Chouchou Namegabe's Remarks
Thank you. I am truly honored to receive the Knight International Journalism Award. And I am happy to have my family with me here today to share this moment.
This award gives journalists and human rights activists the courage to speak up because YOU are listening and paying attention. Today we say “NO!” we will not be silenced by the waves of violence. We say “NO MORE!”
We can say this now because the world has taken a front seat to witness Congo’s agony – and its cries for help. Now it is time for you to act because we cannot do it alone. We have fought alone too long.
Since 1996, wars are destroying my country. The women of eastern Congo have been special victims of these wars. The attackers seek to destroy entire communities through rape and sexual violence. More than one million women have been raped in the eastern Congo. This number is frightening. The atrocities that follow these rapes and sexual crimes are beyond reason.
After the women are raped, some are forced to eat the flesh of their own murdered children. After they are raped, some are drenched with fuel and set on fire. This is why we could not stand by. This is why we could not remain indifferent.
It is very hard for journalists in my country – and especially in the eastern part, where I live and work and where freedom of the press is abused. In the city of Bukavu alone – the capital of South Kivu – three journalists were killed in three years! This threatening environment is only one of the problems the journalists of Bukavu face. Besides this, there is practically no quality journalism education or training available.
And now, women journalists have become new targets. They are being told it is their turn to be killed, just because they are doing their everyday work!
We started our women’s media association in 2003, during the darkest days of the war. Since that time, we have grown from just four members to 42. We are all self-made reporters. We give voice to victims. We spread a message of hope to people displaced by war. We hold armed combatants and corrupt officials accountable. We push for peace when the agreements fail.
Bukavu, where we work, is one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a woman and a journalist. In our province of South Kivu, an area the size of West Virginia, 2,000 women were raped last month alone. In September, three of my colleagues received death threats.
Yet the attacks on thousands of women and children rarely make headlines. The violence continues.
But now is not the time to look back. This is a time to look forward, to focus on our mission, to consolidate our plans and to build our partnerships. Our group offers young women the opportunity to intern with us and learn the trade. This year, we trained six young ladies to be journalists. We hope to make that number at least 50. This training is even more important as we prepare for local and national elections in 2011.
Without these women to tell the stories, who will call for reparations? Who will call for equal representation in national and local government? Who will give voice to tomorrow’s women leaders? Who will tell rural women – the most illiterate and most forgotten parts of the population – that they have rights?
Along with others, we have helped put the issue of rape as a weapon of war on the international agenda. Last month, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution to stop sexual violence during conflicts and to end impunity. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited eastern Congo in August, asked the United Nations to appoint a special envoy for a global fight against the rape of women and children during war. But it should not only be a piece of paper, because we need concrete actions to end it.
The Knight Award cannot erase the losses or the fear. But it can help us build the foundation of a brighter future. And it is why I again say thank you – for myself and for the Congolese journalists and the women in my country. I am especially grateful to the International Center for Journalists, the organization that helps journalists around the world overcome the most difficult obstacles so they can report the truth. This help means so much, especially for women in conflict zones like eastern Congo.
This award is only the beginning of a better road forward. I hope you will join us and help.
(Applause) (Standing Ovation)