Remarks by Cindy McCain
Thank you very much for being here today, and taking time to join us and listen to and participate in this very, very important issue. I'd like to thank our co-hosts, the National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and, of course, Eastern Congo Initiative. I'm thrilled to be here. This is an important conversation about the road ahead in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is particularly fitting that we are gathered at the Holocaust Museum today to talk about the future of DRC. As a global community, we are here to honor the simple, yet profound promise, “never again.” And today we turn our attention to what I believe is the world's most serious ongoing humanitarian crisis.
I'm proud to be a founding member of Eastern Congo Initiative, the only U.S. based advocacy and grant-making initiative wholly focused on working with and for the people of eastern Congo. ECI envisions an eastern Congo with an abundant opportunity for economic and social development, where robust civil society can flourish. We believe that local approaches are key to creating a successful society in eastern Congo.
I began my travels to Congo in 1994. I firmly believe that Congolese civil society is on a path to peace, but let me remind you, I witnessed firsthand, like so many of you in this room did, the tragedy of genocide. That was my entrance to Congo, was on the other side, receiving the Rwandans coming in. I still carry a picture that I transfer from cell phone, to cell phone, to cell phone, of a small child, that I like to keep to myself, but it reminds me just how close we came.
Strong individuals are working tirelessly every day to rebuild their communities, despite terrible odds and intimidating obstacles. As grant-makers, ECI works to support these community-based organizations on the ground. We seek out and fund Congolese-led groups working to either protect vulnerable civilians, such as child soldiers, vulnerable children and survivors of sexual violence, as well as those creating opportunities for education, income generation, capacity building and legal reform.
I am personally committed to the women and children of the Congo who bear a disproportionate burden of the suffering resulting from the conflict. Women in the Congo are more likely to die in childbirth than graduate from high school. There's many numbers floating around, a thousand women a month raped; really, what I've heard, and what comes closest to home for me, is two out of every three women in eastern Congo have been raped. Women in the Congo have borne a high brunt of this. Only half of Congolese children attend primary school and one in five children die before their fifth birthday.
Yet despite these grim statistics, civil society is flourishing. The Congolese have a robust and growing civil society, where they are recovering their dignity and prosperity. We are indeed honored today to welcome leaders from some of these inspiring organizations. Represented by Chouchou Namegabe, FM encourages gender parity, the advancement of Congolese women and the increased capacity of female media professionals. By providing rural radio clubs with equipment and training to produce material for broadcasting, FM is educating thousands of women on their rights as Congolese citizens. Catherine Kathungu, as was mentioned in the video, with the Association of Female Lawyers for the Rights of Women, contributes to reinforcing the rule of law through prosecuting sexual violence, and inheritance rights cases, training rural paralegals and with general public education.
I just turned from a trip to DRC with Eastern Congo Initiative, and the International Republican Institute, which traveled with us. I also-- I'd like to take a moment to thank IRI for going along with us, for taking a look at the prospects of the future elections and taking an active interest in this. That's what we wanted to produce from this, and IRI was kind enough to join us and has taken a very, very active interest, and I want to thank them. I know they're in the room. Where are you? Back there, there you are. Lorne Craner, thank you very much, Lorne.
I just, as I mentioned, I just returned from DRC with Eastern Congo Initiative and IRI. And we traveled all across the country, which is not an easy thing to do. Congolese organizations and government institutions from across the country talked to us about their preparations for the elections in November. We are very hopeful that Congo will run a safe, free, fair and transparent election for its citizens, and that the international community will do its part to support this young, fledgling democracy.
Congo is facing a critical moment: it is poised to either successfully transition to a brighter future, or unravel its years of progress. The international community must stand by our Congolese friends to ensure that this does not happen. The people and the government have a chance to practice, and participate in, a free and fair election. We urge the government of DRC to provide protection to its people, to keep its civilians safe. At the request of the Congolese government, opposition leaders, civil society and the media, we ask you today to join ECI in the Democratic Republic of Congo to observe the November elections with us. We are honored to welcome the delegates from the Congo today, to have them share their experiences, their thoughts and their hopes for the future of Congo. We commit to doing our part to help Congo along the path of peace and prosperity. Thank you so much for having me, and welcome all of the delegates from Congo. Thank you for coming.