Michael Abramowitz: Good morning. I am Mike Abramowitz, and I'm the director of the Committee on Conscience. And it's my job to keep things moving as quickly as we can, so we're going to introduce the first panel and I am going to allow our moderator to introduce our panelist, but I like to just take a moment to welcome Gwen Ifill to the stage. Many of you know Gwen, as the host of Washington Week in Review, and a senior correspondent for the PBS News Hour. I should also say that Gwen is one of the nicest journalists I know, and that's saying something. And we're really appreciative that she has taken some time out from coverage of the debt ceiling negotiations to join us today. So please welcome Gwen and her panel.
Gwen Ifill: The dirty secret, of course, is that I'm relieved not to have to cover the debt ceiling negotiations for a few hours, because this is actually something that matters, and is going to have an effect on people's lives, not just on their politics, but also on their politics. And that's where I want to start. I want to start by introducing our panel. Anneke Van Woudenberg is with Human Rights Watch, Catherine Kathungu, who we just have heard mentioned twice, and I'm the only one who managed to mispronounce her name. She is with the Association of Female Lawyers for the Rights of Women and Children, or if I can find my French, the Association des Femmes Juristes pour les Droits de la Femme. Not bad?
Catherine Kathungu: C'est bon.
Gwen Ifill: And Scott Campbell is with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. We want to start right where our three previous speakers have left off. It is clear that we have a challenge here, that if 5.4 million people are dead in Congo, how many people are merely, “merely,” abused, raped, maimed, and as we have an election looming in November, the first since 2006, what opportunities are there to be able to close the gap. And that's what we're going to talk about for a while here, and then there are microphones here, and toward the end, we'd like to solicit your questions for the panel as well. Anneke, I'll start with you. In a very basic way, explain for us the connection between the human rights concerns we see on display, and have seen for years on display in Congo, and this election that we see coming up. What are your concerns, and what are the opportunities?
Anneke Van Woudenberg: Well, the human rights concerns in Congo are immense, of course. And I'll just mention a few, but of course we have the massive issue of sexual violence, which has struck almost all parts of Congolese society. We have ongoing fighting in eastern Congo, we have ongoing fighting in northern Congo, where the Lord's Resistance Army is one of the largest threats to civilians in Congo today, and we have a culture of impunity that is rife. And one of the sad facts about Congo today, and any of you in this room who follow it will know, is that in Congo, if you rape, if you kill, if you torture, the chances are, you get promoted. You either become a government minister, or you become a senior member of the Congolese army, you become a general. So these elections come at a time, I think, when people are literally at the end of their rope. You know, we had elections in 2006, the first elections for more than 40 years in Congo. These are the second set of elections and I think this is when people really are seeking change, seeking to end ongoing violence, seeking to end attacks against women, and seeking to end this culture of impunity. And so I think these elections are critical for moving the process forward. And they could move it back, if the elections become horribly violent, and if we see elections again that target opposition members, that target the press, that target human rights defenders, then I think we take a massive step back. So I would agree with some of what's said about the importance of this moment and these questions that are so crucial for protection of people and protection of democracy. That's what's at stake.
Gwen Ifill: Cathy, an opportunity to move forward, or to move back?
Gwen Ifill: …are elections the solution?
Scott Campbell: I think it's a possible solution, but it's also-- it does raise and a lot of risk factors as well. One of the big challenges, and one of the fundamental, I think, human rights issues, but we don't hear as much about, and certainly I would agree with everything Anneke and Cathy were saying about the very dramatic human rights problems—violence, sexual violence—that we do hear a lot about, but it's very basic problem of poverty, and people's social and economic rights are systematically violated and I would argue that it may well be the largest killer of Congolese today. Children don't have access to health care, Mrs. McCain was just telling us about the horrible access that women have to maternal-- to maternal health services. Maternal mortality is at an abysmal high. The right to go to school, the right to clean water, these are the types of things that I think Cathy was mentioning as well, when she said the situation of the average Congolese, or Anneke saying, they're at the end of their rope. But this widespread poverty will, I think, influence the elections.
Gwen Ifill: Tell me how, because sometimes we invest a lot of outcome in elections and we think that's going to change everything, when in fact it may be the trigger for something worse.
Scott Campbell: It could, indeed, be the trigger for something worse and I think that it will depend very much on how the government provides or does not provide the political space for the opposition to operate, and that's a huge question mark. But concretely, and especially in the interior of the country, most Congolese may have to walk up to 10 miles to vote, or go much further. There are fewer voting stations that will be established for the elections this time around, whereas the number of registered voters is much higher. People are poor, and they’re quite disenchanted also. They haven't seen improvement in their lives since 2006. On the contrary, things have degraded. So I imagine there may be a very high level of cynicism, as well. So the government has a huge challenge in both providing the space to political opposition, to civil society defenders, to journalists, to express themselves, and that's a big question mark today.
Gwen Ifill: Is there a more fundamental shift that has to happen in order for elections to have the desired effect, which is the underpinnings, the law, the things that allow you to enforce the ideals which votes cast mean, Anneke?
Anneke Van Woudenberg: I think we have to be careful that we don't see this election as the panacea, right? Let's say it does go well, Congo is not going to be a paradise after these elections. These elections are a critical point, but I think we have to be realistic that they, in and of themselves, will not change Congo. It will put Congo on a path towards further progress. I think a fundamental problem is indeed the question of the rule of law. How do you develop a society? How do you pull a society out of poverty? How do you have women's voices heard, if you do not have the rule of law? And I think that is so essential, because without the rule of law, you have the rule of the jungle, and in Congo, what you have is the rule of the gun, right? Those with guns are the ones who decide the power; they're the ones who manipulate. They're the ones who trample all over people's rights on a regular basis. And so how do you move towards this rule of law? And this is one of the challenges in Congo. So one of the problems now is, how do you get rid of the top layers of the Congolese army, who are, by large part- though not all- by large part, war criminals? What do you do about that? Where do you start? And I think there are a couple of obvious places to start. You start making arrests. And one of the key places to start, is a top general who’s currently in Goma, a general by the name of Bosco Ntaganda, please remember this name, because I will repeat it many times, but it's one we should all know about. General Bosco Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes he committed years ago. He's not been arrested, he's at large, and he's currently one of the most powerful generals in Eastern Congo. He continues to kill, he continues to order his troops to kill and he runs Goma as if it's his own small town.
Gwen Ifill: Who is supposed to be making these arrests?
Anneke Van Woudenberg: Well, the Congolese government has to make the arrest, but we have one of the largest UN peacekeeping forces in the world in Congo. They can help. We need the neighboring countries to help, but it's when you start with one, then you start with another, and you start with another, and another, and the dominoes begin to fall. And I think you start to tear away at this culture of impunity. But what I often get from people- and I get it from American policymakers and others- are, “but that will rock the boat. That might upset things; that will make things unstable.” But we're not going to have stability if we don't touch the untouchables, if we don't listen to the victims who say, “arrest them,” bring this guy to account, bring that guy to account.
Gwen Ifill: Well, let me ask Cathy Kathungu this, because it seems to me that the victims are not-- there's not a great incentive for them to speak. If the rule of the gun is what drives this, if the powerful unprosecuted generals are the ones who look the other way, what is the incentive, for the women especially, the victims, to speak?
Gwen Ifill: Tell me how, tell me what you do, because that's a big mountain to climb.
Gwen Ifill: What would you like to see the U.N.- what role would you like to see the United Nations play in helping you to achieve that, because I'm going to ask him what role, the United Nations is able to play.
Gwen Ifill: …that is standing on the sidelines and shouting into the wind, the role of the United Nations here. You know what is right, and you know what is wrong, how much can you effect change? You need to speak up. You just need to speak up a little bit.
Scott Campbell: I think this is not an easy hill to climb, it’s going to be a long one. But frankly, listening to Cathy, it’s hard, and her conviction, I ask myself and I would ask everyone in the room, how could you not climb that hill with them? How could you not support what she is doing? I really salute the Eastern Congo initiative and the National Endowment for Democracy and what others are doing to support initiatives like hers. The fundamental thing that we must do at the United Nations, is speak out loudly and speak out clearly against impunity, and against violations of international law. We do that- I think we need to do it more, and I don't consider it shouting into the wind. We do have the attention of the government of Congo, and we do- and I think we provide it, what Cathy referred to as accompaniment for local actors that are playing the key role. We published two reports just in the last month, on rape and sexual violence in Eastern Congo. I hope I'm not just shouting in the wind. There are very pointed recommendations to the government and actions they must take to stop blocking investigations, to carry out investigations themselves, and to give clear instructions to their commanders to obey the law. We must also be there to accompany them. So we do provide assistance also to military justice and civilian justice systems to try to strengthen their efforts, to train them, to give the materials to push them in addition to shouting, but to give them the extra tools so they can act. And that's with very mixed results, to be frank, but there are-
Gwen Ifill: That was my next question.
Scott Campbell: There are some small steps, and I think the point that we've got to go after the top level commanders, is key, and that's what the United Nations has been pushing for, for more than a year, the United Nations Security Council has given a list of names of top members to President Kabila. We're still waiting for those top commanders to be held accountable. At the same time, I think we need to work very locally. The U.N. provides support to many groups across the entire country, to groups like Cathy's and they have had some success. Yesterday, in one of the cities in Eastern Congo, two military commanders were condemned for rape. They were put away. The justice system is another topic and the correction system, and what happens once they’re convicted, is another problem. Last month, there were 24 convicted for sexual violence and rape in the Kasai Region, in one of the central regions. These are small steps, but there are many groups like Cathy's that are working with U.N. support, and external support, which I think is critical, for moving that ball forward, and hoping for a domino effect. It's important to note, this is something fairly new. I mean it was only a decade ago that we started to hear about rape and sexual violence in the Congo. Now, like most phenomena like that, it was probably going on for quite a bit longer than that, but in 2001, 2002, 2003, we started hearing very worrisome reports, and the problem seems to have spiraled out of control. But I would argue now that we're in a phase where there are small, very positive steps being taken, and those need to be strengthened and reinforced. And we need to accompany our loud, very loud public messaging—
Gwen Ifill: I'm going to make you move your microphone farther up on your tie for the next question, speaking up loud. But I'll turn to Anneke because there seems to be- it's not quite a disconnect- but between the ideals, nobody disagrees about what needs to happen. An election in which President Kabila could well be reelected, a president who has not done anything that you would like to see done, follow through. To what- how much can you depend on the Congolese government to make these changes, and how much of it has to be forced from outside interests, whether it’s international groups, whether it’s regional powers, whether it's the United States?
Anneke Van Woudenberg: At the end of the day, of course it is the Congolese government. They have to take responsibility; they have to be the ones to make the changes. But we have to recognize this is a non-functioning state. You know, the power of the capital Kinshasa, in other parts of the country, in Eastern Congo, for example, is still minimal. So I think we have to recognize, yes, it's a sovereign government's responsibility, but there are serious limits. This is still a government that's very weak. So that is a force where the role of international community comes in, and I think the international community has two responsibilities, one is to, of course, support the Congolese government, to urge them, to push them, to cajole them into making those changes, and secondly to stand up and say “no,” when those changes don't happen. So when we see warlords being promoted, when we see there's no end to sexual violence, when we see that, in fact, the rule of law is on its knees, I think it is the responsibility of the international community, as part of our global responsibility, to say “never again,” to say “no” to such mass atrocities. Our voices have to be heard, as well. And I think it does make a difference, when those voices come out. I mean, Scott alluded to the Security Council giving President Kabila a list of names. There were five names, of five individuals in the Congolese army, officers, responsible for rape. And the Security Council, on one of its visits, came and gave to President Kabila the five names and said, “do something.” For a while, nothing happened, nothing happened. The United States, in fairness to the US, was one of the ones who kept pushing and pushing and pushing. And actually, one of the most senior ranking members on that list, a general by the name of General Jerome Kakwavu, after a year and a half, it took a year and a half, was eventually arrested. He's currently standing trial; he's the first general in Congo's history to stand trial for rape. So it shows that when the pushing happens, it does bring results. What I too often see, is that people get tired. You know, they kind of expect, oh, well in six months, we’ll push, and then it's all going to get fixed. It doesn't. And we need tenacity, we need consistency, and we need policymakers to keep doing it, and to do it loudly, and to keep at it. And too often, I see that that's not the case. And it frustrates me immensely, because we can scream and shout, but then, after three months, when the panacea and the paradise hasn't come, policymakers move on to other issues, and that's the key thing I'd like to see solved.
Gwen Ifill: And even politically, is the opposition the solution, if one of the candidates is someone who's currently on trial in The Hague, for human rights abuses?
Anneke Van Woudenberg: I mean, to me, I just find this ridiculous, that this is one of the opposition parties, the MLC, have put forward one of their candidates, who is currently standing for charges of war crimes in The Hague. It's highly unlikely the individual will be released before elections, and I personally don't see how he can possibly stand for elections, but yes, that doesn't help move Congo forward. You need candidates who are also going to stand up and say “no” to this, and that the debate in these elections becomes around where has there been progress, where has there not? And why has there not been progress on ending sexual violence and holding to account perpetrators?
Gwen Ifill: Well, that's what I want to talk to Cathy Kathungu about, because I wonder, to what degree you believe that when you get the women to speak, when we get to hear the stories, that anything happens with it, that there is prosecution, that there is follow through, and that these women themselves do not become, or victims themselves, do not become subjects of retribution?
Gwen Ifill: Mr.Campbell, because I want to take a few questions from the audience before we're out of time, which is, she's talking about impunity, the role of international organizations, I have to ask you about the role of U.N. peacekeepers, which have- people have been very disappointed, that maybe they haven't stepped in as they could, in just the kinds of situations she's talking about.
Scott Campbell: You know, and I think the U.N. can clearly do better, and is doing better, and has learned from lessons, I think over the past several years of U.N. experience- that was the important part. But all the lessons we've learned- if you look at the two most recent public reports that we've done on these problems, on rape, and on sexual violence in Eastern Congo, the U.N. has added, and I mean, I should point out, it's incredibly difficult for the U.N. to protect civilians against rape and sexual violence, and just violence in general, in a country that's more or less the size of the United States east of the Mississippi, very few roads, very little infrastructure, most of which is jungle. And so we've documented these in very, very grave cases, massive sexual violence, and rape, in very remote areas. What we've done is try to respond better, respond more effectively, deploy more U.N. troops, so there's increased number of bases in very, very remote in areas, employ local translators so the troops can communicate better with local population, we've deployed an increasing amount of civilians, within the military operations, so that civilians can interface with local populations, speak the local language, learn about what's coming up, and try to prevent some of this from happening. The other main effort is to accompany investigations, and this is where we run into a lot of the problems that Cathy was alluding to, but working with the justice system, if you're a woman who’s been raped, and you have the courage to overcome the social stigma to arrive there, you may find a judge that is corrupt, that doesn't know the law, or that is very easily going to manipulate it. If you're lucky enough to get a sentence from that judge in your favor, it may well not be executed. If the sentence is executed, and you're actually, as a commander, sent to prison, you may simply walk out the back door, because there is no door keeping you in. Or you may walk out the front door by paying a small bribe. So you have an enormous amount of challenges, most of which the U.N. is facing on all of those levels, in reinforcing the justice system, in reinforcing systems like Cathy's, that are really doing the heavy lifting, and in speaking out as loudly and clearly as we can on the problem.
Question and Answer Period
Gwen Ifill: I do feel like we're just scratching the surface here, but we do respect that you have smart questions, too. There's a microphone here, and there's a microphone here, and we probably have time for a question from each of you. Sir, and if you could tell me who you’re directing it to, and I will make some effort to boil it down, but let's try to keep it-
Doug McCauley: I'm Doug McCauley.
Gwen Ifill: Yes, sir?
Doug McCauley: I was born in the Congo. I'm a professor.
Gwen Ifill: Is the microphone on? Okay, just keep talking, sir.
Doug McCauley: Thank you. I'm Doug McCauley, I was born in the Congo. I worked there for many years, taught there. I'm now an American, I am teaching here in Virginia at universities. Just what they just describe can be found in any countries where you don't have a stable state. Rapes, killings, happen in any country where there's a lack of state, so citizens in the Congo deserve the formation of a stable state. And how to build a stable state? Elections may be a step forward, but there are problems within the Congo which may undermine elections. And one of the issues in the Congo is the issue of ethnicity.
Gwen Ifill: Ethnicity?
Doug McCauley: Ethnicity, tribalism, how to get into elections.
Gwen Ifill: I'm going to ask you to tell me what your question is?
Doug McCauley: Well the question I'm trying to add to what they're saying. We are trying to… yes?
Gwen Ifill: I understand, we'd love a question.
Doug McCauley: So the question is, not a question, but I'm trying to enrich the need to think about building a stable state and there are challenges, and one of the many challenges in the Congo, when we talk about elections to choose a leader, is the issue of ethnicities.
Gwen Ifill: Does anybody want to speak to that?
Anneke Van Woudenberg: I mean, ethnicity comes up, of course, a lot in Congo, and it’s certainly true that in some parts of Congo, it is more toxic than in other parts of Congo, and indeed, to move forward, you need the stability of the state, and you need the state to expand itself across the country. And one thing that I think we've all been arguing about here, is that you cannot have a state without the rule of law, and if we keep having a culture of impunity, we keep seeing rape, we keep seeing all these other horrible atrocities, you know, one thing that I think is a very interesting development in Congo that we haven't brought up yet, that is maybe interesting for the audience to know, is that there has been a bit of movement on that, following pressure from civil society, from the U.N., in fact, following a report that the U.N. published just recently, which is called, The Mapping Report. Now this was a crucial report where over a 10-year period, the U.N. mapped out what were the worst atrocities committed in Congo by a wide variety of actors, including foreign actors, including the government of Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, as well as the Congolese government, amongst others. The report was horrifying to say the least. I've read a lot of things in working for 12 years in Congo, and when I read that report on my summer holidays last year, it literally just made me want to cry. That year, after year, after year, we have seen Congolese people suffer over, and over, and over again the same horrible mass atrocities. What's interesting with that report, is it shook things up, and on occasion a report does that, and Scott, you should be proud of that particular report, because it shook things up. And one thing that the Congolese government did, is it began a process of wanting to establish a special tribunal in Congo, to try the mass atrocities, to get away from some of these tribunals that Cathy was describing and that Scott was describing, where you have corrupt judges, where you have no political will, where you have no protection for victims who come forward. And the government has proposed a draft law that hopefully will go to Parliament in the coming days and weeks, to put in place what's called a mixed tribunal, with Congolese judges and international judges, and that gives us some hope that some of these top guys might be held to account, that we start to establish the rule of law and that we start to move towards stability.
Gwen Ifill: I'm getting the wrap-up sign, so I'm sorry sir; we're not going to be able to take your question, but Scott, if you have a final word that you wanted to add, and Cathy.
Scott Campbell: I do, and thank you very much for this opportunity. I think there's a huge elephant in the room that we haven't mentioned today, and it's rather remarkable, because it's one of the main fuelers of human rights violations, broadly speaking, in the Congo, but in particular, of sexual violence and rape, and that's the richness of the Congo and the economic wealth. And it's not by chance that we're seeing warlords, militia leaders, and the Congolese armed forces fighting in rural areas over territory. In this territory, there's an enormous amount of wealth, and these different parties, be it the national army, be it militias, they’ll use sexual violence, violence in general, to terrorize different local communities and have their allegiance so that they can exploit the local wealth. And that, linked with impunity, has, I think, been at the root of many of the violations that we've talked about today, and there's a very important role, I think, for the US government to continue to play, as the US government has played a positive role, I think, in trying to pass legislation to address how mineral wealth is extracted from the Congo, but until you attack that problem, the Congo will continue to suffer.
Gwen Ifill: Cathy, you get the final word about the unaddressed issues.
Gwen Ifill: Cathy Kathungu, Scott Campbell, and Anneke Van Woudenberg. Thank you all so much, thank you to our panel.