According to Agenzia Fides, the Vatican’s official news agency, soldiers forcefully entered the homes of three activists from a human rights group called Coalition des Femmes Pour la Protection des Droits Humanis on Dec. 19. The three women ad hrecently traveled along rural areas of the country to raise awareness about power structures and the need for President Kabila to step down after his expired mandate. They received numerous telephone threats that may have been a precursor to the kidnapping and violence that they later faced.
Father Vincent Machozi, an Assumptionist Catholic priest who led the fight against the extractive industries and in support of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was assassinated on Sunday night, March 20, when members of Congolese military disrupted a peacemaking retreat at a village in Beni and murdered him in a hail of bullets. According to reports, onlookers said Fr. Machozi’s last words were: “Why are you killing me?”
THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC of Congo is one of the world’s poorest countries. In 2014, Congo ranked 186 out of 187 on the United Nations’ human development index—vying with Niger for the bottom of the list.
Yet Congo is extremely rich in soil, water, forests, and minerals. Diamonds, copper, gold, oil, uranium, and coltan are all mined, purchased, and traded from the DRC.
Coltan is the ore used in electronic devices. The so call “war of coltan” in the mineral-rich eastern Congo has left millions dead and more than a million women raped. Transnational corporations are able to exert extreme pressure on Congo’s weak government and economy. As a result, the country’s natural resources have become an important factor in increasing poverty and violence rather than wealth and development.
The Catholic bishops in Congo (about half of the country’s population is Catholic) repeatedly have denounced three specific kinds of evil: a climate favoring genocide, outbreaks of religious fundamentalism, and a push toward Balkanization.
Sébastien Muyengo, author of In the Land of Gold and Blood, is the Catholic bishop of Uvira in eastern Congo. As a result of the mineral wars, he writes, the country’s poverty has become a mental, human, and structural poverty, rather than predominantly material. Yet Congo has resources the rest of the world wants.
Advent is a time for stories. In my childhood, these weeks were filled with Sunday school pageants, beautifully illustrated children's books, and swapping out Legos for the figurines in my mom’s Nativity collection. My favorite part of the Advent story was always the gathering of unlikely companions — magi, shepherds, angels, and a menagerie of farm animals. This year, I find the Advent story accompanied by another, and it starts like this:
Gold, frankincense, myrrh: precious gifts carried by three magi for the King of kings and Lord of lords. Gold, coltan, diamonds: precious gifts of Creation held in the earth of Congo, taken by the "kings" of powerful nations for the commodities of their people. Coltan alone can be found in the cell phones, hearing aids, and prosthetic devices we use in the West every day. These gifts have become a curse with the massacre of over 5.5 million Congolese, numbers nearly equal to the Holocaust. Yet Congo’s conflict remains mostly silent.
Three elderly Italian nuns murdered in Burundi were laid to rest Sept. 11 in a Xaverian cemetery in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid heightened calls for action about their death.
Sister Lucia Pulici, 75, Sister Olga Raschietti, 82, and Sister Bernadetta Boggian, 79, of the Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary were gruesomely murdered Sunday in their convent in the Kamenge area of Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura.
The triple murders shocked Christians across the globe and ignited calls for the protection of sisters worldwide. The nuns were reportedly beaten and killed with a knife. At least one nun was decapitated. There were conflicting reports about whether they had been raped.
Angélique Namaika, a Roman Catholic nun, rides a bicycle on the rutted roads of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeastern province of Orientale, which is plagued by rebel violence.
On these same roads, the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Christian rebel group led by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed prophet of God, has been killing, abducting, and mutilating women and children.
But none of that has deterred Sister Namaika from helping displaced women learn trades, start small businesses, and go to school.
I can still see in my mind’s eye the vibrantly colored wraps draping the hundreds of displaced women I met at Joborona Camp in Northern Sudan. The stories they told, of blazing huts in Southern Sudan and their men burning alive inside; of their boys forced to fight and kill at ages as young as six or seven; and of their girls taken and forced into sexual slavery seemed impossible to be true. Yet I heard them again and again.
And if these stories weren’t horrific enough, it was the stories the women chose not to share that haunt me the most. Their empty eyes and void expressions told me all I needed to know.
I know empty eyes. I have gazed into them in Bosnia and Croatia. I remember Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. I have witnessed them in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — where it is believed that one million girls and women have stories to tell of the gender-based violence they have endured. I have been confronted by the eyes of our sisters from Darfur, who risk their dignity, their bodies, and in some cases their very lives by leaving their refugee camps to collect firewood for their small cooking stoves (those who are lucky enough to have one). It is in the bush, often, that they are victims of sexual and gender-based violence. These are the countless women who risk being raped so their children can eat.
March 8 was designated as International Women’s Day by the United Nations in 1975. While the world has seen significant progress in rights and empowerment for women and girls, sexual and gender-based violence still touches every part of the globe and is tragically widespread in some areas. Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo face shockingly high rates of rape, including reports of mass rapes by soldiers, especially in the conflict-ridden province of Kivu. One Christian hospital, operated by the Free Methodist Church in the Nundu mission, works to treat injured women and heal psychological trauma.
Grace (not her real name) had spent the day working in the fields near her home in Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The 42-year-old mother was walking home with her two daughters, ages 20 and 16, when they were stopped by a group of 15 uniformed men. All three of the women were raped by the men and left with horrible injuries. They were brought to the Nundu Hospital, operated by the Free Methodist Church, where they received medical and psychological treatment for four weeks.
The Nundu Hospital identified 1754 survivors of sexual violence in 2012, and all but 98 of those were women or girls, according to Dr. Lubunga Eoba Samy, medical coordinator for the Free Methodist Church and coordinator of the hospital’s Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Project. This project aims to reduce the occurrence of sexual violence by promoting human rights, raising awareness and strengthening the capacity of community-based organizations to address the issue. It also includes training of local authorities and improving coordination among local non-governmental organizations.
Overall, the conflict minerals provision will have a positive effect on promoting peace and stability in Congo — but a slow one. The rule gives major companies a two-year window to implement the regulations,despite the fact that the slow release of the rule has already caused aninherent one-year delay.
Given today’s intense political climate, particularly regarding corporate responsibility and regulation standards, the release of this rule took over a year, making Wednesday’s vote a truly long-awaited and important day. The rule is a win for both American consumers and those seeking peace in Congo. However, it also appears to have been weakened to placate the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, who have both threatened lawsuits on behalf of big-business lobbies.
According to the SEC, both provisions drew in some of the most intense public pressure, accumulating hundreds of phone calls to their offices and thousands of petition signatures for the release of strong rules. Many of activists who understand their unique connection to the conflict in eastern Congo through consumer electronics products, have joined organizations like the Enough Project and faith communities, in raising their concern as consumers to pressure electronic companies and governments to clean up the supply chain of conflict minerals. It’s been a journey of advocating with Congolese civil society for a clean supply chain that benefits rather than destroys communities in eastern Congo.
“Peace for humanity is not only the absence of war, or the end of violence ... For us Christians, peace is based on a fundamental new relationship between mankind and God. That is why Christ said he brought peace, ‘not as the world gives.’ He brought a different peace.” – Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, known as Don Samuel, a champion of the poor and of the indigenous people in southern Mexico
Eastern Congo is home to some of the world’s most stunning scenery—and some of its most brutal and unimaginable violence. The relationship between these two symbols of the region is a close one.
Part of the call of Christian peacemakers is not only to make peace between people a reality, but also to bring peace between people and the planet. In his work, conservationist Dominique Bikaba recognizes that peace between people and peace with our environment are closely intertwined, and he is seeking to bring about both.
Armed groups are waging war in eastern Congo, taking no heed of the grave impact that the conflict is having on the environment around them. The resources of the region are being exploited, to the detriment of future generations. This disregard for the communities of the region is a modern-day salting of the land. It’s a practice well known to the people of Israel in the Old Testament, in which armies would spread salt on the land of their adversaries so that nothing would grow there (see Judges 9:45).
The conflict in Congo is being waged on local communities—but Dominique is a problem-solver. He is seeking creative ways to conserve these communities while conserving the environment they inhabit, fostering the inherent relationship between the two. He is “bringing the forest to the community.”
“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” –Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States from 1933-45
“If we just sat with crossed arms, what would happen then?” is the question Denise, a Congolese civil rights attorney, asks us.
She has seen the destruction of her home through natural disaster and the pain of thousands of Congolese women who are raped every year. Still, she is faithful with the calling that she has been given—working to prosecute the cases she can to help rape survivors seek justice and find the hope to continue on.
Denise knows that to make peace, it is necessary to restrain and often punish the evil that humans do to one another.
“The Bible takes evil seriously and clearly says that evildoers should be held accountable for their deeds, and that the state has the legitimate role of bringing to justice those who perpetrate terrible crimes,” writes Jim Wallis in a July 2011 Sojourners’ column, “The Things That Make For Peace.”
But Denise’s work does not focus just on the punishment of those who commit rape but on the restoration of the survivors.
“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.” – Etty Hillesum, Dutch diarist who died at Auschwitz
The social fabric that wove together Amani’s moral values and passion for peace is the target of rebel groups that destabilize and destroy communities. Amani grew up playing football and attending school and church in an area that has been chronically unstable for the past 16 years.
Despite the threat, Amani learned within his local structures the power of community in overcoming insecurity—the hub for gaining moral and intellectual values “to make every effort to come together and live as a community.”
Congo is still suffering from the overspill of the Rwandan genocide, the aftermath of which took the lives of both of Amani’s parents. Rebel groups roam the Kivu provinces of eastern Congo and seek to unravel the very social fabric of Amani’s community.
Taking heart from the moral lessons he gained from playing football with his school and through his education, Amani decided to overcome the insecurity caused but he rebels by bringing people together by providing a peace market—a community nucleus for women, children, and men to gather in a safe, empowered, and peaceful environment to care for one another.
As conflict, rape, and other human rights abuses continue in eastern Congo, armed groups are still funding themselves with conflict minerals — gold, tin, tantalum, and tungsten — which are often used in the manufacture of cell phones, computers, and other electronics. Now advocacy group The Enough Project has issued a new report card about how well different corporations are doing at cleaning up their supply chain to avoid contributing to violence.
Some companies, such as Intel and HP, are doing much better than others — get an ethical clue, Nintendo! — but everyone has some room for improvement.
Faith, for many in eastern Congo, is a source of hope in an environment where optimism is often in short supply. Many Congolese consider faith communities to be among the few trusted institutions in a society (and a government) rife with corruption.
As the situation in eastern Congo has markedly worsened in recent weeks, the church and faith communities have been at the center of efforts to end violence and create space for peace.
Violence has rapidly escalated in eastern Congo since a new rebel movement known as M23 emerged in April. M23 is composed of several hundred Congolese soldiers, loyal to the former Rwandan backed rebel movement — the CNDP — who were subsumed into the Congolese army in 2009 as part of an opaque peace agreement between the rebels and the governments of Congo and Rwanda.