Deep Dark Congo
Tim Butcher in his incredible travel book 'Blood River' describes the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as "the broken heart of Africa". It is a broken heart which is so mysterious and dark to us in the West, that most of us are not aware, or are somehow not outraged, that it is the scene of such incredible violence, murder, theft, and inhuman brutality that we cannot even conceive of it. Why does it get so little attention? Is it because we feel helpless? Is it because we don't know? Or is it because it is this mysterious, deep, dark, other which we can ignore because it is so distant, and because to open our eyes in part incriminates us.
On Wednesday, Rabbis David Mitchell and Colin Eimer organised with Vava Tampa from Save The Congo to take a petition signed by 61 Progressive Rabbis to the foreign office. Rabbis Janet Burden, Janet Darley and myself joined, as did supporters Baroness Cox and David Amess MP. An extract from the petition helps to highlight some of the problems:
"Any system which allows the murder of innocent civilians at the behest of a cruel regime must be an affront to humanity and to the strong ethical exigency within Judeo-Christian teaching. The world has still not learned the lesson of the genocide of the last century. The imperative ‘Never again,’ that emerged out of the Holocaust, tragically continues to be transmuted into ‘Again’ and yet ‘Again’.
For the last 13 years this has been the plight of the Congolese people. They have been decimated by wars that are being waged for the control of the Congo’s easily appropriable and highly valuable natural resources. There is already a devastating catalogue of atrocities, including: mass killings and displacement, the destruction of livelihood, an orchestrated campaign of sexual atrocities against women, men and children and an humanitarian crisis on a scale that defies comprehension. Millions have died, countless of them women at the hands of endorsed rapists, and millions will continue to perish from the ensuing HIV-AIDS pandemic.
Whilst we await the specific policy details of your strategy to help to save the Congo, we implore you to:
1. support and strengthen MONUSCO with the needed helicopters, heavy transport, intelligence and staff to effectively carry out its mandate;
2. hold accountable those alleged by the UN, or indicted by the ICC, to have orchestrated, perpetuated, ordered or financed crimes under international humanitarian and human rights laws;
3. bring additional pressure on the Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian authorities to ensure that their territories are not used as a trading or transit ground for conflict minerals from the Congo or for weapons that fall into the hands of armed groups in the Congo;
4. ensure that corporations within your jurisdiction trading in minerals in the Great Lakes region of Africa observe due diligence standards, as set out by the UN and OECD, and bring considerable pressure on the Congolese authorities to end their militarisation of mines."
Just one story that was told to me outside the Foreign Office by our Congolese friends: A woman was raped by a militia, upon the remains of her recently murdered husband. She has now become a campaigner for raped women and is considered a source of strength for so many. The stories of the victims (the civilians) and survivors of the DRC are incredibly distressing, depressing, and in this case, awe inspiring.
One of the biggest challenges right now is just making the voice of Congo and her innocent civilians heard. It is such a vast place, and so little is known in the West, and even less feels possible, but we must make this voice heard, and change must come. Genocide and rape should not be quietly unrecognised and shrugged off because we feel helpless. Not to mention our implicit and often unknown culpability through the theft of the Congo's rich mineral resources. The people of Congo need something to change, and we must must must stand up and shout. Do find out more at www.savethecongo.co.uk