Sunday, July 6, 2003

DRC UPDATE (part of an occasional series)

The French-led European Union peacekeeping force in the northeastern city of Bunia has reached its full force of 1,100 soldiers. Their mandate ends in just a few months. However, violence continues across Eastern Congo. NGOs state that the violence is actually increasing.

The Kivu region is experiencing horrid atrocities as two militias, one backed by neighboring Rwanda in its proxy war against Uganda (and for control of resources such as diamonds which are not covered by the Kimberley Process, coltan, and many more minerals) and another Congolese militia. Since April 5, villages, schools, health clinics and infrastructure have all been destroyed. In addition to the 'normal' systematic rapes of women and girls, men and boys are now being targeted.

Dr Denis Mukwege said he has already seen a number of men who had been raped, but never such a young victim.

'It is hard to comprehend why we are suddenly seeing this,' says Dr Mukwege. 'Homosexuality is taboo in our society. Is this a way of telling people they are worth nothing?'

If it is, this shocking new phenomenon is working. The men Dr Mukwege sees all feel 'diminished'. Many he says are in complete denial, insisting the rape never happened.

'However, when they insist on an AIDS test, then I know they know what happened,' he says.

All the NGOs in Bukavu Christian Aid spoke to have received reports of male rape and sodomy. For many years now they have been documenting reports of rape of women and young girls. All the details are carefully filed - the age, which can range from seven to 70, if it occurred in front of their husbands and their children, how many men were involved.

'Now, we are going to have to start keeping records of male rape,' says one human rights worker in despair.

The article goes on to state about the major concern of humanitarian agencies. I think it's implied (at least I sensed it) that there are those who feel inter-governmental organizations could do more.

Human rights workers in Bukavu are concerned about the new levels of violence and human rights abuses they are seeing. Rival governments arm all the rival militias in eastern Congo. Rwanda, Uganda and even Congo's own government are fighting proxy wars to gain control of the region and its fabled mineral wealth.

However, Canada yesterday pledged several million dollars in humanitarian aid.

There is a faint (very faint) glimmer of hope. A few days ago, DRC President Joseph Kabilia started a transitional government.

The international community has hailed the creation of Democratic Republic of Congo's new unity government, aimed at serving as a catalyst to democracy for the vast former Zaire and at ending a war that has killed more than two million people.

Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila named the government Monday, as DRC marked 43 years of independence from Belgium, and urged the Congolese people to put aside the ethnic differences that have divided the central African country, and finally unite their vast nation.

I raise a skeptical glass to a positve future for the DRC.

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