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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo where she called for an end to the rampant sexual violence that has plagued the African nation. "We believe," said Secretary Clinton, "there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender-based violence committed by so many -- that there must be arrests and prosecutions and punishment."
The area around Goma has seen an epidemic of gang rapes and other sexual crimes amid continued fighting between the army and rebel groups. In fact, the army and the rebels are the perpetrators of the majority of these crimes.
Although fighting has eased somewhat since a 2003 peace agreement, the Congolese army and rebel groups fighting over eastern Congo's vast mineral wealth, are still attacking villages, killing civilians and committing brutal atrocities. Members of Congolese President Joseph Kabila's armed forces are accused of taking part in the brutality, including gang rapes that led to unwanted pregnancies, serious injuries and death to tens of thousands of women and girls.
The United Nations has recorded at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence against women and girls in the Goma region since conflict erupted in 1996. Last year, the U.N. recorded more than 7,000 cases of sexual violence allegedly committed by Congolese soldiers. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the fighting and are packed into camps.
Congo is home to extensive mineral wealth even as its 66 million people remain among the poorest in the world. The Congolese economy is heavily reliant on mineral exports, including copper, cobalt, gold, tin, zinc and coltan, the last of which is used in celluar phones. Diamonds make up a smaller but still important percentage of the country's mineral income.
The natural resource riches in Congo, said Secretary Clinton, should be used for the benefit of the Congolese people, not just for outside corporations or countries that extract the riches and leave with them without investing in Congo.
The U.S., said Secretary Clinton, cares deeply about what happens in Congo, because of the potential that exists not only for the people themselves but for Congo to eventually play the role it should play given its inherent wealth and the hard work of its people.