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Hillary Clinton condemns impunity in eastern Congo

News Stories, 11 August 2009

© AFP/R.Schmidt
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens to a representative of displaced civilians at a UNHCR run camp near Goma in eastern Congo.

GOMA, DRC, August 11 (UNHCR) US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called widespread sexual violence against women in eastern Congo "a crime against humanity" during a visit to the region Tuesday where she met with displaced civilians at a UNHCR-run camp.

Arriving at the Mugunga I camp, Clinton was greeted by representatives of some 19,000 displaced people sheltered there and the UN agencies working at the site.

More than half of the two million people displaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are women and in an area where the use of rape and sexual violence are endemic, many of those forced from their homes have been victimized.

"The US condemns the perpetrators of sexual violence, and all those who abet such violence and permit impunity to continue," said Clinton. "These individuals are guilty of crimes against humanity. These individuals harm not only individuals, families, villages and regions, but shred the very fabric that weaves us together as human beings."

Cases of harassment, human right abuses, rape and intimidation against civilians are regularly reported by the local population in eastern DRC. Civilians live under the constant threat of armed men who systematically pillage, rape, burn houses and confiscate food rations.

"When I was in Kinshasa yesterday, I saw humanity at its best and at its worst. Today, I saw both again in Goma," said Clinton.

UNHCR is running a number of programmes in eastern DRC seeking to help victims of sexual violence. These include counselling and awareness raising projects. Skills training and literacy courses assist and empower women who are survivors of sexual violence, infected with HIV-AIDS, illiterate or otherwise excluded from the society.

"Secretary Clinton's visit to Goma underscores the importance that the US attributes to human rights abuses perpetrated in eastern DRC and the need to put an end to the impunity which has characterized the region for years," said Masti Notz, head of UNHCR's office in Goma.

The US government is the largest donor to the UN refugee agency and a strong partner in the global search for solutions for the millions of refugees and displaced people. In 2008 alone, the United States contributed more than half a billion dollars towards UNHCR budget totaling US$1.6 billion.

Clinton's visit to the camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) was part of a one day visit to Goma where she also met with the DRC's president and the prime minister.




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Women and girls can be especially vulnerable to abuse in mass displacement situations.

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Women in Exile

In any displaced population, approximately 50 percent of the uprooted people are women and girls. Stripped of the protection of their homes, their government and sometimes their family structure, females are particularly vulnerable. They face the rigours of long journeys into exile, official harassment or indifference and frequent sexual abuse, even after reaching an apparent place of safety. Women must cope with these threats while being nurse, teacher, breadwinner and physical protector of their families. In the last few years, UNHCR has developed a series of special programmes to ensure women have equal access to protection, basic goods and services as they attempt to rebuild their lives.

On International Women's Day UNHCR highlights, through images from around the world, the difficulties faced by displaced women, along with their strength and resilience.

Women in Exile

Refugee Women

Women and girls make up about 50 percent of the world's refugee population, and they are clearly the most vulnerable. At the same time, it is the women who carry out the crucial tasks in refugee camps – caring for their children, participating in self-development projects, and keeping their uprooted families together.

To honour them and to draw attention to their plight, the High Commissioner for Refugees decided to dedicate World Refugee Day on June 20, 2002, to women refugees.

The photographs in this gallery show some of the many roles uprooted women play around the world. They vividly portray a wide range of emotions, from the determination of Macedonian mothers taking their children home from Kosovo and the hope of Sierra Leonean girls in a Guinean camp, to the tears of joy from two reunited sisters. Most importantly, they bring to life the tremendous human dignity and courage of women refugees even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Refugee Women

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Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

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