil-engineering major at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, helps lead the organization’s efforts to mobilize youth, lawmakers and the media to bring peace to the DRC. A brutal war in this central African nation has resulted in the deaths of more than 5 million people since 1997 and an untold number of victims of sexual and gender-based violence, according to a 2008 survey by the International Rescue Committee.

“This is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II,” Mr. Musavuli said. “I can’t see my country like this. I have a big dream … I’m able to visualize a peaceful Congo.”

Mr. Musavuli’s advocacy work has enabled him to hear the stories of women such as Charlotte, a Congolese woman who survived rape and whose own daughters were sexually assaulted in front of her. She was able to leave the Congo and subsequently immigrated to the U.S. However, while in transit to her new life in America, she was assaulted again by police officers in Morocco, Mr. Musavuli said. Charlotte’s story echoes that of countless women who experience sexual violence during and after conflict.

It was experiences such as these that, more than a year ago, prompted the U.N. Security Council, led by the U.S. government, to unanimously adopt Security Council Resolution 1820 on sexual violence in conflict. This resolution recognizes that sexual violence is often used systematically as a weapon of war and terror and that it demands a high-level response from the Security Council and the international community as a whole.

Addressing rape and other forms of gender-based violence in any context can be a complex task, humanitarian aide workers contend. Such assistance is often lacking or inaccessible to women and girls living in conflict-affected countries.

This issue was highlighted during Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recent trip to the city of Goma in the DRC, where she offered additional U.S. resources for health, security and other programs to address sexual and gender-based violence and held discussions with local and international organizations that are addressing those issues.

Raisa Ndogole, a project manager with the international nongovernmental organization CARE, was involved in those discussions and notes: “Women who survive this kind of violence must have access to quality and confidential medical and psychological assistance; this is critical to their participation in judicial processes to put an end to these crimes. But women need more than just access to health care; they also require long-term social and economic support as well as sustained community-level efforts to address the social norms that perpetuate violence against women and girls.”

CARE and other organizations have called on the U.S. government to exercise global leadership in fighting the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence. They are encouraging more focus on assistance to survivors, greater coordination of international activities to address sexual violence, and greater accountability by the United Nations and others to the implementation of Resolution 1820.

“As a society, we have to say no to rape, no to gender-based violence, no to the exploitation of women around the world,” Mr. Musavuli said. “It’s the only way we will see real progress in the fight to secure full human rights.”

Janine Camara is an intern and Milkah Kihunah is a policy analyst for CARE.

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