Congo Watch: March 2005

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Rwandan Hutu Rebels Denounce Genocide, Halt War

Here is an astounding report via Reuters March 31, 2005:

Rwanda's main Hutu rebel group announced on Thursday they were ending their war against Rwanda and for the first time denounced the 1994 genocide of Tutsis that has been blamed on many of their members.

A delegation representing the rebel organization, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), made the announcement after secret negotiations at the Sant'Egidio religious community in the heart of Rome.

"The FDLR condemns the genocide committed against Rwanda and their authors," FDLR President Ignace Murwanashyaka said, reading from a statement. "Henceforward, the FDLR has decided to transform its fight into a political struggle."

Hutu rebels are accused of taking part in the massacre of 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994. Until Thursday, many FDLR fighters had denied genocide occurred, calling the killings tit-for-tat attacks.

Murwanashyaka said his group was ready to cooperate with international justice and would lay down its arms in a bid to end the "catastrophic humanitarian" situation in the region.

The Hutu rebels were chased out of Rwanda following the genocide, taking refuge in the jungles of neighboring Congo.

Since then they have been at the center of tensions in the vast country's eastern region where violence, hunger and disease have killed millions of people.

A representative of the Democratic Republic of Congo hailed the FDLR move, saying it was an historic moment for Africa.

'TURNING POINT'

"Even a month ago it was impossible to believe that they would issue such a strong statement," Congo's roving ambassador, Antoine Ghonda, told Reuters. "We are confident that this will be the turning point in ending the conflict, but they will need guarantees from Rwanda."

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was encouraged by the FDLR statement and called on the Congolese and Rwandan governments to do everything necessary to ensure the rebels' voluntary disarmament and return to Rwanda, chief spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

Annan had directed the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo "to do everything possible within its means to facilitate this process," Eckhard said.

The FDLR constitutes the largest grouping of Hutu rebels in eastern Congo, estimated at about 14,000 fighters, although there are Burundian Hutus who also operate in the east.

Tiny but militarily powerful Rwanda has invaded its huge neighbor twice, in 1996 and 1998, saying it had a right to hunt down the rebels and has threatened to launch fresh cross-border raids unless they are neutralized.

Richard Sezibera, Rwandan President Paul Kagame's adviser on the Great Lakes, told Reuters from Kigali that the FDLR statement was welcome if true.

"If they have renounced the struggle they should totally disarm. We shall know how serious they are if and when they disarm," he said.

The peace talks started in Rome two months ago but they were kept secret amid fears Rwandan authorities might undermine them, government officials and diplomats in Congo said.

Rwanda has long been accused of using the FDLR as a pretext for continued military, political and economic intervention in the mineral-rich but lawless east of Congo.

In its statement, the FDLR recognized the "catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Great Lakes" and urged an international inquiry into "crimes committed" in the region.

The FDLR also called for Rwandan refugees to be allowed back into their country. Disarmament officials estimate there may be as many as 30,000 FDLR dependents in Congo.

GUARANTEES

Diplomats in Rome said it was now up to the Rwandan government to provide guarantees that disarmed rebels could return home safely and be awarded full legal rights.

Returning former FDLR fighters to the killing grounds of 1994 would not pose a problem, Sezibera said.

"We've had a long process of integrating these groups. They don't pose an insurmountable challenge. The important thing is that they cease to be a security threat to Rwanda," he said.

However, FDLR fighters suspected of involvement in the genocide would be investigated and tried, he added.

U.N. and government officials in Kinshasa said there would be a follow-up meeting in Rome on Saturday at which the different groups, including the United Nations, would discuss the methods and timing of the disarmament and repatriation.

U.N. sources said they hoped the process would begin within a matter of weeks.

Sant'Egidio is a Roman Catholic movement of lay people who seek to advance peace around the world. Its greatest diplomatic success came in 1992 when it helped reach a deal to end 16 years of civil war that killed 1 million people in Mozambique. (Additional reporting by Katie Nguyen in Nairobi, David Lewis in Kinshasa, Ed Stoddard in Johannesburg and Irwin Arieff in New York)

Copyright 2005 Reuters News Service. Copyright © 2005 ABC News Internet Ventures.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A dream to establish a university in the Congo and grow a Silicon Valley

Today, whilst blog hopping, I came across a post by Macnamband, an American in Morocco, dated December 19, 2004. Incase the link becomes broken, here is a copy in full titled "Meeting Mr. Kombo" ...

"Marina and I arrived at the French protestant church in Casablanca about 9:30. A mass was starting. Many clandestines and of course, David Brown, pastor and protector, was there. There were two clandestines as well. He introduced us to two Congolese (Brazzaville) journalists and advocates, Mr. Kombo and his associate, Mr. Bouithy. David's notion was that as journalists we might help each other.

We sat down. Mr. Kombo layed out the problem, which is that as Southern Europe is the object of desire for many Moroccans, Morocco is the object of desire for many Congolese. Particularly students.

According to Mr. Kombo there are more than 500 students and refugees in Casablanca and 35 more in Marrakech. And others in Tanger and Fez. Some number of these are clandestines, which is to say they came to the country illegally, to escape abuses real or imagined and end up in the hills around Tanger or Mellila. Or else they came legally, these are students, but have been unable to secure their cartes de sejours. Then there are the students at the end of their education who can't pay their tuition and so can't take their exams or receive their diplomas. And fnally, the students who come to do graduate work and again because they don't have enough money, fall into local ruin.

Some of these students get Congolese government money to study here, but bureaucratic systems at both ends have made the situation increasingly desperate. They can't open bank accounts or receive checks. They are endlessly threatened with expulsion, even if in school, and can't get regular jobs. They end up in tiny apartments, living as best they can on the black market economy that supports so many Moroccans.

Mr. Kombo patiently explained it all, Mr. Bouithy filled in the blanks. But what do you want? I asked.

How can we get American help? How can we get the attention of the American public?

You can't, I thought. You can't, you're dead. You'll have to find another way.

I suggested they skip trying to get the attention of the American public and approach the private sector. George Soros... Who knows?

But the most interesting part of the conversation came when they suggested their real motive, or dream is perhaps the better word: to establish a university in the Congo. What a dream they have. A large technical university where students could learn the IT trade. They have it clearly in mind.

How could you do it, we asked.

They outlined it how it would work and explained that you could not build it in Brazzaville because of the people who support such a project live in the north. They suggested it could be built near Pointe Noire. Near where the petrol companies are. They would certainly support it, wouldn't they?

And as we talked it seemed like such a small thing to do. Why Bill Gates could probably finance it at the drop of a hat, say a $2 million hat to start. Why not? It could serve people from all over the region, from Angola and Gaban and even the RDC. It could be an engine like Stanford and around it could grow a Silicon Valley. Why not? Everyone wants it, Mr. Kombo said, except perhaps certain ethnic and politcal groups, and actually it might be a trick to get the land and of course you would need to build an infrastructure as well....

He stopped. These are not big problems. Pas de problem.

After nearly two hours Marina and I disappeared into the streets of Casa. And later the more we talked about building the university, the more it occurred to us that it was anything but simple, that in the end, this is why no one wants to touch Africa, even though everyone agrees that the real solution is investment. If you want to keep the clandestines out of Europe, the French should be building factories in the Congo. And sure, someone, should build a university so students wouldn't have to leave... And it could all be done, if only there were the will and if only people would let it happen, would open the way.

But that doesn't happen easily in Africa, whether in Casa or in Brazzaville and so you are stuck with your stone."

Monday, March 21, 2005

Congo arrests militia leader

Mar 22, 2005 news via tvnz.co.nz New Zealand:

Congolese security services have arrested the head of a militia group accused of widespread human rights violations in the lawless northeastern district of Ituri, the government and militia sources said.

Congo has been under pressure from the United Nations and foreign governments to hunt down those responsible for 60,000 deaths in the district since 1999 and to find the killers of nine Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers who died there last month.

A government spokesman confirmed the arrest of Thomas Lubanga but declined to give any details.

"The international community says he is responsible for atrocities during his time in Ituri but he is not thought to be involved in the killing of the Bangladeshis," a security source said.

A senior member of Lubanga's Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) said he was arrested and sent to Makala prison in the capital Kinshasa on Saturday.

"His arrest is arbitrary and does not conform to any procedures," UPC secretary general John Tinanzabu told Reuters.

Lubanga had been based in Kinshasa for more than a year and had registered the UPC, an ethnic Hema rebel group, as a political party, Tinanzabu said.

Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is suffering the world's worst humanitarian crisis with a death toll outstripping that of Sudan's Darfur region, the UN said last week.

The conflict in mineral-rich Ituri pits various ethnic-based militias against each other and has displaced some 100,000 people since December, hampering the former Belgian colony's efforts to recover from a wider five-year war.

Security sources said that Lubanga was being held alongside eight other military and political leaders from Ituri after several weeks of house arrest.

International pressure to arrest Ituri's warlords, some of whom have joined Congo's national army as part of a peace deal, increased last month after the Bangladeshi peacekeepers were killed in an ambush by unknown gunmen.

Security services arrested Floribert Ndjabu, head of the ethnic Lendu-dominated Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) militia, earlier this month along with an FNI commander and a general allied to the group.

The UN has stepped up efforts to disarm militia groups in the past few months. It said on Monday some 550 militiamen had disarmed in the district in the last two days alone.

"The growing number of militia members giving in their weapons and joining the reintegration process indicates that the recent political and military efforts in the district are staring to bear fruit," the UN mission said in a statement.

The prosecutor for Ituri and UN human rights experts have been gathering evidence of crimes carried out in the district.

Those accused will be tried either in a Congolese court or the International Criminal Court, due to try those responsible for crimes committed in Ituri after July 1, 2002.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Konono No 1 - Congotronics

Konono No 1- or to give them their full name, Orchestre Tout Puissant Likembe Konono No 1 de Mingiedi - come from Kinshasa (formerly Leopoldville) the capital and largest city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They play their own hand-built 'Congotronic' sound system, featuring giant 'likembe' thumb pianos and carved wooden microphones built from scratch with old car alternator magnets. Bandleader Mingiedi began to accomodate this ad-hoc technology when Kinshasa's increasing traffic noise started to drown out his likembe.

Konono No. 1 - Congotronics
Left: mixing desk - right: microphone made of carved wood

The Guardian UK says Konono No 1 could be one of the unexpected successes of the year. Richard in New Zealand writes this:
"Check these guys out, they live in the Congo, make their own mics out of wood and bits of cars and sound like this. Amazing, my computer aided, condenser mic boosted, effect ridden stuff never sounded this good. It's got this cool techno, dare I say it, Jungle, thing going down. Full credit.

This story is a testament to the power of the web (how they're broadcasting their stuff round the globe) and their spirit as muso's. It's also interesting to note the universality of music, I'm assuming these guys don't listen to a lot of house but they wind up creating the same grooves as you're likely to hear in any London club. Respect."
Good luck to them. Let's hope their music hits the big time and generates worldwide publicity for the people suffering in DRC.
- - -

George Medal Awarded

On 18 March 2005 Colonel Paul Anthony Jobbins OBE RD MSc, a Royal Marine Reserve, was honoured for his actions in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2004 and received the George Medal.

"Col Jobbins was responsible for tactical control of all UN forces in Bukavu, the major city in the eastern Congo, when serious fighting broke out and the city fell to insurgents in June 2004. Women were raped, innocent children murdered and homes pillaged. Throughout this dangerous period, unarmed and at great personal risk, Col Jobbins worked ceaselessly to conduct negotiations with faction commanders, arrange the withdrawal of all forces and rescue UN personnel and Congolese civilians. Col Jobbins drove through crossfire to meet with a dissident General, persuaded him to halt his advance, and personally rescued many terrified civilians, often under fire. He personally ensured the safety of thousands of civilians and is cited for his commitment and courage, and his gallant leadership under fire." [via Jules]

Friday, March 18, 2005

The savagery in the Congo is beyond imagination

As reported in earlier posts here, militiamen grilled bodies on a spit and boiled two girls alive as their mother watched, U.N. peacekeepers charged, adding cannibalism to a list of atrocities allegedly carried out by one of the tribal groups fighting in northeast Congo.

Militiamen and renegade soldiers have raped and beaten tens of thousands of women and girls in eastern Congo, and nearly all the crimes have gone unpunished.

"The victims have suffered, but they want their stories told", writes Jackie Martens for the BBC in the Congo.

Below is a copy of Jackie's report of January 24, 2004, that tells the story of the savagery of men in the Congo and victims like Vumi who is shunned by her community because of what men have done to her [photos courtesy Ali's blog]:

"We have many stories like this that make us shed our tears, I used to cry, but have now become more desensitised... this happens all over this area, sometimes to children as young as nine" says Care worker Jeanne Banyere.

Congo:  the world's worst humanitarian crisis

The war in Congo, estimated to have killed three million people and involving armies from seven different countries, is coming to an end. But, as United Nations troops move into areas previously ravaged by war, the true horror of what was wrought on the population is now emerging.

It was after a torturous two-hour drive along a windy dirt road, high up in the mountains, that we found Vumiliar Lukindo - or just Vumi. As we walked forward to meet the tiny 16-year-old, she doubled over, clutching her stomach and trying to cover her feet with the faded cloth she had wrapped around her body. She averted her eyes. Urine covered her feet.

Vumi suffers from incontinence, and cannot sit down because of the pain, the result of a horrific rape incident last October.

"The attack happened at night, and we were forced to flee into the bush," she said, in a voice barely more than a whisper. "Four men took me. They all raped me. At that time I was nine months pregnant." "They gang-raped me and pushed sticks up my vagina - that's when my baby died - they said it was better than killing me." The men then stole her few belongings and her community, unable to live with the smell, shunned her. Now she hopes only to be healed.

The savagery in the Congo is beyond imagination

Community rejection

In a country ravaged by war, where rape is used as a weapon and having a gun means you can act with impunity, Vumi is not alone. Spending only a few hours in Kitchanga, a small, sleepy village supplemented by many refugees of this conflict, we met many other women with equally horrific stories to tell, but who wanted such stories told.

Kahindo Ndasimwa, dressed in little more than rags, told of how militia attacked her village one night two years ago, forcing her to flee into the bush. The 40-year-old was then repeatedly raped by four men - their legacy a continual stream of urine down her legs.

Bahati Ndasimwa, a 24-year-old with a round friendly face - but eyes that told of torture - said she was raped by too many men to count. Her community then also rejected her.

Violent rape

Furaha Mapendo was staked to the ground with her legs splayed by 10 men, who then had their way with her. With her eyes staring fixedly at the ground, the 24-year-old told of how the men pushed sticks and various objects into her for an entire night, six years ago.

These women all suffer from vaginal fistula, a medical condition found in countries with poor health infrastructure, which is usually a result of poor childbirth care. In this part of the world, it is caused by violent rape. The walls between the vagina, bladder and anus are torn, resulting in severe pain and debilitating incontinence.

"We have many stories like this that make us shed our tears," said Jeanne Banyere, or Mama Jeanne to all who know this remarkable woman. "I used to cry, but have now become more desensitised. This happens all over this area, sometimes to children as young as nine."

Medical aid

Mama Jeanne - who also looks after 62 orphans - is one of a handful of dedicated people from the Women's Protestant Federation that network these remote parts of the Congo, providing counselling and hope to these women.

They are often the only chance these women, ostracised by their communities, have of getting to Docs (Doctors on Call for Service) and getting the vital operation they need to rebuild their vaginas.

Docs runs a medical centre in the centre of Goma, a large town with little infrastructure situated close to the Rwanda border. It provides training through experience for local doctors while helping the community. Faced with an increasing number of women in desperate need of this operation, but lacking resources, facilities and space, Docs has erected two big white tents in their compound. The tents are full of women waiting for their turn on the operating table.

'Bad things'

It is here that we found Dr Longombe Ahuka, a 48-year-old father of three. Dr Ahuka is the general surgeon at Docs tasked with undertaking this delicate operation. Together with two other doctors he has trained, this team has performed reconstructive surgery on more than 90 women, allowing them to return to their communities.

Dr Ahuka is no stranger to this war. He was forced to flee from the hospital he was working in when it was attacked by armed militants. Hundreds were killed and the hospital looted. "I saw so many bad things, it is an honour for me to also be able to repair [them]," he said.

'Savagery beyond imagination'

The surgeon recounted one case of a woman who had the barrel of a gun inserted into her vagina. The soldier then opened fire.

"The savagery we have here is beyond imagination," he said. "They use all kinds of objects they can lay their hands on," he added, making a plea for the "world to be told about it, to be told of this reality".

The women waiting face a double blow. Associated with rape is the risk of being infected with HIV. Of all the cases Dr Ahuka dealt with between May and October last year, 24% were HIV positive.

Women's dignity

Safari Masika was waiting for her second operation when we met her. Depending on the severity of the injury, up to four operations are needed for complete reconstruction. Wrapped only in a green bed sheet, the diminutive woman told of a brutal attack, one which had left her with a miscarriage and isolated from her community. Looking me straight in the eyes, this proud 42-year-old mother of eight told of how, after this operation, she would once again be "able to stand with other people and praise God".

The men who perpetrated this violence will probably never be brought to justice. But for the brave women we met, at least this operation gives them the opportunity to once again live their lives with dignity.

Further reading October 26, 2004 BBC: Report shows DR Congo rape horror.
- - -

UN says hostages are used as sex slaves and to 'ferry gold'

The following is an extract from a March 7, 2005, Associated Press report in The Star titled "Women and children kill villagers in DRC":

Children as young as eight and women have taken part in militia attacks on villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo's violent Ituri province, killing dozens of people and forcing more than 70 000 from their homes.

UN spokesperson Kemal Saiki said militias suspected of killing nine UN peacekeepers in north-eastern DRC had also taken thousands of people hostage to use as sex slaves and to ferry gold.

Peacekeepers negotiated the release of about 1,500 hostages last month and helped another 3,700 who were kidnapped and later released by an ethnic Lendu militia, said Major Aamer Zahid, a spokesperson for UN troops in the DRC, on Saturday.

Zahid said it was unclear how many hostages were still being held by the militia.

UN peacekeepers killed about 60 militia fighters last week after being fired upon near the village of Loga 30km north of Bunia, the UN said. That marked the largest number of militants killed by UN peacekeepers since 1999.

4 million deaths in the Congo

In the Lendu community, everyone is a fighter

For years, regional Lendu militias have targeted members of the rival Hema tribe. Fighting between their militias has killed more than 50 000 people since 1999, according to UN officials and aid groups.

Dozens have died in raids since December, prompting the UN to send peacekeepers to several areas in the region to provide security. More than 70 000 people are now living in temporary camps in the area.

Villagers in the village of Che - 60km north of Bunia - said on Saturday that children and women were among their attackers in a raid last month in which 18 people died and many homes burnt down.

Saiki said entire Lendu villages customarily attacked their rivals, usually under the cover of pre-dawn darkness.

Many survivors of Lendu raids have remarked that they began with the blow of a bull-horn. Lendu women were usually among those pulling the trigger or looting after the killing was done, Saiki said.

"During the day these women could be at home grinding manioc, and two hours later have a machete or AK-47 blowing you away," Saiki said. "In the Lendu community, everyone is a fighter."

A human rights group in the capital, Kinshasa, is investigating claims by residents in Loga that women and children were among those killed last week by UN peacekeepers.

The Ituri conflict is a bloody sideshow to the DRC's five-year, six-nation war that is said to have killed between 2,7-million and nearly 4-million people, according to aid groups. The war formally ended in 2002, and a transitional government took office a year later but it has struggled to extend its writ to the long-ungoverned east. - Sapa-AP.
- - -

War on Women

"When spiders unite, they can tie down a lion." --Ethiopian proverb
- - -

UN action over DR Congo abuse

Excerpt from a BBC report dated March 18, 2005:

The abuse allegations rocked the UN mission in DR Congo. The UN has fired one employee and suspended six others without pay over allegations of sexual misconduct in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhardt said one other member of the peacekeeping mission in DR Congo had resigned instead of facing disciplinary action. He said action had now been taken against 17 civilian mission staff.

UN peacekeepers have been accused of using food and money to pay girls as young as 12 to have sex with them. The former chief of staff of the DR Congo mission (Monuc), Jacque Grinberg, was among three people cleared of charges.

Allegations of sexual exploitation by peacekeepers in DR Congo started emerging around the eastern town of Bunia in early 2004. About 150 cases were reported. In February, the UN announced that its troops in DR Congo had been ordered not to have sexual relations with Congolese.

About 16,700 UN peacekeepers are deployed in Congo to help secure a peace deal that ended the 1998-2002 war involving half a dozen African nations.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

UN reports atrocities in Congo. Congo death toll nearing 4m

Please do not miss the below copied report from the Guardian UK by Sarah Left and agencies, dated 17 March, 2005.

Photos courtesy Ali's excellent blog and commentary on the Congo, a country where the world's greatest humanitarian crisis is going unnoticed by the rest of the world.

When reading the report, please bear in mind that in December of last year, the death toll was reported as 3.8 m. Now, nearly 4 million people have died in Congo since the start of war between government troops, militias and armed tribal groups, that began in 1998. Most of the deaths are due to hunger and disease brought on by the men fighting and, I believe, half of the victims are women and children. After blogging about Darfur for almost a year, I have come to the conclusion that men really are barbarians. Even animals are not sadistic.

In my view, African women, supported by the rest of the women in the world, could make a powerfully Gandhi like march and stand. Call for male rapists to be castrated and those responsible for crimes against humanity be arrested and put on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. It seems obvious (to me anyway) that all the male African leaders (are there any women in leading positions?) are either incompetent or corrupt, or both. None of them seem capable of managing a country and maintaining law and order.

The only glimmer of hope I see is through women who are capable of taking a peaceful stand. Collectively, en masse, women could sort out the men from the boys and the games they all play. Enough is enough. Child soldiers, slavery and using rape as a weapon of war must stop. Put sand in the cogs of macho toys and castrate the rapists. The UN needs to take a firmer stand on behalf of the rest of the world. Rebels and governments responsible for crimes against humanity should cease all violence and be forced into peace talks until solutions are agreed or be put on trial at The Hague. I am serious.

Take a good look at Ali's blog and these photos along with the Guardian's report:

Armed militia groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo kidnapped hundreds of rival tribe members, tortured, mutilated, raped and decapitated their victims, and even boiled alive and ate two girls in front of their mother.

The humanitarian crisis in north-east Congo's embattled and lawless district of Ituri has replaced Sudan's Darfur region as the worst in the world, UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said yesterday, launching the report on abuses allegedly committed by the Forces of Patriotic Resistance in Ituri (FRPI). He said the fighting is killing thousands every month.

The UN report summarised testimony from witnesses gathered over a year. It found hundreds of people have been kidnapped by militias in the region and that some have been killed by torture and decapitation. Those not killed are held in labour camps and forced to work as fishermen, porters, domestic workers and sex slaves.

The UN mission in Congo said its human rights experts had interviewed 120 people who managed to escape the attacks by the FRPI, one of five ethnic armed groups operating in Ituri. The militia hails from the Ngiti tribe, which is close to the Lendu ethnic group, the Hema's main rivals in Ituri.

10 January massacres at Ituri in the Congo

"Vital organs were said to have been cut off and used as magic charms. There were also reports that [ethnic] Hema children were thrown on to arrows stuck into the ground," the report said.

"Those responsible for atrocities will be brought to justice," Major General Patrick Cammaert, the Dutch Navy commander of UN forces in Congo, said. He said the UN mission in Congo (Monuc) was working to cut off weapons supplies to armed militias, which apparently entered the country from neighbouring Uganda across Lake Albert.

Monuc is resolved to "proceed with actions against the armed groups refusing to lay down weapons and integrate into the disarmament process," said Gen Cammaert. He called on the militiamen to follow the example set by one of the Ituri armed groups in the district of Aru, the Armed Forces for the Congolese People, which was allowing itself to be demobilised by peacekeepers and reintegrated into the community.

FRPI militiamen were suspected of killing nine UN peacekeepers in a February 25 ambush. On March 1, militiamen fired on Pakistani peacekeepers and the peacekeepers fought back, killing up to 60 fighters, UN officials said at the time.

Nearly 4 million people have died in Congo since the start of a six-nation war that began in 1998, most succumbing to hunger and disease brought on by the conflict. Though foreign armies left Congo under a peace accord in 2002, fighting has continued between government troops, militias and armed tribal groups.

Sexual abuse by men continues in the Congo

Women in the region have been brutally victimised, and not only by the militias. An internal UN investigation concluded that peacekeepers had engaged in widespread sexual abuse of women in Congo.

Yesterday's report contained the first detailed charges of cannibalism to emerge since the war, when occasional charges surfaced.

The UN report was accompanied by a separate account from Zainabo Alfani in which she described to UN investigators being forced to watch rebels kill and eat two of her children in June 2003.

The report said, "In one corner, there was already cooked flesh from bodies and two bodies being grilled on a barbecue and, at the same time, they prepared her two little girls, putting them alive in two big pots filled with boiling water and oil." Her youngest child was saved, apparently because at six months old it didn't have much flesh.

The woman herself was gang-raped by the rebels and mutilated. Ms Alfani survived to tell her horror story, but she died in hospital on Sunday, nearly two years after the attack, of Aids contracted during her torture, the UN report said.

She gave her account in February, but the UN waited to publish it until after her death, for fear she would become a target for reprisal.

The head of Monuc, William Swing, is due to fly to New York along with Gen Cammaert, and will brief the UN security council on the DRC situation on Wednesday March 23. The next day, he is scheduled to address the US congress and hold talks with several US officials.

Special report on the Congo at the Guardian - Tens of thousands raped by militias in Congo conflict - March 8: Babies and elderly not spared, rights group reports.

Congo surpasses Darfur, Sudan as world's worst humanitarian crisis

Bunia residents cheer as French soldiers arrive, Friday, June 6 2003 outside the U.N. compound in Bunia, Congo. An advance party of French troops has arrived in this northeastern corner of Congo to prepare the ground for the arrival of an EU-led force intended to stabilize the region after hundreds were killed in more than a week of tribal fighting. (AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo)

Congo:  The world's worst humanitarian crisis

An official uses a stick to keep internally displaced people at bay, Friday, June 20, 2003 at a food distrubution centre outside the United Nations compound in Bunia, Congo. Unknown assailants have abducted two unarmed U.N. military observers after attacking their residence in northeastern Congolese city of Beni. Beni is 155 kilometers (96 miles) southwest of Bunia where fighting among tribal militia has killed 500 people, mainly civilians, since the beginning of May.(AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo)

Useful links

AllAfrica.com Congo-Kinshasa
Le Congo Sans Frontieres
Congonline
Official Web Site of the Permanent Mission of the DRC
Child charity work, fundraising & volunteering with Save the Children UK
Special reports on the Congo.

African Union plans up to 7,000 troops for Congo

There are some great posts by Congolese bloggers that I shall be linking to at a later date. At the moment I am on a blogging break and unable to write original commentary. Today, I am simply filing some recent news reports for future reference:

ADDIS ABABA, March 16 (Reuters) - The African Union (AU) said on Wednesday it planned to send between 6,000 and 7,000 troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help disarm militias threatening peace in the region, officials said.

The AU said the presence of militiamen originally from neighbouring Rwanda and other marauding gunmen in eastern Congo remained a major source of tension and instability in Central Africa's Great Lakes region.

The AU's Commissioner for Peace and Security Said Djinnit told a news conference the Congo plan was in its early stages and could not give any details on deployment.

Funding for the mission was yet to be secured, he said, calling on the 53 nations of the AU to provide logistical assistance and troops.

The AU's Peace and Security Council (PSC) said the planned force would target an estimated 20,000 fighters from the Interahamwe Hutu militia and former Armed Forces of Rwanda (ex-FAR) soldiers who took part in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

"The Peace and Security Council has decided that time has come for strong and decisive action by the AU and the international community to neutralise and disarm the ex-FAR/ Interahamwe and other armed groups operating in the region," Djinnit told the news conference, which followed a two-day council meeting.

Last year Rwanda's President Paul Kagame threatened to send troops into Congo to pursue the rebels but was dissuaded after the international community promised to deal with the problem.

The African Union currently has a force of about 3,000 in Sudan's troubled Darfur region and is planning to send troops to Somalia to help disarm militias there.

But the cash-strapped organisation was hard-pressed to field the Darfur force and is reliant on donors to pay for the bulk of the deployments.

The U.N. force in Congo numbers 16,000, making it the world body's biggest peacekeeping operation. The force has given militia fighters in lawless eastern Congo until the beginning of next month to give up their guns voluntarily.

The two-day meeting was attended by military experts from the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.

UN calls Eastern Congo worst humanitarian crisis - superseding the catastrophe in Darfur, Sudan

The following editorial is by Lisa Schlein, Geneva, 16 March 2005 via Voice of America:

The U.N. top humanitarian official, Jan Egeland, says the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is the world's worst humanitarian crisis, displacing Sudan's Darfur region, which until recently held that dubious distinction. 

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, says he in no way means to minimize the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur.  But, he says aid operations in this conflict-ridden region of Sudan have been very effective.  He says thousands of aid workers are providing needed assistance to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the war.

"They have made so great progress in dealing with the needs of the displaced population, that I would, in fact, now not today use the term the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world,” he said.  “I think there are many more preventable deaths in the eastern Congo, which is probably the largest forgotten and neglected emergency today in the world."

Mr. Egeland says more lives are lost in eastern Congo than anywhere else in the world.  He says a human life in the Congo is worth as much as a human life in Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia or any other high profile emergency in the world.

"It is beyond belief that we are not treating Eastern Congo as more of an intolerable and acute crisis when a survey showed last year, which still holds, that 1000 people died every day connected to the conflict and the crisis,” he added.  “I mean preventable deaths from disease and so on.  That is a tsunami every five, six months, year in and year out now for at least six years."

Human rights organizations estimate about one million people in eastern Congo have died from disease and war in the past six years.  Mr. Egeland says about three million people there are in acute need of assistance.

The U.N. humanitarian official says rape is widespread in both Congo and Darfur.  He says in both situations, many thousands of women have been sexually abused, with little regard or sympathy from their governments.  He says in western Darfur, there now are cases of women who are pregnant and not married who are being charged under Sharia law.

"As I understand it, charged for not being married.  We believe some of those are raped and that is the reason they are abused,” he said.  “It is the ultimate insult to charge women who may have been raped for being pregnant."

Mr. Egeland says he brought this matter up at the highest levels with the Sudanese authorities when he was recently in Khartoum.

http://www.voanews.com/english/2005-03-16-voa38.cfm

Sex-assaults by men continues unchecked in Congo

Nicole Itano is a freelance reporter based in Johannesburg. She has travelled several times to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here is a copy of her latest report dated 13 March, 2005 via WeNews:

In the jungles and border towns of eastern Congo, a civil war staggers on, largely ignored. So far tens of thousands of women and girls have been sexually assaulted during this humanitarian crisis, according to Human Rights Watch.

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA (WOMENSENEWS)--A woman is gang-raped by six soldiers, in front of her husband and children, while their companion assaults her 3-year-old daughter. A 13-year-old girl dies, vomiting blood, two days after being brutally raped by a group of militants. A United Nation's peacekeeper trades a desperate woman two eggs for sex.

The stories are horrifying and endless and come from a new report by Human Rights Watch, evidence of the ongoing tragedy in a forgotten corner of Africa.

In the jungles and border towns of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the world's greatest humanitarian crises staggers on largely ignored by the international community. Millions have died or been displaced. And tens of thousands of women and girls have been victims of sexual assault.

"Something we are increasingly seeing in conflict zones, in wars, is that rape is being used as a weapon of war," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior researcher on the Democratic Republic of Congo for Human Rights Watch.

"This isn't just soldiers on occasion wanting a bit of sex. This is becoming part of conduct of war. In that sense Congo is not unique. What's particularly frightening, of course, is the scale of what's happening in the Congo."

Rape Used as Intimidation, Punishment

A report released March 7 by Human Rights Watch report says combatants on all sides of the Congo's complicated conflict are guilty of widespread sexual violence and that little has been done to slow the violence or prosecute those responsible.

Rape has been used to intimidate communities into submission, to punish them for supporting other groups and, in parts of Eastern Congo where the conflict is driven by ethnic hatred, to terrorize members of other ethnic groups. In a few reported cases, men and boys were also raped.

One humanitarian-aid worker is quoted in the report as saying the women of her region, the tumultuous Ituri area in Eastern Congo, could "write a whole library about the use of rape."

Worse, those sent to protect the people of Congo by the international community have not only failed to protect the country's women, but have contributed to their exploitation.

In recent months, the United Nation's peacekeeping force there, known as MONUC, has been grappling with allegations that its troops have been involved in widespread sexual misconduct, including rape and child prostitution.

"The places which have been subjected to the worst sexual violence is where we're having some of the worst allegations of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers," Jane Rasmussen, a U.N. official responsible for implementing new sexual-conduct programs in the Congo, told Women's eNews last year during her investigations into allegations.

"The fact is that women are so degraded already that it almost starts to become normal to them. One girl commented to me ruefully that at least MONUC pays."

In January, the United Nations released the results of their own investigation into the allegations and concluded that while many of the specific cases could not be collaborated there was "a pattern of sexual exploitation by peacekeepers contrary to the standards set by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations."

Low-Scale, Deadly Conflict Continues

The civil war officially ended in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a vast nation about the size of Western Europe, almost two years ago. The country is also home to the world's largest United Nation's peacekeeping force.

But despite the presence of peacekeepers and the installation of a power-sharing government in the capital city Kinshasa in mid-2003, a low-scale but deadly conflict involving a number of small militias and armies continues, especially in the eastern region of Ituri near the border with Uganda.

In December last year, the International Rescue Committee, a New York-based human rights organization, released a mortality study saying that 31,000 people were still dying in the Congo each month, many of them children killed by war-related disease or malnutrition. In all, the organization estimated that almost 4 million people had died since the beginning of the conflict in August 1998.

The sexual violence continues as well. In the northeastern city of Bunia in Ituri, the site of much recent conflict, the French aid group Doctors Without Borders says 40 women and girls come to their medical center each week seeking help. The Human Rights Watch report too details an endless litany of violence against women.

One woman told them how she was gang-raped by six soldiers, in front of her husband and children, while their companion assaulted her 3-year-old daughter. Another described how her 13-year-old niece died, vomiting blood, two days after being brutally raped by a group of militants.

The violence will only end, Human Rights Watch says, when perpetrators begin to believe there will be consequences for their actions. But as their report notes, the Congo's capacity for prosecuting those accused of sexual violence remains limited. Unless there is increased political will locally and greater international support for the local justice system few Congolese women have much hope of seeing justice done.

"A key lesson learned from this is that peacekeeping missions will only have a degree of success if they can tackle the culture of impunity and hold people accountable, and that's in case of rape and a host of other human-rights abuses," said Van Woudenberg.

Handful of Cases Prosecuted

Although human rights groups believe that tens of thousands of women have been sexually assaulted during the last six years of conflict, only a handful of cases have been prosecuted by local courts or military officials.

Even peacekeepers accused of sexual misconduct are rarely held accountable, the U.N. admits. Under international law, peacekeepers remain under the legal authority of their home countries, most of whom have little political will to punish soldiers for such crimes, says Rasmussen.

In Bunia, a European Commission-supported court has successfully prosecuted 10 people for sexual violence and has cases pending against nine others. While the number prosecuted for sexual assault remains small and only a few were militants, Human Rights Watch cites the case as an example of how international support can strengthen the Congo's justice system, but also of how little is being done. So far, the Bunia court is the only like it in the country.

Most important, the organization says, is to begin holding high-rank commanders accountable for their actions. International courts in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia have found that rape can amount to torture and that commanders guilty of encouraging rape are guilty of war crimes.

Stopping the violence and prosecuting those guilty of human rights violations in Congo will require a major scale-up of involvement by the international community, which many rights groups believe is still being neglected by donors and international news organizations.

In 2004, according to the International Rescue Committee, the world spent just $188 million on humanitarian aid there, an amount that equals just $3.23 a person, compared to $89 per person in the Sudan the same year and $138 per person in Iraq the previous year.

"There's lots of talk about how we're going to support the justice system, especially around sexual violence which everyone claims is such an important issue," said Van Woudenberg. "But there's not very much action behind the talk."

For more information:

Human Rights Watch--
"Seeking Justice: The Prosecution of Sexual Violence in the Congo War":
http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/drc0305/

International Rescue Committee--
"Democratic Republic of Congo: 3.8 Million Dead in 6 Year Conflict":
http://www.theirc.org/index.cfm/wwwID/2129

MONUC--Investigation by the Office of Internal Oversight Services into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
(Adobe PDF format):
http://www.monuc.org/downloads/0520055E.pdf

Thursday, March 10, 2005

DRC: Aid resumes for 88,000 displaced amid uneasy calm in Ituri - OCHA

This UN-OCHA report via IRIN does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations:

KINSHASA, 10 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - At least 88,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the war-torn district of Ituri, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are again receiving relief aid, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), reported on Wednesday.

"The death toll in the camps is back under control," Modibo Traore, OCHA's humanitarian affairs officer in Bunia, said in reference to an increase in mortality in IDP camps during a 10-day aid suspension that ended early this week. "However, the situation remains very tense in the area and the risk that vital aid may once again be cut off is very real."

Humanitarian actors have resumed aid to Kakwa, Tché and Gina IDP sites after they suspended services following the killing of nine Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers by militiamen on 26 February in Kafe village.

OCHA's information officer in the capital, Kinshasa, Rachel Scott Leflaive, said the number of IDPs in camps had risen from 70,000 to 88,000 in the last two weeks.

"The 18,000 newly registered people are probably persons who were hiding in the bush and now [have] moved to the camps," she said. "There is presently less militia activity and the militias do not harass the population as they used to."

In Gina area, the number of people seeking shelter has doubled over the last 10 days, according to an assessment made by aid workers on Monday. Resumption of aid to the more than 21,000 IDPs in camps in the Tché area started over the weekend, following an improvement in security conditions on the road north from Bunia town.

"There are very likely more people still hiding in the bush," Traore said. "We are receiving reports of people who are sick or injured, but too afraid to seek treatment. Humanitarians can only help those who can reach the safe areas."

Militia activities ceased after a military operation was carried out last week by UN peacekeepers in Loga, during which 60 militias were killed, Lt-Col Donique Demange, a spokesperson of the UN mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, told IRIN.

"Our forces reacted to attacks of militias while on a purely routine operation," he said. "We had precise information which indicated that the militias wanted to attack the MONUC camp at Tché."

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Congo war tops AlertNet poll of 'forgotten' crises

Here is a copy of a Reuters London report dated March 9, 2005, by Ruth Gidley:

Brutal conflicts in Congo, Uganda and Sudan are the world's three biggest "forgotten emergencies", each dwarfing the toll of the Asian tsunami but attracting scant media interest, a new Reuters AlertNet poll of experts shows.

War in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country two-thirds the size of Western Europe, has claimed at least 10 times as many lives as the December tsunami yet remains almost unheard of outside of Africa, key players in the aid world said.

"It's the worst humanitarian tragedy since the Holocaust," John O'Shea, chief executive of Irish relief agency GOAL, told AlertNet. "The greatest example on the planet of man's inhumanity to man."

AlertNet asked 102 humanitarian professionals, media personalities, academics and policymakers which "forgotten" crises they would urge the media to focus on in 2005.

Answers came back from across the spectrum, from royal connections, acting stars and a Nobel prize winner, as well as various U.N. agencies and dozens of NGOs.

Many experts accused the Western media of routinely ignoring emergencies in countries of low geopolitical importance for big powers despite the enormous scale of suffering.

"One television news producer we met in the U.S. summed up the situation since spring 2003 this way: 'Look, we've got three foreign news priorities these days: Iraq, Iraq, Iraq,'" said Gareth Evans, president of Belgian think tank Crisis Group.

Almost half of those polled -- including U.N. relief coordinator Jan Egeland and U.S. leftwing intellectual Noam Chomsky -- nominated Congo, citing the brutality of an ugly, tangled war that has killed 3.8 million people since 1998, according to the International Rescue Committee.

'AFRICA'S WORLD WAR'

"It’s Africa’s First World War," said British journalist Jon Snow, news anchorman for Channel 4 television. Read full story at
http://www.alertnet.org/thefacts/reliefresources/111038817665.htm

Why the Democratic Republic of the Congo matters

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is of vital strategic importance, says a United Nations report.

Its size (2.5 million sq km), the fact that it is endowed with 50 per cent of Africa’s forests and is home to one of the world’s mightiest river systems - that could provide hydro-electric power to the entire continent - make the DRC the natural political center of gravity for Central Africa. No stability in Central Africa without a stable DRC, and conversely.

lk_04.gif

Here below is a copy of the UN's report that, thanks to Carine, I found at DRC, a website with useful information, maps, links and books on the DRC, a country that touches nine neighbors, including the Sudan:

A successful transition in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) offers more to Africa as a whole, than success in any other African conflict zone:
- Not only is the DRC five times larger than Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire combined, with twice their collective population, but it touches on nine different neighbors.

The DRC is one of the world’s largest living tragedies:

Note: Apologies, problems copying rest of text. Please click here to continue reading the report titled "Why the DRC matters (Summary by the UN)."

Tens of thousands raped in East Congo

Sadly, here is another deeply distressing report about countless numbers of female rape victims aged from 4-months old to 80. From what I have gathered over the past 50 years about wars around the world, it seems that mass rape is considered part of war. I cannot stomach looking into the reasons why. Having spent the past year blogging almost daily about the genocide in Darfur, Sudan to try and understand the reasons for genocide and how it occurs, has been more than enough to bear.

Males are responsible for these terrible crimes against humanity. Men attacking, abusing, and murdering defenceless women and children while the men who are left do little to protect the women and children. Imagine if it was men raping men. Would men do more to put a stop to such crimes? My guess is, they would. Here is a copy of the report, in full:

BUNIA, Congo (Reuters) - Government soldiers and rebels have raped tens of thousands of women and children in eastern Congo and are going unpunished as conflict simmers in the lawless region, a leading rights group said Monday.

Fighters on all sides of Congo's war have raped civilians on a massive scale since the conflict broke out in 1998 but only a handful have ever been tried, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

"Sexual violence has shattered tens of thousands of lives in Congo, but fewer than a dozen victims have seen their assailants prosecuted," Alison Des Forges, senior advisor to HRW's Africa division, said in a report.

Sheltering in a refugee camp protected by United Nations peacekeepers with tanks and machine guns, Therese Yeda, 32, described how a militia group gang raped her last week as she walked between two villages.

"One was at the checkpoint and the others were hiding in the bushes before they jumped out and pointed their weapons at me," she said. The people she was with ran away terrified but Yeda was unable to because of all the things she was carrying.

"Ten of them had guns, the other two had machetes. All 12 of them raped me ... I am eight months pregnant but the baby doesn't seem to be moving any more," she said. Her five children were also beaten by the gunmen.

An upsurge in clashes since January has displaced 70,000 civilians in Democratic Republic of Congo's remote northeastern Ituri district, and reports of rape are frequent.

Ethnic warfare has killed more than 50,000 people in Ituri since 1999. Children as young as eight have taken part in the most recent fighting, refugees say.

STIGMA Medecins San Frontieres says it has treated over 2,500 rape victims, from 4-months old to 80 years, at its hospital in the regional capital Bunia since June 2003. The true number could be 50 times higher as victims are afraid to speak out, it says.

"We have been here for two years and we have not seen any improvement. It is so systematic -- whenever there are attacks by armed groups, there is rape," said Patrick Barbier, head of the MSF mission in the region.

"Sexual violence is so stigmatized. The victims don't come and seek medical care ... It is not taken seriously by the authorities so there is complete impunity," he said.

Human Rights Watch said an increasing number of sexual abuse victims wanted justice, but said those rape trials that had taken place in Congo had fallen woefully short of international standards with support for victims virtually non-existent.

While the International Criminal Court may prosecute the occasional case, the vast majority would have to be tried in Congolese courts, the group said.

One woman told HRW how she watched her 13-year old niece being raped by fighters loyal to renegade general Laurent Nkunda, who launched a short-lived rebellion in the eastern town of Bukavu last June.

"Four men raped her. They had spread her arms and legs and held her down," the woman told HRW.

"I had been with her but hid in a banana tree and watched what happened. Afterward she started to vomit blood. We brought her to hospital and she died two days later."

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

"Men and women are two wheels of a chariot"

Today is Women's Day. My thoughts on the following opinion piece by Margaret Vuchiri are about why there is such a thing as a "Women's Day" and why there appears to be no need for a "Men's Day." If there was such a thing, and you phoned a male friend to ask how he intended to spend Men's Day, what would you expect him to say? I'd expect most would treat it like some sort of Fathers Day, and give themselves a pat on the back and go eat, drink and play and make some more mess somewhere, or do a bit of wheeling and dealing, hooting and hollering, fighting, bombing, mugging, pillaging, looting, killing and raping ... Heh. You guys are something else [which is why you don't deserve a Men's Day!]

For Women's Day March 8, please click here to read an Op-Ed by Margaret Vuchiri in Kampala, titled "Has Feminism Failed to Feminise Society?"
- - -

The following three items are a copy of one of my favourite posts that blogged at Sudan Watch on September 14, 2004:

TUTU'S MESSAGE OF WISDOM: Women should rule the world

Desmond Tutu, in his message of wisdom, writes:

"When we heard the revelations of unspeakable atrocities committed during the apartheid era we were appalled at how low we human beings can sink, that we had this horrendous capacity for evil, all of us.

Then we heard the moving stories of the victims of those and other atrocities relating how despite all they had suffered they were willing to forgive their tormentors, revealing a breathtaking magnanimity and generosity of spirit, then we realised that we have a wonderful capacity for good.

Yes people are fundamentally good. They, we, are made for love, generosity, sharing, compassion - for transcendence.

We are made to reach for the stars."

Desmond Tutu.

[Source: Courtesy "Tutu's handwritten message of wisdom" Hands That Shape Humanity]
- - -

'WOMEN SHOULD RULE THE WORLD' -
Desmond Tutu suggests a "feminine revolution" takes place

Women should rule the world said Desmond Tutu speaking at a signing ceremony between the Desmond Tutu Peace Trust and the City of Cape Town.

Former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu on Tuesday waxed lyrical about women, suggesting that a "feminine revolution" take place so that the fairer sex can rule the world.

Tutu was speaking at a signing ceremony between the Desmond Tutu Peace Trust and the City of Cape Town which brought a step closer the erection of a building bearing his name in the city CBD.

"Some of the best initiatives are those that occur because women are involved... It is almost a tacit acknowledgement of the crucial role that women play in nurturing, nurturing life," said Tutu in his tribute to women a day after Women's Day.

Tutu, who was seemingly mentally spurred on by Cape Town's sobriquet "Mother City", said that men had been given centuries to rule the world, but "have made a heck of a mess of things".

Tutu said the revolution he referred was one of women who were not afraid to be feminine, and who did not ape men in, for example, the stereotypical aggression.

"This revolution... is the last, best chance for making this globe hospitable to peace, to make this globe hospitable to compassion, hospitable to generosity and caring," he said. [More]
- - -

Here's a snippet found on the internet:

" ... A billionaire media baron has taken a step to demonstrate his belief that women should run the world because men have "mucked it up" with too much warfare and military spending.

The United Nations Foundation Ted Turner established six years ago to distribute the £1 billion he pledged to UN causes has a new female-dominated board of directors.

"I've said for years and I'm really serious about it, I think men should be barred from holding public office for 100 years. The men have been running the world for too long and they've made a mess of it. ..."

Monday, March 07, 2005

In honour of International Women's Day, please take a stand for crimes against humanity

This March 8, International Women's Day, people around the world must take action on behalf of the thousands of women suffering from continued violence in places such as Darfur and DRC.

The following is an excerpt from a report at the Sudan Tribune, by Natalie Spicyn and Cathy Sweetser, Yale Daily News, March 5, 2005. [Note: when reading this, please bear in mind that rapists in Sudan, just before committing rape, have used razor blades to cut the clitoris and vaginas of their victims for easier penetration].

" ...The women fortunate enough to escape sexual violence during the destruction of their homes and military attack on their village face a tremendous risk of becoming victims even after fleeing to an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp. In the camps, women and girls have the responsibility of regularly venturing out to gather firewood for cooking, as men are likely to be killed for setting foot outside the camps. As nearby wood becomes depleted and the women wander further from the campground, militias that lurk just outside the camp often seize the opportunity to sexually assault them. The victims of rape in Darfur range from the very young (a 6-year-old has been a reported victim) to the elderly. There is no safety and security for females of any age in IDP camps.

In Sudanese society, many married women who are raped find themselves abandoned by their husbands and ostracized by their communities. Unmarried survivors of rape are considered soiled and unmarriageable. Some Darfurians maintain the belief that women cannot become pregnant through unwanted intercourse, which makes life even harder for many rape victims. The deep stigma of rape prevents many women from seeking appropriate medical attention. Physical injuries resulting from sexual abuse often include damage to the reproductive system, as well as fistula, a tearing of the wall between the vagina and bladder which causes incontinence. Such women, unable to bear children or unable to hold their urine, are likewise often shunned by their communities. Fistula can be repaired by surgery if the woman has access to and freedom to seek out proper medical attention -- which is unlikely. The dearth of adequate medical facilities and taboo against seeking medical attention mean that most rape victims will never be checked or treated for infection or the spread of HIV. ..."
- - -

Note, the next post here below features a report by Reuters today titled "Tens of thousands raped in East Congo" that highlights the plight of Congolese rape victims aged between 4 months and 80.

Men do not seem to be listening or helping enough. Perhaps the most effective way to get the message across real quick to the men of this world that they must protect women and children from such horrific violence, is for females to silently protest by withholding love and sex from their male partners. Heh. Listen up guys, I'm serious. In the olden days there were eunuchs you know ...

The ethnic conflict in Ituri was one of ICEG's first Genocide Alerts on February 20, 2000

The following editorial appears at the website of Inforce [International Forensic Centre of Excellence for the Investigation of Genocide], a registered charity based at Bournemouth University in England, UK.

Inforce UK assists in the DR Congo

At the request of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monuc), a successful preliminary forensic mission organised by the OHR and the DPKO was carried out in December 2002. This was a joint mission between EAAF and Inforce. Inforce was represented by experienced forensic archaeologist Ian Hanson.

The assessment located a number of mass graves in Kisangani and preliminary tests have shown that the corpses were buried between 1994 and 2001. Since 1992, Kisangani, a long-term seat of government, has been controlled by many different groups, including supporters of the late President of Rwanda (Mobutu Sese Seko) and the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie.

The ethnic conflict in Ituri province was the subject of one of the ICEG's first Genocide Alerts on February 20, 2000

Since that time, there have been many more massacres, and there is still no international peacekeeping force because the members of the U.N. Security Council are unwilling to spend the money necessary to send one. The UN Observer Mission in the Congo (MONUC) has an inadequate mandate and personnel to serve as a police force in Ituri province. Instead the armed force on the ground has been Uganda, which has its own agenda in the region and has not been even-handed.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have made appeals about the situation, though they have so far not called the massacres what they are: genocidal massacres. Like the State Department in 1994, they're unwilling to use the G word. So they have generally just called for adherence to international human rights law and an end to impunity. They will undoubtedly continue to issue reports, as will the International Crisis Group.

The sometimes unstated background for every report is the Rwandan genocide, where a group closely related to the Hema (Tutsi) were victims of genocide organized by a group closely related to the Lendu (Hutu). Even the claims of the Lendu to be the "original inhabitants" of the area, which was "invaded" by Nilotic cattle-herders, the Hema, has a chilling resemblance to the so-called Hamitic theory in Rwanda. But the lesson that a robust international police presence is required (furnished with a strong mandate and adequate armed resources) does not seem to have been learned. Instead, the UN and leading powers have again put their faith in negotiations plus a few international troops without the mandate to use force to stop massacres and capture those who commit them.

The timing of these massacres, just as Uganda is due to withdraw its forces, and while the Ituri Pacification Commission is considering its report, indicates that Lendu Power forces are attempting to polarize the population to make a settlement impossible. Ugandan military forces that profit from their occupation of Ituri may be aiding them so the Ugandans will be called upon to remain.
- - -

Also, Inforce points out that killings in the DRC have been reported by many Associated Foreign Press reporters. Below are two examples:

966 Congolese Are Killed in Attacks on Villagers

NAIROBI, April 6 (AP) - At least 966 people were killed in attacks on more than a dozen villages in northeastern Congo last week, United Nations officials said today after a preliminary investigation. It is not clear who carried out the attacks, which occurred in Ituri Province, the scene of some of the worst battles in Congo's 4 1/2-year civil war. Rival fighters, rebel factions and Ugandan troops all have been involved in the fighting in the mineral-rich province.

Witnesses told the United Nations investigators that the attackers included women and children, while others were men in military uniforms, said Manodje Mounoubai, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Congo.

"This is the worst single atrocity since the start of the civil war," he said.

Officials said the killing occurred over a period of just a few hours on Thursday in the Roman Catholic parish of Drodro and 14 surrounding villages. "The attack started with a whistle blow and lasted between five and eight hours," Mr. Mounoubai said.

United Nations military observers visited the area on Saturday and spoke to witnesses, survivors and local leaders who led them to 20 mass graves, he said.

Another spokesman for the United Nations mission, Hamadoun Touré, said the mass graves had "fresh blood on them." Investigators said some of the survivors were seriously wounded, mostly by machetes but also by bullets.

On Saturday, a Congolese rebel leader, Thomas Lubanga, accused Ugandan troops and fighters from an allied Congolese ethnic group, the Lendu, of carrying out the killings.

A Ugandan military spokesman, Capt. Felix Kulayigye, denied that any Ugandan troops were involved. He said 400 people had been killed in ethnic fighting.

An aid worker and a local leader in Bunia said that Ugandan forces were in the area when civilians were killed, but that they could not say whether the troops took part.

The rebel group draws its support from the Hema, who have traditionally fought with the Lendu for control of land and other resources.
- - -

April 6 (AFP) - Inter-ethnic massacres have claimed "hundreds of lives" in DR Congo's troubled northeastern Ituri region, sources said Sunday.

"They're talking about several hundred dead," General Kale Kaihura, commander of Ugandan troops in the region bordering Uganda, told AFP by telephone from the Ituri town of Bunia.

The casualties were found in the towns of Drodro and Largo and were said to be members of the Hema community. They died in an attack by members of the Lendu ethnic group, Ugandan officers said.

One of them, Capitain Felix Kulayigye, told AFP from Bunia that "between 350 and 400 members of the Hema community" had died. Kulayigye had gone to Drodro and Largo on Saturday as part of a fact-finding commission of Ugandan officials and members of the UN Observer Mission in Congo (MONUC).

The head of the rebel Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), Thomas Lubanga, later confirmed the massacres but said more than 900 people had died. Lubanga, who recently fought Ugandan troops in Ituri, accused the Ugandan army of having joined the Lendu fighters in their attack. But General Kaihura denied this and said he had sent his men to Drodro and Largo after having been informed by local chiefs.

Church officials told AFP they had received conflicting reports from their representatives in Drodro about what was going on in the two towns and said they would speak to the press once further information was coming in.

Ituri is rich in gold, oil, lumber and uranium resources. The region is inhabited by a large number of ethnic groups but nearly all side with either the majority Lendu or the minority Hema. Some 2,000 Ugandan troops, based in the Ituri region at the request of the United Nations to stop interethnic fighting, were to leave the area on April 24 when the mission of the Ituri Pacification Commission (IPC) ends.

The UN Observer Mission in Congo said the team had started its work in Bunia, dividing up into sub-committees dealing with different aspects of the province's difficulties and administration. The IPC is due to work on the issues of reconstruction, security, establishing the rule of law, and humanitarian assistance until April 12.

Two days later, parties involved were scheduled to sign an Ituri Peace and Reconstruction Accord.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

UN to replace Congo mission head

Thousands of people have fled ethnic violence in Ituri. The following is a copy of a BBC report, 5 March, 2005:

The head of the UN mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo is to leave his post. Top envoy William Lacy Swing will be replaced by a new special representative later in the year.

The UN mission in DR Congo has faced criticism after allegations that UN peacekeepers sexually exploited refugees in their care. UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said Mr Swing would remain in the job for the time being to allow for a smooth transition.

Violence has flared in the turbulent north-eastern Ituri region of DR Congo, where the UN has one of its largest missions, with more than 13,000 troops.

In late February, nine Bangladeshi peacekeepers died when they were ambushed whilst on patrol in the area and, on Tuesday, 50 militiamen were killed during a UN operation against the militia in the same area.

"The secretary general noted that Mr Swing evidently had his hands full across all these fronts and would need to show strong leadership in all these areas," Mr Eckhard said.

"They concluded that with his plate so full, this was not the moment for a sudden change of special representative," he added.

Last month, a UN team investigated 72 allegations of abuse by UN peacekeepers and civilian staff. According to its report, published in January, 26 of these claims were substantiated and included cases of girls as young as 12 being given small sums of money or food items in exchange for sex with soldiers based around the north-eastern town of Bunia.

In response, the UN introduced a strict non-fraternisation policy, banning its peacekeepers from having sex with local people. Six Moroccan soldiers were also arrested following the investigation.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

UN troops strike back in DR Congo

Here is a copy of a report from the BBC 2 March, 2005 that says the UN is determined to find those who killed nine UN peacekeepers:

United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have killed more than 50 militiamen in a gun battle in the east, the UN says. The battle was part of a major offensive against the FNI militia, accused of killing nine Bangladeshi UN soldiers in Ituri province last week.

Earlier the Congolese government said three FNI commanders had been detained. The three include the militia's leader, Floribert Ndjabu. The FNI denies any involvement in the attack on UN forces.

Tuesday's clash took place 30 km (19 miles) north of Bunia, Ituri's provincial capital.

"While on operation we were fired upon, so we immediately responded," said Col Dominique Demange, a spokesman for UN forces in DR Congo.

There are some 12,000 peacekeepers in the country, following a 2002 deal to end five years of civil war. But bitter ethnic fighting continues in Ituri. Violence between rival militias resumed in the mineral-rich province in December, and aid workers say tens of thousands of people have been displaced by the fighting - many fleeing to neighbouring Uganda.

Bangladesh, which is one of the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping operations around the world, has 1,300 troops in DR Congo.

Last week's attack was the deadliest against the UN mission since it was set up in the country in 1999.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4310593.stm

Congo warlords live high life

The following is a copy of a report by David Lewis courtesy Reuters Mar 2, 2005:

KINSHASA (Reuters) - On a humid night in Kinshasa, six men sit at a table littered with beer bottles.

This is no ordinary group of drinkers.

At the head of the table sits a government official, putting away beers at an impressive rate. The men either side are five of the most feared warlords from Congo's lawless Ituri district, celebrating new jobs as generals in the national army.

Some in Democratic Republic of Congo saw their appointment as an important step towards dismantling the plethora of armed militias in the mineral-rich district, where 50,000 people have died since 1999 and gunmen killed nine U.N. soldiers last week.

Others were appalled. They want Congo's fragile transitional government, or an international court, to investigate and prosecute several of these men for war crimes -- not reward them with high-ranking jobs in the fractious army.

"Appointments like these raise serious questions about the Congolese government's commitment to justice and human rights," said Alison Des Forges, senior adviser to the Africa division of the international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW).

When years of ethnic clashes in Ituri came to world attention in early 2003, a European intervention force was rushed to the main town Bunia and the United Nations now has nearly 5,000 peacekeepers, a third of its Congo force, in the district.

Since then, the U.N. and the government have been trying to pacify Ituri, bringing the militias into the wider peace process, which is struggling to stabilise Congo after a five-year war that sucked in six neighbouring countries.

But the killing of nine Bangladeshi blue helmets on February 25 has thrust the mayhem in Ituri back into the international spotlight, as well as the lack of progress in finding peace.

SMART SUITS AND CROCODILE SHOES

HRW said four of the generals appointed on January 10 -- Jerome Kakwavu, Bosco Taganda, Floribert Kisembo and Germain Katanga -- should be investigated for their roles in Ituri violence.

"Hundreds of witnesses have told Human Rights Watch these four commanders ordered, tolerated or personally committed ethnic massacres, murder, torture, rape, mutilation and the recruitment of child soldiers," the group said in a statement.

Ituri's warlords have instead come to the capital Kinshasa, where they sport gleaming new uniforms, live alongside U.N. chiefs and visiting dignitaries in the city's smartest hotel and say they are serving the government.

Never far from his cane, pistol or bodyguards, and dressed immaculately in Italian suits and crocodile shoes, Kakwavu says he is in the process of handing all his weapons over to the government and is ready to serve the country.

"I'm here in Kinshasa, working with the army and following orders from superiors on where I will be deployed," Kakwavu, head of a 5,000 strong, well-armed militia on Congo's border with Uganda and Sudan, told Reuters in Kinshasa.

The government hopes to disarm or incorporate fighters from Ituri -- where battles for control of diamond and gold mines and lucrative border crossings fuel the conflicts between ethnic militias -- into a cohesive national army.

But HRW says Kakwavu's FAPC militia is responsible for "widespread and serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture and rape", saying that in some cases, the newly-appointed general carried out the executions himself.

"These people are given false information. This is all propaganda -- the areas I controlled were peaceful. I have not been part of the ethnic war -- I was just protecting people," said Kakwavu, angrily rejecting the accusations.

CIVILIANS BEAR BRUNT

A costly disarmament programme kicked off in Ituri in September. Just under 2,500 fighters have handed in weapons -- far short of an ambitious target of 15,000 in three months.

And the conflict in the district is still simmering, with civilians continuing to bear the brunt of it.

Photographs of a massacre at a town called Lengabo, just outside Bunia, where 14 people were killed in September, show the charred corpses of small children, many of whom have had their arms or legs hacked off by machetes.

Nor is it difficult to find other pictures taken in Ituri of gunmen from various militias, high on drugs, coming back from a raid sporting their trophies -- the decapitated heads and limbs of neighbours they had just attacked.

The International Criminal Court is collecting evidence on crimes in Ituri and hopes to begin trials within a year -- a move organisations such as HRW support.

Some international officials have argued that bringing the warlords into state structures was the only way to pacify Ituri. But even they appear to be losing patience after the upsurge in violence and the killing of the peacekeepers.

"It was foreseen that taking these people out of Ituri would accelerate the disarmament and integration process but it seems that they have been sending the wrong message to their people on the ground," said U.N. mission spokeswoman Eliane Nabaa.

http://today.reuters.co.uk/News/newsArticle