An Apathetic, Greedy West Has Abandoned War-Torn Congo (The Guardian)
Originally published in:
by Eve Ensler
Despite an emerging women's movement, the rape of women and girls continues as the UN looks the other way.
In 1996, I was sitting with 20,000 grieving women in a stadium in Tuzla, Bosnia. The women were holding photographs of husbands, fathers, brothers, sons and boyfriends who had been disappeared a year earlier in a place called Srebrenica, a UN enclave where Bosnian refugees had turned over their protection to UN peacekeepers who stood passively by as 10,000 men were marched off to be slaughtered. I will never forget the wailing of the women in that stadium as they cried out, demanding the international community explain how they could have allowed this horror to take place.
Now, 13 years later, I am in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, where, this time, UN peacekeepers (Monuc) are not passively standing by and watching the massacres, but are actually supporting the perpetrators.
For nearly 12 years an invisible war has ravaged this beloved, beleaguered country. Over five million dead, hundreds of thousands of women and girls raped and sexually tortured in the most unimaginable ways, 800,000 internally displaced since January 2009 and close to 350,000 forced to flee to neighbouring countries. This violence is fuelled by the world's need for minerals, most recently due to the economic crisis. Congo, the sixth most mineral-rich country in Africa, has become the stage for a regional war fuelled by economic interests.
In January, military operations were launched in North Kivu. The so-called goal of this military plan was to arrest the rebel leader Laurent Nkunda and neutralise his troops, the CNDP, the former Rwandan Hutu militia, the FDLR, as well as other armed militias. Even though public spin on this operation touted its success, the statistics reveal another horrific story. Since the operation began, a thousand women and children have been raped each month in North Kivu, massacres have ravaged villages, displacing entire communities, and new, even more horrific tortures of women have surfaced (including the lighting of fuel in women's vaginas). There has been no accountability for these horrific crimes, no justice, hardly a mention in the world press.
Now on the heels of catastrophe, rather than learning something, the UN has joined with the FARDC (the Congolese army) to create an even more disastrous plan: Kimya II. This operation reads like a chapter from some psychotic science fiction novel. The plan is to bring together former enemy militias – FARDC, PARECO (Mai Mai), and CNDP – without reason, without training, without investigation into war crimes, without stepping back and considering what steps must be taken to integrate former enemy militias into one unified body. In essence, the war criminals who were responsible for raping, destroying and terrorising Bukavu in 2004 are now being charged with protecting it.
The most terrifying aspect of this operation is that Monuc is officially facilitating it by offering logistical support. What this means is that the international community is supporting this operation. A high-ranking Monuc official told me off the record that when the security council was in Goma a month ago he asked them: "Are you saying you support Kimya II? Does this mean you are supporting war criminals and rapists as commanders of this operation?" When one of the members of the council balked, he produced a blacklist of war criminals with their charges and evidence of their crimes. Security council members gave the list to President Kabila, but none of the commanders were removed and the operation moved forward.
As this ragtag group of starving soldiers spreads out into the forests and villages of South Kivu in preparation for operation Kimya II, the massacres have already begun. The FDLR as usual is revenge-raping women in the forests, and villages are being set on fire. Imagine what it will be like when operation Kimya II actually begins? When these hungry soldiers, thrown together from various militias and led by war criminals and rapists, are unleashed on the population in the forests, where no one is watching and where there is no means of protection. The mind boggles.
No one I have spoken to anywhere in Congo believes this operation will be anything but catastrophic, and this includes foot soldiers in Monuc who are meant to implement the operation, on up to high-ranking officials in the organisation. Yet not a single world leader, Congolese leader, international government or member of the security council is stopping it or offering a viable alternative.
So the war continues because the western world is hungry for Congo's minerals. It pushes for a military "solution", knowing full well that these are doomed. Despite a powerful emerging women's movement, despite the work of brave doctors giving their lives to perform day-long operations on raped women, despite local activists and survivors of rape working with their hearts to change the situation and wake up the world to a war that has destroyed their country, Congo still doesn't register in our consciousness.
It turns out that Kimya means "Sssh", quiet, invisible in Swahili. Ironic. Will we as humanity raise our voices before it's too late and prevent the next round of massacres in Congo?