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Interview With Kate Snow of ABC's Good Morning America

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
July 2, 2008

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thanks for doing this. This is such an intense subject that we want to talk about, such a hard subject to talk about, but so important. And I guess the first thing I want to ask is a tough question, but is rape a weapon of war?

SECRETARY RICE: The unfortunate thing is that in many parts of the world, in many conflicts, it has been made a weapon of war. It’s meant to intimidate, it’s meant to tear societies apart, it’s meant to show who’s boss. And I remember very well going to Darfur and sitting in a refugee camp in a tent with women talking about the fact that they had been raped on the way to get firewood or to get water. It – yes, it’s been made a weapon of war.

QUESTION: And they were so free in talking to you about that.


QUESTION: Did that strike you that they – that it was sort of matter-of-fact to them?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it was not, in many ways, matter-of-fact, although I was struck that they were willing to talk about it. But first of all, it was a protected environment. We were not on camera. There were no cameras around. No one was going to take their picture. And this is one place that I do think it helped to be a woman, because it was a room in which they could sit and they could talk with me about it. I was really impressed with the aid workers who were working with them, the people from the NGOs, because a lot of it sometimes is just listening to the stories of these women. But it made me more determined to do something about this problem and to raise its profile internationally.

QUESTION: It takes such courage, on their part, to sit down with someone --

SECRETARY RICE: Enormous courage.

QUESTION: -- of your stature and talk about it.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it takes enormous courage because, first of all, it’s a matter of great shame. And so to be willing to talk about it in the village, where their children and if they are fortunate, perhaps they still have a husband or maybe a father. And so it’s really hard to talk about it. But I was struck that they were willing to talk about it, that they –some of them wanted to talk about it.

QUESTION: A former UN Peacekeeping commander, I think he was speaking actually to the UN Security Council and you were there, said that it’s become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in some parts of the world during an armed conflict.

SECRETARY RICE: In some parts of the world, that’s absolutely true, because, of course, the women are unarmed and they’re vulnerable. And in some places where they have to perform simple tasks, like to go and get firewood, you have to run the gauntlet of rebels and sometimes government soldiers who prey on their own people. And it’s been an unfortunate circumstance in a couple of cases that it’s been peacekeepers who have turned on these women. And so I felt very strongly that we needed to raise the profile of this issue.

I, with several other women foreign ministers, we founded a women’s leadership network at the UN General Assembly a couple of years ago. And as we were thinking about the various issues – girls’ education, political participation for women – this one started to emerge more and more and more as an issue. Yes, it was important to have women in positions of political power. But it was also important to speak out for women who were powerless.

QUESTION: Why hadn’t anybody done this before? I mean, why hadn’t anyone at these levels thought we ought to treat this for what it is?

SECRETARY RICE: Right. Well, it’s been there as a subject. It’s been addressed in some ways. Resolution 1325 in the UN tried to deal with issues of women -- violence, but everything from domestic violence to violence against women – but to focus more, as we did in this UN Security Council session that I chaired, we really focused more on women in conflict and the use of sexual violence against women in conflict.

QUESTION: But why do you think it hadn’t happened until now? I mean, is it that it’s taboo? Is it that we’re a male-dominated world? I don’t know.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s a little bit taboo, probably. And also the question that you asked at the beginning, people ask: Is this really a weapon of war? Is this really in the same category with the use of a chemical weapon against a village? Is this really in the same category as rebels or, for that matter, government soldiers going in and shooting the whole village, which also, unfortunately, happens in these conflicts.

And since women don’t die, are they really then victims of war in the same way? If they are raped – well, in some ways they die. They die spiritually. They die in terms of their persona from then on, and it’s really one of the – in many ways, the worst things that you can do to a village or to its women. It’s a sign of domination. That’s how it’s used.

QUESTION: And this resolution that you’ve really pushed and backed and been behind –


QUESTION: This resolution is saying to everything that you just said, yes it is, yes it is.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, it is. So let’s put away that debate forever. Yes, it’s a weapon of war.

QUESTION: And do what about it? What is your resolution going to empower the UN to do?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the first is to ask the Secretary General to be sure that this is something that’s being monitored and followed and reported on. Because one way that you get things on to the international agenda is that you raise its profile. You know what’s happening. And this was happening too much in silence and too much in – literally – dark alleys and dark passageways. Secondly, was to hold people accountable, including in peacekeeping forces if this happens among peacekeepers, and for national governments to hold their peacekeepers accountable. Not just to think of them as somehow disconnected from or no longer a part of their national systems, where perhaps they could be punished. These are the kinds of things that we think will matter. And we’ll see what else can be done. But I have to say that Secretary General Ban took this on with great fervor. He understood right away that this was important.

One of the other elements that we’d worked on was there were so few women who were acting as special representatives of the Secretary General of the United Nations. And we thought that even by increasing the number of women involved in that, that you might raise this issue to another level.

QUESTION: To go back to the resolution, are there teeth in it? Will it – will it – I mean, in terms of sanctioning or – I don’t know what the word is. How do you – how do you enforce it? How do you go after the bad guys?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the first goal is to just make sure that it’s recognized. When you have something that isn’t fully recognized, then you can’t deal with it. And secondly, to be able to really show how widespread it is, to be able to show where there are particular problems, and then to take it as a part of a broader picture of dealing with the crimes that are often committed in these circumstances, so that right alongside the kinds of crimes that are sometimes committed where they’ll go into a village and perhaps they’ll raise child soldiers or they will kill the men – this now becomes a part of that record. And when you see a government sponsoring it or turning a blind eye to it, then you can deal with that government. If you see that it’s a peacekeeper, then you can deal with that peacekeeper. But until its profile was raised, until people were willing to talk about it, it wasn’t going to be possible to even think about punishing it.

QUESTION: So in a lot of these places, you have to sort of get rid of the culture of impunity, right?


QUESTION: I mean, there’s a whole documentary out there now where there are – I’m sure you’ve seen it, where these men are bragging about what they’ve done.

SECRETARY RICE: That’s precisely – that’s precisely the problem. You named it - impunity. If people think they can get away with it, if they think it’s not taken as seriously as perhaps some other kind of crime against humanity, then it’s not going to be punished and it’s not going to be deterred. And there was a sense that this was the kind of crime that was committed with impunity, because there was a silence about it among the women who, perhaps, didn’t want to talk about it for all the reasons that one might imagine. There was a sense that, well, it’s in some other category. After all, sexual violence – it’s a little bit in the way that, for so many years, people considered domestic violence to be something that happened in the home. It wasn’t something that was the responsibility of society to worry about or the criminal system to worry about. Well, when you have an international system in which it wasn’t quite making the cut of serious crimes, that was part of the problem. And it remains part of the problem, but this should help.

QUESTION: There’s been a lot written lately about the U.S. and the image of the U.S. abroad, a lot written about how the U.S. reputation may be on the decline, that we’re no longer the power that we once were on the world stage. I don’t know if you’ve seen Fareed Zakaria’s new book. I’m sure you have. Richard Haass has a piece in Foreign Affairs along the same lines. Does that make it harder for you to lead on an issue like this?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, absolutely not. First of all, I think the reports of America’s demise are a bit exaggerated. And I sit in the chair as America’s chief diplomat and I receive the phone calls that say, America, we need America to lead on this, can America lead on this, if America leads on this, then it will matter. And so I have some perspective on how much our leadership is still valued, still wanted, and still needed.

On this issue, I decided to use the chair of the UN. The way that it works is that the Security Council, the 15 of the Security Council -- the chair rotates and it rotates monthly.


SECRETARY RICE: And there’s always a question, what are you going to use your chair for? And there’s a kind of tradition that the Foreign Minister or the Secretary of State goes up and chairs a session of the UN. And as you might imagine, there were any number of issues that we could have used the chair and my being in the chair to put on the agenda.


SECRETARY RICE: And we thought that by taking the American chair and making this the subject, that it would highlight this issue in perhaps ways that it wouldn’t have been highlighted otherwise.

QUESTION: And is there a next step? Is there something that needs to happen? I mean – okay, now you’ve got this Security Council resolution.


QUESTION: What next?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we are trying to work with NGOs and with organizations that deal with these issues. One of the things that we’ve tried to do is to do work around women’s empowerment and to see, as a key element of women’s empowerment, women’s access to justice, laws around the world that currently disadvantage women in terms of whether it’s property rights or even something like domestic violence. Is domestic violence punished in a country or is – again, is it a kind of blind eye?

And so the women’s network has been holding meetings and conferences and talking to women about this. We’ve put together a fund here, an empowerment fund, that businesswomen – Sheila Johnson, Carly Fiorina are heading up for us. Sandra Day O’Connor has spoken here at a conference that we held with women justices, women lawyers, women judges from around the world to talk about these issues. And so we will try to use some of the convening power of the United States to bring attention to it, to try to help NGOs and others and brave women to highlight the One Woman Initiative, we call it, to highlight brave women who are making path-breaking changes in areas like this.

The truth of the matter is that governments can put something on the agenda; they can help to bring the tools of the international community to make sure that there isn’t impunity. But those women that I sat with in the camp in Darfur, they’re being helped most by the incredible nongovernmental organizations that are out there in the field dealing with them every day. And those are the institutions, the organizations that we have to help.

QUESTION: And just to link it to the present-day presidential battle, I just heard Barack Obama talking about NGOs and faith-based institutions and John McCain has talked about the same. Would you hope that the next administration, whoever it is, continues? I mean, you’ve only got, what, about six months?


QUESTION: I guess we’ve got about --

SECRETARY RICE: Long time, it seems – no --

QUESTION: This is the kind of thing that you would hope would continue going to the next?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, of course. But let me just say, the faith-based initiative was George W. Bush’s signature initiative in many ways. Because he believed that when it comes to compassion, when it comes to feeding the hungry or dealing with the orphans of prisoners, that the children of prisoners or – on the international scale dealing with people who hurt, whether it’s because of AIDS or because of an issue like this, that very often it’s the people of faith and the people, therefore, who have a special place in their heart for people who are hurting and who are suffering. It – the faith-based initiative is something that this Administration has pushed and pressed for and gotten legislation for, and we’re doing much better.

And, you know, it’s one of the things that around the world, countries who also have faith communities that can be mobilized are trying to replicate. And so whether it’s carrying out the President’s AIDS relief program, when he started at $15 billion – now close to $50 billion, or the Malaria Initiative to try and rid the world of this totally preventable disease that kills so many children, or girls’ education, or something like sexual violence against women -- faith-based institutions have a very important role to play.

And, yes, I hope that the next administration and the next administration and the next administration will continue to raise the profile of this very important, very serious, and very sad issue.

QUESTION: I just want to ask one specific question about a place, because it’s been so in the headlines. I know you guys need to go soon, but Zimbabwe.


QUESTION: I’m sure you’re spending a lot of hours dealing --


QUESTION: -- with that right now. And we’re talking about violence against women and there’s been some evidence that that’s happened there.

SECRETARY RICE: There has been. Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: So make that link for me. I mean, is that an example in real time, real present time, of a place that needs this kind of work?

SECRETARY RICE: This is why – Zimbabwe shows why the international community can’t afford to be neutral when a government turns on its own people. And that’s precisely what Robert Mugabe has done. He’s turned on his own people. There was an election that was a complete sham because the opposition had to pull out because their people were being beaten and killed and they were being intimidated and threatened. The international community, the Security Council, the African Union can’t be neutral. There aren’t two sides to that story.

And much of what we’ve been trying to do on Zimbabwe is to mobilize the international community at the UN and in the G-8 and in other places.

QUESTION: You’re pushing a resolution right now?

SECRETARY RICE: Pushing a resolution right now that would make certain that that kind of behavior is not accepted and tolerated. And that – to use the word that, again -- impunity is not the case.

QUESTION: And just since I have you, do you think that resolution stands a chance of passing?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we will see. It has support. There are some who believe that there should be a chance for regional actors to try to work out something. But whatever happens, I think this is a real test for the international community. If you can’t, under those circumstances, pass a resolution that says that there ought to be consequences for that kind of behavior against your own people, behavior that Nelson Mandela has called “a tragic failure of leadership,” behavior that the Prime Minister of Kenya has said is an embarrassment for Africa -- if you can’t act in those circumstances, I don’t know when you will.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, thank you so much.


Released on July 13, 2008

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