GOMA, Congo – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday was visibly moved by firsthand evidence of the brutality of war in eastern Congo, delivering an impassioned appeal for action to end to rampant sexual violence that she called “evil in its basest form.”
Clinton announced a new package of $17 million in American aid to respond to an epidemic of rape and other sexual crimes directed mainly at women and girls by government troops and rebel groups fighting in the region.
Her offer came after a harrowing meeting with victims of violent gang rapes in a crowded refugee camp on the outskirts of Goma where 18,000 men, women and children have sought shelter from revenge attacks raging in the countryside.
“I’ve been in a lot of very difficult and terrible settings over a lot of years and I was just overwhelmed by what I saw both in the camp and in the conversation” with the rape victims, Clinton told reporters aboard her plane after leaving Goma.
At least $10 million of the $17 million pledged by Clinton will be used to train doctors to treat victims of brutal sexual attacks. Some of the funds will also be aimed at preventing abuse.
The United Nations has recorded at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence against women and girls in the region since conflict in eastern Congo erupted in 1996. Although fighting has eased since a 2003 peace deal, the army in January launched an offensive to pacify the area.
The operation is backed by the United Nations, which has a peacekeeping force in the country, but it has drawn criticism from rights groups as it has displaced some 800,000 people, left hundreds of civilians dead and led to a surge in rapes.