The Common Good

Human Atrocities in Congo: What Can We Do?

100903-cellphoneBetween July 30 and August 3, a reign of terror was released upon villages in the Congo's eastern mining districts. Some 200 to 400 Rwandan and Congolese rebels raided villages in the North Kivu Province and gang-raped nearly 200 women and children. Women reported being raped in their homes in front of their husbands and children -- often repeatedly raped by three to six men. Aid workers have also treated four young boys (ages 1 month, six months, one year, and 18 months) who were raped. A UN peacekeeping force of 25 attempted to do what they could, but when they would arrive in a village the rebels would flee into the forest, and return as soon as the peacekeepers left. Survivors said the attackers were Congolese Mai-Mai rebels who had joined forces with the Rwandan rebel FDLR group (a group that includes perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide who fled across the border to Congo in 1994).

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Terror and rape as acts of control are common in the Congo, especially in the mining towns, where the rebels have much to gain from controlling the mines that supply much of the world's coltan and cassiterite (necessities in our ubiquitous modern electronics like cell phones and laptops). The locals, far from benefiting from supplying minerals to the world, call the minerals a curse for bringing such terrorism to their homes. And these rebel groups stay in power as they continue to receive funds from all of us willing to pay them just to continue our supply of cheap cell phones, no matter the cost to others. A cost that apparently includes the gang rape of one-month-old babies.

It is so disgusting and twisted that it is hard to put into words the rage it elicits. While America is in a dither about being offended by the presence of Muslims in our midst, this is what is happening in the world right now. We talk about fearing terrorism, but this is terrorism in the flesh. At some point we have to move beyond talk. We have to stop watching films like Hotel Rwanda just so we can seem caring and enlightened at our church "God at the Movies" night, and start working to ensure it doesn't happen again. Hatred, power, and money are all still fueling atrocities -- we have to get over our poor track record of caring about such things only in hindsight.

Feeling bad about the Holocaust, or Rwanda, or Bosnia, or Japanese internment camps is trendy years later. What takes guts is standing up and doing something about such things as they happen. That is never popular, and will get you called some nasty names as you encourage society to change and care. But what does it say about the state of our souls if we don't at least try?

To that end, I see three areas where we can start to take steps forward to deal with the larger issues at play here. And, yes, these are beyond the immediate care that is needed for these women and children and the instability of the moment. These try to get at the heart of the issues in society and culture, which is why they are hard and unpopular:

1. We need to campaign for conflict-free cell phones (and other electronics). Companies that purchase minerals from these areas need to be held accountable at all levels of the process. Buying from middlemen who buy from the terrorists does not absolve a company of guilt. Putting out a product as cheaply as possible should never be an excuse for supporting terrorist groups that maintain control through mass gang rape. I want the companies I support to be transparent in who they deal with. The world needs to know what their money is actually funding when they buy a cell phone. Last July's financial regulatory reform bill included language that will eventually make companies provide independent verification of their supply chain if they are buying minerals from Congo or nearby countries. Companies should also work on abiding by U.S. trade law and not import goods obtained through acts of terror. Consumers can also demand conflict-free items, letting the companies know that we are willing to pay what it costs to guarantee that we are not funding such rebel groups when we purchase a product. The consumer sets the demand, and it is up to us to demand a product that doesn't support gang rape. (To join the movement to keep conflict minerals from Congo out of electronics, visit RAISE Hope for Congo's action page.)

2. We need to start treating peacekeepers with the same respect we do the military. "Peace" is a dirty word in our country, while our troops are sent care packages, given discounts, and revered as heroes. But soldiers trained to otherize everyone have a hard time waging peace. Train a soldier to eliminate empathy for the other so that they can kill enemies, and it is hard to then expect them to switch into roles of protector, healer, and peacekeeper. We need more people strictly devoted to caring for and protecting others. Twenty-five UN peacekeepers to protect thousands from guerrilla fighters isn't enough. Instead of just sending out troops to destroy (in the name of protection), we need armies of people devoted to caring for others. And for that to be a reality, that job needs to be just as attractive and honored as those trained to eliminate others. Peacekeepers need the free ride to college, they need that half price movie ticket, they need parades in their honor, and days set aside to honor the work they do. To give the world the help it desperately needs, we need to raise up armies of peacekeepers willing to empathize, care, and protect so that the evil powers of this world will terrorize no more. (Learn more about UN peacekeeping efforts, and mark your calendars for May 29, the international day of UN peacekeepers.)

3. Finally, we need to emphasize the full equality of women. Men who are raised to see women as inferior (in whatever way) are more apt to objectify us. When women are inferior objects for a man to use -- as a subservient housewife, as a porn image, as a prostitute, or as a rape victim -- we become less than human. Men seek to control us physically, sexually, emotionally, and mentally. Controlling something that is inferior or weaker for one's own pleasure (be that sexual pleasure or the pleasure of power and money) is at the root of much injustice in this world. So often women bear the worst of any injustice because men were taught to see us simply as objects to be used in the power plays of life. All too often those that seek justice brush aside concerns regarding women's equality as merely a distraction -- something to be dealt with once the real justice issues are resolved. But as we see here, how women are viewed and treated is at the heart of the matter. Women are being gang raped as an act of control

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