As we progress further into this course, it is important that we learn from past genocides and apply the lessons learned to current issues going on today. Typical news coverage has shown the atrocities in the Rwanda genocide and current problems in Syria, but there is a war going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that seems to get lost in the mix of violence in Africa. However, this is a situation that should not be taken lightly, for an estimated five million lives have been lost during the genocide. The two consecutive civil wars in the DRC between 1996 and 2003 are the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.
In the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide, Hutu perpetrators fled the nation into the eastern provinces of the DRC and formed the Forces Democratique de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR). This led to an invasion by Rwanda and Uganda, resulting in an overthrow of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. A man named Laurant Desire Kabila, who led the rebellion against Mobutu, declared himself President in May of 2007. Kabila declared war against his former allies Rwanada and Uganda, which drew in many other African countries into the conflict, nicknamed “Africa’s World War.”
Despite many peace agreements following the end of the war in 2002, the violence in DRC is ongoing and civilians continue to be targeted. In the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Orientale, both government and rebel forces have been launching attacks on civilians. The ongoing violence takes many forms and methods, including mass killings, rape, and torture.
One of the most shocking and disturbing facts about the Congo genocide is the pervasive sexual violence. DRC is rapidly becoming known as the rape capital of the world, as hundreds of thousands of women have been raped by armed militia. A 2011 study released by the American Journal of Public Health reported that over 1,000 women are raped daily; a rate of 48 women per hour. In some cases, rape is used as a weapon of war when armed soldiers infiltrate a village for food and loot, destroying entire communities. Militia groups and soldiers target all ages – including babies and elderly women. They are gang raped, raped with bayonets, and have guns shot into their vaginas, destroying their reproductive and digestive systems.
The conflict in the DRC is partly fueled by the desire for lucrative minerals in the country. Combatants used the revenue obtained from the mined materials to purchase weapons and ammunition, further enhancing military campaigns and enriching political warlords. Many groups have terrorized and captured local civilians, forcing them to work in the mines as slave labor. The precious minerals in the DRC end up in cell phones, computers, and other electronics we use daily. In 2010, Amnesty International reported that 43,000 children are working in mineral mines and around 4,000 children have been abducted by armed groups to fight as soldiers.
The recent wave of violence in the DRC was brought on by The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FDRC) and its leader Bosco Ntaganda. Nicknamed “The Terminator,” Ntanganda launched a mutiny after the government increased calls for his arrest for alleged war crimes. In April 2012, hundreds of soldiers loyal to Ntaganda abandoned their posts, sparking bloody clashes with loyalist troops. Mutinous soldiers later formed the March 23 (M23) rebel movement, a rebel group accusing Kinshasa for failing to uphold the 2009 agreement that integrated the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a group mainly comprised of ethnic Tutsi rebels, and other armed groups into the national army. “The Terminator” is facing numerous charges at the International Criminal Court. It is the longest list of charges anyone has faced at the ICC, and includes murder, rape, sexual slavery, pillaging and conscripting child soldiers.
Although violence is prevalent throughout the eastern provinces of the DRC, what is most troublesome about the situation is the lack of media coverage and attention it receives. It is important that people are informed of the desolation and crimes that are currently occurring in the DRC. Strengthening government structures in DRC plays a crucial role in preventing atrocities and protecting civilians from violence. The Congolese government and its regional neighbors need to ensure the protection of civilians as they address the threat posed by M23 and other armed groups. International donors and support can also play a huge role in making sure that the Congolese government implements critical reforms in its security sector to increase its ability to protect civilians from rape, slavery, and violence.
In conjunction with improved government reforms, similar military reforms need to be done to improve the credibility of the Congolese government. It is also important that military perpetrators are captured and charged for their inhumane crimes. Furthermore, neighboring countries should stop providing armed groups operating in DRC with shelter or support. If all of the following conditions are met, then there is a chance for the DRC regain peace and end the violence and terror that has damaged the country for the past decades.
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