Knight Award Winner Meets Secretary Clinton, Pleads for Help in Ending Sexual Violence in DRC

Aug 312009
  • Knight International Award Winner Chouchou Namegabe, left in green dress, spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Goma, DRC, on Aug. 11, 2009. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State.

During a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), ICFJ’s 2009 Knight International Journalism Award Winner called for a non-partisan security force to end sexual violence in the conflict-torn region.

Chouchou Namegabe also pleaded for more protection for the DRC’s media, which she said are vulnerable to government closures. Namegabe was among a group of people who battle sexual and gender-based violence that met with Clinton on Aug. 11 in Goma, DRC, during the secretary of state’s African tour.

Namegabe is a radio journalist who at great personal risk traveled to remote refugee camps to collect wrenching personal accounts from women traumatized by violence. In 12 years of conflict, more than six million people have died and hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped and tortured. In 2007, she went to The Hague to urge the International Court of Justice to classify rape as a political weapon in the DRC. She testified in March before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on violence against women.

Namegabe founded the South Kivu Association of Women Journalists to help other women enter the country’s male-dominated media industry. In a culture in which women are shamed into silence, she has helped women find their voices and given them a support network to grow professionally as journalists.

On June 23, she was named a 2009 Knight International Journalism Award winner for her outstanding work. She will accept the award on Nov. 12 at the International Center for Journalists’ 25th Anniversary Awards Dinner in Washington, D.C. U.S. investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and Chinese newspaper journalist Cao Junwu will also receive awards.

Clinton spoke with survivors of sexual assaults before the Aug. 11 meeting. “The United States condemns these attacks and all those who commit them and abet them,” she said later (transcript). “We say to the world that those who attack civilian populations using systematic rape are guilty of crimes against humanity.”

Speaking at the Goma meeting, Namegabe urged regional leaders to help end the attacks. “We need peace, we need security, and I think this is the priority of all priorities: to stop, to put an end to the cycle of violence,” she said.

Namegabe added, “We would like that you – the leaders of the countries of the Great Lakes (including) Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda – … take on the responsibility to protect citizens. We all know that it’s not just a Congolese problem.”

She called for the creation of a “united Republican Army” that can replace United Nations security forces and root out terrorists groups and militias that have found a haven in the DRC. She also said a national police force that includes women should be created to support the new army’s peacekeeping efforts.

“Finally, I will also plead for the freedom of the press,” Namegabe said. “Many media outlets have been banned here in the DRC. And even a radio station, Radio Mudanga, was banned. Therefore, we ask you to please plead in favor of freedom of expression.”