U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today urged United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström to ensure that the U.N. implements policies to better respond to and prevent tragedies such as the recent mass rape of at least 242 women and children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
This week, the United Nations Security Council convened to discuss the U.N. response to this horrific event and ways to better protect Congolese civilians. The senators urged Special Representative Wallström to personally work to ensure that such measures are immediately and vigorously implemented.
In May 2009, Senator Boxer chaired a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing to address the use of rape and sexual violence as tools of war in the DRC. Following the hearing, Senator Boxer wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging U.S. leadership on the establishment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to address rape and sexual violence against women. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Ms. Wallström to that post in February 2010.
The full text of the letter is below:
United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict
866 United Nations Plaza
New York, New York 10017
Dear Special Representative Wallström:
We write today to express our deep concern at the horrific reports of rape of at least 242 innocent civilians--including children--in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and to urge you to ensure that the United Nations implements policies that will allow it to better respond to--and prevent--such terrible events in the future.
As you know, between July 30 and August 2, 2010, at least 242 civilians were raped in 13 villages in DRC's eastern North Kivu province by Congolese and Rwandan rebels. Tragically, this most recent occurrence of widespread and systematic rape of women and children is part of a historic and growing trend in the DRC. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, "During the first 3 months of this year, UN data shows 1,244 women being sexually assaulted throughout the country -- an average of almost 14 assaults each day."
We are pleased that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has directed you to lead the U.N. response and follow-up to this tragedy. We also appreciate your testimony, as well as that of Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Atul Khare, to the U.N. Security Council on September 7.
Unfortunately, it is clear from your remarks that the U.N.'s response to these attacks was flawed. While we support U.N. peacekeeping operations and understand that the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) is under certain constraints, we believe much more can and must be done to ensure U.N. peacekeepers robustly and pro-actively interpret their mandate in order to protect innocent women and children from mass rape and sexual violence.
This is why we support many of the recommendations made by Assistant Secretary-General Khare including increasing evening and night patrols and random patrols, improving communication in areas with limited mobile telephone coverage, and supporting the Congolese government in its efforts to prosecute the perpetrators of these vicious attacks. It is critical that the U.N. takes immediate and vigorous steps to implement these and other recommendations, including addressing the illegal exploitation of natural resources, which Assistant Secretary-General Khare declared as "clearly driving the violence in the region." We ask that you personally work to see these recommendations carried out, and to clearly articulate to members of the international community any progress made and any obstacles encountered in the pursuit of justice.
Last year, Members of the United States Senate called for the appointment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to address rape and other sexual violence against women and we were extremely heartened by your appointment earlier this year. We sincerely hope that this position will help shine a light on the all-too-common occurrence of sexual violence and encourage the U.N. to demonstrate its commitment to preventing and responding to these atrocities both in the immediate and long term.
As you eloquently stated during your testimony before the U.N. Security Council, "These unconscionable acts must spur every one of us as protection "duty bearers' to immediate and concerted action. This is our collective responsibility to the survivors; and, our collective signal to the perpetrators who are watching and waiting to see how the world will react. Our policies of "zero tolerance' cannot be backed by a reality of "zero consequences'." We could not agree more.
Thank you for your attention to this important request and we look forward to working with you in the future.
Barbara Boxer, United States Senator
Sam Brownback, United States Senator
Russell D. Feingold, United States Senator
Jeanne Shaheen,United States Senator