- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2009

UNITED NATIONS | Alarmed by the sharp spike in sexual violence against women, the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday urged governments and the United Nations itself to crack down on the soldiers and civilians who rape and torture with impunity.

“As I have said many times over many years, the role and rights of women in todays world is a critical core concern of foreign policy,” said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who convened the council after meeting victims of sexual torture on her recent visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Protecting vulnerable women and girls, she told the council, “is national security. Of course, it has a moral and human and social and economic dimension. … The women who do not start conflicts are often the victims.”

According to the U.N. Development Fund for Women, an average of 36 women and girls a day are raped or sexually tortured in Congo.

Mrs. Clinton, a longtime advocate for the protection and education of women and girls around the globe, has become even more impassioned about their security since her brief Congo visit in August.

It included stops at a teeming refugee camp and a HEAL Africa hospital that offers spiritual, financial and surgical repair to women recovering from internal injuries.

“Sexual violence and rape in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the most serious crimes humanity had seen in the 21st century,” Congo Foreign Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba told the General Assembly earlier.

He assured diplomats that Congo would do its utmost to stop the perpetrators of sexual violence, both military and civilian ones.

Wednesday’s meeting was held on the last day Washington presided over the 15-member Security Council, in which the chairmanship rotates monthly.

The representatives of Vietnam and Austria, who will preside over the council in October and November, respectively, announced that they, too, would hold open discussions on sexual violence and the protection of women in armed conflict.

Vietnamese Ambassador Le Luong Minh said he would chair a meeting on “responding to the needs of women and girls in post-conflict situations for sustainable peace and security.”

Austrian Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting said it is “absolutely unforgivable” that civilians should live under threat of violence where there is a U.N. peacekeeping mission deployed.

Congo hosts MONUC, the U.N. acronym for the largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation in U.N. history. Despite a force of 18,000 soldiers and an annual budget of more than $1.2 billion, the peacekeepers have been largely unable to protect eastern villages and towns from rebel groups and government soldiers.

A half-dozen militias have criss-crossed eastern Congo for nearly a decade, cutting swaths of human destruction as they have siphoned off minerals, timber and other goods.

Millions more Congolese have been driven from their homes. Most alarmingly, locals say, the ill-trained and unpaid Congolese national army is the most dangerous group of rapists and robbers of all.

At least 5.4 million Congolese have died in the decade-long civil war, according to U.N. statistics, some from bullets and machetes, many others from poverty-related diseases and conditions that could have been treated by drugs that are readily available in most of the world.


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