What can I do?

I had the great privilege of sharing a small glimpse of what I learned in Congo and about the brave and courageous Congolese women during all three services at Quest today. It is often very hard for Americans to comprehend these types of atrocities and it is common to feel paralyzed to do anything about them. Many of us go through a cycle of grief, guilt, and paralysis and then over again. I know that I do.
I believe that the Holy Spirit is the only one who can move us from paralysis to action. We must believe that prayer in itself is action. Henri Nouwen has written about peacemaking this way, “It must begin with a life of prayer, a movement from “the dwelling place” of fear and hatred and into the house of God.”
I want to simply ask that you would pray for peace to come to Congo. Pray this everyday. Allow the Holy Spirit to move you.
I do believe that prayer is the action. I also believe that we as Americans have the privilege and the responsibility to speak up and speak out against injustice. I have included some links here for ways you can write to your Congress people. In the past, I have been cynical about these mass mailings, but I believe it is like a Congolese woman told me, “Peace comes one drop of rain at a time.” So, I will continue to add my one-drop of rain and I will continue to encourage others to do the same.
If you are interested in hearing more about what is going on in Congo, please feel free to contact me, through this blog or at: unjin@seattlequest.org
Two women from my delegation were interviewed by NPR Worldview last week. You can listen to the interview here:
http://audio.wbez.org/wv/2006/11/wv_20061121b.m3u

A petition from International Rescue Committee:
http://ga3.org/campaign/drcongo_bill

Advocacy information from World Vision:
http://www.worldvision.org/donate.nsf/child_news/tawv_drcongo_20061121?Open&lid=Congo_tawv&lpos=today

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November 27, 2006 at 4:08 pm 2 comments

Diary from Human Rights Watch

This article gives a very comprehensive look at the current socio-political state in Congo.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

Diary

19 October 2006

At the old Catholic mission on a steep hill just outside the gold-mining town of Kilo in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, hundreds of people gathered outside the school, built by Belgian missionaries at the end of the 19th century and now crumbling. The priest, Abbé Jean Pierre, stood at the top of the church steps. ‘This is a historic day for Congo,’ he said. ‘This is the day we vote for peace.’ Barely a hundred yards from the polling station, there is a mass grave. Three years ago, dozens of people were killed here in a single day: the victims, mostly civilians, were stripped, thrown face down on the ground and attacked with spears.

This summer’s elections were Congo’s first for more than forty years. No presidential candidate won an outright majority, so the people will go to the polls again on 29 October. In July, voter turnout was a remarkable 70 per cent. An elderly blind man at a polling station just south of Kilo told me he had walked thirty miles through the forest to vote, led by his granddaughter. ‘I am tired of war,’ he said.

For five years between 1998 and 2003, armies from six African nations fought in Congo, backing a host of local rebel groups. When the foreign armies withdrew, a transitional government was installed in Kinshasa. In this vast country with few roads and almost no electricity, elections were to be organised within just three years with the planning and logistical support of the UN. The fractious government, composed of former enemies, spent much of its time squabbling while local warlords continued to devastate the east of the country. It took international investment of more than £200 million and much arm-twisting by diplomats to enable the July poll to take place.

Three weeks after election day, on the night the first-round results were to be announced, gun battles broke out in Kinshasa between the Republican Guard of President Joseph Kabila and the troops of his main challenger, Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba. United Nations peacekeeping troops had to evacuate the president of the Independent Electoral Commission when the fighting got too close to his office. There were 33 candidates, and Kabila emerged as the front-runner; two days of street battles followed. At one point, 14 ambassadors were trapped in Bemba’s residence, where they had gone to urge calm, while presidential guards exchanged fire with Bemba’s troops in the streets outside. Dozens of people died in these skirmishes.

Congo’s problems are never going to be fixed by elections alone. The July election simply legitimated those who had previously gained power through force. Kabila and Bemba, together with Azarias Ruberwa, another vice-president and the former leader of a Rwandan-backed rebel group, were the only three candidates who, thanks to their access to government funds and their control of private armed forces, were able to conduct a national campaign. But the campaign was dominated by Bemba and Kabila, who had media outlets and airplanes at their disposal. Kabila took credit for the peace agreement that ended Congo’s war. Bemba made much of his Congolese roots, claiming he was more of a ‘man of the soil’ than Kabila, who grew up in Tanzania.

Ambassadors from 15 governments devised a structure to help guide Congo’s transition to democracy. But they dismissed concerns about corruption and private militias: it would be unproductive, they said, to push too hard for change at such a delicate time. Congo’s only well-established opposition party didn’t even take part in the election. A non-violent party, Etienne Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress had refrained from playing any part in Congo’s war. Because Tshisekedi wasn’t a signatory to the final peace accords, he was excluded from a ministerial position in the carve-up that followed, and lacked the access to government resources that allowed other contenders to influence the election process. Efforts by the international community to include him came too late. By then the UDSP had already urged its supporters not to register to vote.

Patrice Lumumba, who came to power in 1960 when the Congo gained its independence from Belgium, is so far Congo’s only democratically elected leader. He held power for three months before being deposed in a coup and then assassinated. After four years of extreme instability, Mobutu Sese Seko, Lumumba’s former secretary, engineered another coup, and renamed the country Zaire. His 32 years of dictatorship were characterised by corruption on such a massive scale that it led to the coining of the term ‘kleptocrat’. He took the country into a long economic decline. Mobutu’s end came about as a result of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which had a cataclysmic effect on the politics of the entire region. Finally, the Rwandan army marched on Kinshasa and ousted Mobutu, who had provided support to Rwanda’s genocidal leaders. Laurent Kabila, the leader of a rebel alliance backed by Rwanda (and Joseph Kabila’s father), was installed as president – and declared that Zaire would now be called the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The new regime differed little from the old. Kabila quickly adopted the practices which Mobutu had perfected: corruption, economic mismanagement and favouritism towards the family clan. Seeking to free himself from the Rwandan support that had helped him to victory, he launched new campaigns of ethnic hatred against anyone linked to Rwanda, including the Congolese Tutsi who shared some cultural characteristics with the Tutsis across the border. Unwilling to lose their new influence in mineral-rich Congo, and concerned about the targeting of Congolese Tutsi, Rwanda and Uganda launched a new Congo war in 1998, which eventually drew in other African countries. When, in January 2001, Kabila was assassinated by one of his bodyguards in the presidential palace in Kinshasa, his 29-year-old son Joseph succeeded him as president. Joseph Kabila and the main rebel leaders signed a power-sharing agreement in Sun City, which led to the establishment of a transitional government with four vice-presidents, one from each of the main rebel groups that had fought in the war.

In King Leopold’s day men fought over rubber and ivory in Congo; today it is gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt and coltan (columbite-tantalite, used in laptops and mobile phones). Rwandan, Ugandan and Zimbabwean army officers, as well as the Congolese elite, have grown rich from the war. In Mongbwalu, a gold-mining town in north-eastern Congo, warlords battled for two years for control of the town and its mines. More than two thousand civilians died in the battles. Tens of thousands of others were forced to flee into the forests; many did not survive.

The UN found that dozens of European and North American corporations had violated international business norms in their operations in Congo. So far not a single one has been penalised, although several have altered their practices as a result of bad publicity. Swiss gold refineries, for example, agreed to stop purchasing gold from Uganda that had been mined in Congo when Human Rights Watch convinced them that the international gold trade provided a revenue stream to armed groups responsible for mass murder.

The exploitation of Congo’s resources has accelerated with the end of war and the advent of the transitional government. World Bank officials told me privately that the number of grants for exploration rights in important mineral-rich areas increased fourfold in 2005. Many of the deals involved dubious provisions that will do little for the development of the country. The competition for mineral resources hits the Congolese people hard. Last year, in the mines of Bavi, also in the north-east, government soldiers used villagers as slave labour, forcing them to do the digging and threatening to kill anyone who refused to comply. One local chief was arrested, beaten and put in a hole used as an underground prison.

One of the largest threats to Congolese civilians is the new Congolese army itself, which is comprised of soldiers from disbanded rebel groups and the old national army. Ten days after the July elections, I saw two soldiers marching a small group of civilians along the road from Gethy, another town in north-eastern Congo. They were carrying chairs, benches and corrugated metal roofing on their heads. My companion – a Congolese human rights activist – and I stopped to ask questions. One of the women, carrying a child on her back and a church bench on her head, said nothing but as she looked at us, her hands trembled. ‘There is no problem,’ one of the soldiers laughed. ‘We are escorting these people for their own safety.’ It turned out that they were all members of the same family, who had been forced to flee their home two months earlier when soldiers had burned down their village. On the day we came across them, they had been searching for food in the fields when the soldiers arrived and took them to the church at gunpoint. The men were instructed to remove the metal sheeting from the roof and the women ordered to carry the chairs and benches. The soldiers threatened to kill them all if they failed to obey. My companion pointed out to the soldiers that their actions were illegal, and on this occasion, the soldiers backed down.

Congolese civilians fear the new national army, just as they feared Leopold’s Force Publique – whose policy was to sever the hands of those who refused to collect rubber – and Mobutu’s security forces, which were known for their wide-scale looting and violence. Mobutu’s forces twice pillaged Kinshasa, in 1991 and 1993. Earlier this year, a group of twenty people fleeing a battle between the army and a rebel militia hoped they had found safety in a church in the village of Nyata. They were wrong. Dozens of soldiers opened fire from the door and through the windows. Seven people were killed, including two babies. When the firing stopped, a local leader asked the soldiers why they’d done it. ‘This is not our problem. It’s your problem,’ the soldiers replied.

The army is riddled with corruption. Every month the top brass steals an estimated £1.5 million from funds set aside for soldiers’ salaries. It’s easy: they inflate the numbers of soldiers in the ranks with an army of ‘ghost soldiers’ and pocket the extra cash. International donors have taken to babysitting the cash as it makes its way down to the foot soldiers. This has helped, but even those privates who receive the full salary of £13 a month have barely enough to live on, and the incentive to loot and extort remains strong.

Two years ago, the International Criminal Court announced its investigation into crimes committed in eastern Congo, and in March this year it made its first arrest, seizing Thomas Lubanga, a warlord responsible for torture, rape and ethnic massacres, in Ituri district in the north-east. No action has yet been taken against other militia groups or against soldiers from the Rwandan and Ugandan armies. ‘This is selective justice,’ one community leader said to me. ‘It will not help us uncover the truth of what happened and why we have suffered so much.’

American and European diplomats grumble that the cost of UN peacekeeping in Congo comes to more than $1 billion a year. They would like to reduce the number of blue helmets soon after the elections and declare Congo’s transition successful. But too hasty a reduction will make the establishment of an effective civilian administration more difficult. ‘We were here when it was a mess forty years ago,’ one senior UN official told me, ‘and if we don’t help to fix it now we will be here again in forty years’ time.’

Anneke Van Woudenberg is a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch.

November 9, 2006 at 2:41 pm Leave a comment

tears no longer fall

i can’t stop thinking about the 12 year old girl we met at panzi hospital in bukavu. she was recovering from a fistula surgery and will have to use a catheter for an indefinite amount of time. i want to be sensitive and not just talk and write about the rapes. i want to talk about the strength of the congolese women. i want to share about their incredible hospitality. about their will to survive. but today, i cannot stop thinking about what happened to this 12 year old girl.

dr. meweke, the medical director of panzi hospital, (one of only two hospitals in all of congo that perform the fistula surgery) shared with us that many of the women who have been so brutalized by rape just “choose to die.” they do not commit suicide, they do not die of internal physical injuries. they just choose to die by disappearing into themselves. they stop talking. they stop eating. hope and strength disappates from their eyes. emptiness remains. tears no longer fall because tears require emotion.

i sat with this 12 year old girl for only a few minutes. stroking her hand and praying that for a brief moment, she would know that she is brave. her survival is more bravery than most will experience.

last year alone, panzi hospital performed 3600 fistula surgeries and this number is already increased for 2006. since 1999, over 12,000 women have been treated for fistula surgery at panzi. there are close to 200 women waiting in a open air warehouse/waiting area each day for surgery.

today, i can’t stop thinking about that 12 year old girl and i can’t make the tears well up in my eyes. i want to cry today, but tears won’t seem to fall.

November 8, 2006 at 11:46 pm 1 comment

one week and counting

I leave for Congo one week from today.  I had the pleasure of meeting some former World Vision (www.worldvision.org) colleagues of mine for lunch today.  Three amazing women who use their gifts and skills of leadership and administration to further the transformative work of God through World Vision.

Working for World Vision  allowed me to grow in my understanding of poverty, violence and disease in the world, with particular attention to Africa.  It is through World Vision that I first learned of the violence against women in  Congo, through the organization’s projects serving orphans and vulnerable children, many of whom are victims of sexual exploitation or orphaned by violent rape to their mothers and forced escape or abandonment by their fathers.  The invitation extended to CPT by the women and families in Congo reflects hope and trust that change can occur.  As many western NGO’s continue to enter developing countries espousing their opinions and dominant culture values of how to fix problems or hand out bandages to solve systemic issues, it is refreshing and significant that CPT has cultivated it’s response by listening to what the women in Congo have voiced as their need.

October 10, 2006 at 10:56 pm Leave a comment

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October 10, 2006 at 10:44 pm Leave a comment

Watch CNN Anderson Cooper 360

Anderson Cooper from CNN is currently in the Eastern DRC, Goma, to be specific, and will be reporting on the situation there every evening at 7 pm PST. This is very encouraging to have a mainstream, cable news network covering the situation in Congo. One point that I hope the show is able to deliver is the fact that we are all tied to Congo. Our daily lives; our technology, the use of our cell phones and laptops are only made possible by the mining of resources in Congo. The small things that keep our daily lives efficient are purchased at a great cost to the women, children and families of Congo.

Thursday’s show

Killing Fields: Africa’s Misery, The World’s Shame
Live from Africa: “360°” looks at how children in the killing fields of the Congo find hope in the face of unspeakable horror. Tune in tonight at 10 ET.
• Watch: Peacekeepers’ lonely task (3:31)
• Watch: Violent history of Congo (3:15)

October 5, 2006 at 10:08 pm 1 comment

What needs to be done???

An excellent resource for reading the latest on what is happening in the DRC as well as learning about all the different socio-political issues that are affecting civilians is: http://www.crisisgroup.org.

The following information is from their website:

The current situation

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) held its first free elections in 40 years on 30 July 2006. Results of the polls, released on 20 August, revealed a regional divide in the country’s electorate: the incumbent, Joseph Kabila, polled strongest in the eastern half of the country, while contenders Jean-Pierre Bemba, Antoine Gizenga and Nzanga Mobutu made relatively strong showings in the west. The polls were deemed free and fair by observers; poll violence and irregularities in counting were sporadic. A run-off between Kabila and Bemba is scheduled for 29 October, to coincide with provincial elections.

Tensions between the supporters of the two front-runner candidates have remained high, and a three-day gun battle broke out between the two camps in Kinshasa just before results were announced, leading to over 30 deaths before a MONUC-brokered truce came into effect. Both candidates have pledged to work together to ensure a safe second round, but the potential for further violence remains high. Supporting efforts to maintain peace in Kinshasa and beyond, particularly by the EU’s EUFOR troop contingent, should remain an immediate priority of the international community, but the continuing transition to a stable government will bring further challenges.

What needs to be done

In a recent op-ed, Crisis Group’s Jason Stearns joins Michela Wrong in addressing some of the challenges facing the DRC beyond July’s elections:

In its four recent reports on the Congo, Crisis Group has made the following recommendations:

One: free and fair elections. The parliament must pass key electoral laws; President Kabila must keep his commitment to appoint new local administrations that fairly reflect the power-sharing agreement signed in Pretoria in 2002; and the international community must set up an effective system for monitoring the elections 2006.

Two: good governance and justice. A joint donors/Congolese mechanism should be implemented to curb state corruption; donor aid should be tied to specific progress on good governance and strengthening Congolese institutions, in particular the judiciary and parliamentary commissions; a specialised human rights chamber should be established within the court system to supplement the work of the International Criminal Court; and the Security Council should enact targeted sanctions against the violators of the arms embargo.

Three: an integrated national army and police force to establish security. Donors should create an International Military Assistance and Training Team (IMATT) to integrate all aid and training for the new security forces; assistance for security sector reform should be increased and a working group established to coordinate support for police development. For more information, see Crisis Group report, Security Sector Reform in the Congo, 13 February 2006.

Four: disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of the FDLR. Peaceful efforts to entice the Rwandan Hutu rebels (FDLR) home must be exhausted, with Rwanda clarifying which officers it intends to prosecute for genocide and offering more generous incentives for others to return; there should be international monitoring of the return process and targeted Security Council sanctions against hard-line leaders, especially those in Europe. In parallel, there should be preparation for, and commencement of, military pressure on the FDLR, with MONUC taking the initial lead.

Five: fulfilment of MONUC’s mandate to protect civilians. The UN Security Council needs to authorise more troops for MONUC; the EU and other donors should give it greater access to intelligence assets; and either MONUC’s mandate should be formally strengthened or its concept of operations should be clarified to ensure that it acts more robustly and proactively against the FDLR and other armed groups.

September 20, 2006 at 5:31 am Leave a comment

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