Sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) includes the use of rape and sexual terror as a tactic of war in the conflict-affected eastern provinces, as well as pervasive violence against women and girls throughout the rest of the country. I was with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009 when she traveled to the DRC, where we were deeply distressed by what we saw. Secretary Clinton sought President Kabila's commitment to take stronger action to combat this scourge, improve the protection of citizens and prosecute offenders. We commend the Government of the DRC for its development of a strategy to combat GBV, and encourage further efforts to fully engage women in the country's economic and political development.
Since that trip, the United States has developed a comprehensive strategy to address SGBV in the DRC. The strategy aligns with those of the DRC Government and the United Nations, and is intended to further advance the efforts that are already being undertaken. In partnership with the Congolese government and civil society, the U.S. government's four key objectives in this strategy are to: 1) reduce impunity for perpetrators of SGBV; 2) increase prevention of and protection against SGBV for vulnerable populations; 3) improve the capacity of the security sector to address SGBV; and 4) increase access to quality services for SGBV survivors.
Consistent with the strategy, the U.S. government, through USAID and the Departments of State and Defense, funds a wide range of programs addressing SGBV throughout the DRC. This includes the $17 million to prevent and respond to SGBV that Secretary Clinton announced in August 2009. This funding was awarded to international non-governmental organizations which in turn partner with local non-governmental and community-based organizations. Additional programming includes three, five year USAID projects aimed to address and prevent SGBV, announced by the U.S. Ambassador in December 2010, and a three-year, $15-million initiative to scale up SGBV programs in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) platforms.
In February of this year, I returned to the DRC with a State Department and Congressional delegation. We met with government officials, local and international NGO leaders, Congolese women, United Nations and World Bank senior officials, and the diplomatic community in both Kinshasa and Bukavu. While the DRC's problems are immense, there are signs of change. Since Secretary Clinton's visit, the international pressure to end impunity is beginning to pay off. The military justice system has been strengthened, as measured by the increased numbers of arrests, investigations, and planned prosecutions. Advances have been made, for example, on the cases of those implicated in recent mass rapes in North and South Kivu. Progress also continues to be made in the government's effort to establish specialized mixed chambers, which we hope will strengthen the Congolese justice system through long-term capacity building. The specialized chambers, which will draw on international expertise, will serve as a forum within the DRC to prosecute major violators of international humanitarian law.
In addition to the work being done on SGBV, I saw how increasing women's participation in all aspects of the country's political and economic life would enhance the value of women and overall security of the country. With or without conflict, it is clear that the low status of women in the DRC is a contributing factor to the high rate of SGBV in the county. The DRC cannot move ahead without the full inclusion of women politically -- in the upcoming elections, for example -- economically, through agriculture and beyond, and socially, through a robust civil society movement. Congolese women played a catalytic role during the 2002 peace negotiations and the 2006 elections, and they must continue to be fully engaged. To achieve this, U.S. government assistance programs in the DRC seek to promote women's participation in all spheres of political and economic life.
We remain committed to working with the DRC government, the United Nations, and other international and local partners to strengthen the DRC government's capacity to prevent SGBV, address the threat from illegal armed entities (including through their link to conflict minerals), and break the cycle of impunity for war crimes affecting innocent men, women, and children. In addition, we are committed to supporting the full inclusion of women in the country's economic and political development. That is why it is critical that we promote women's access to small grants and skills training, which is essential to civil society's ability to effectively impact the DRC's growth and stability. Women are a powerful voice for peace and an instrument of development when given the opportunity. Investing in women is not only the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do.