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Speakers discuss conflict in the Congo

Published: April 26, 2013
Section: News


Exploring the brutal sexual abuses committed against women in the Congo, the event “War Over Minerals in the Congo, I don’t want my cell phone to fuel a war” showcased the devastation of economic warfare. It began with a film screening of the documentary, “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo,” the event incorporated a panel of Congolese speakers who discussed the vast human rights violations stemming from the exploitation of resources utilized in electronic devices, including cell phones.

Directed by Lisa F. Jackson, the documentary depicts speakers arguing that “rape has always been used as a weapon of war.” According to the film, hundreds of thousands of women and underage girls have been raped in the course of 10 years, to be left “invisible, shamed and silent.” More than 4 million people have died as a consequence of the war raging in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Jackson reveals her personal impetus behind capturing the voices of women who have been victimized and traumatized within the Congo, stating, “if I told a woman my own story, she would break the silence that surrounded hers.” At 25 years old, Jackson herself was gang raped by a group of three men, though her attackers were never found.

Traveling across the Great Lakes region, Jackson spoke with victims who had endured sexual violence, international volunteers and doctors who witness trauma on a regular basis and countless other individuals. One of the men interviewed in the film blatantly revealed that “if she says no, I must take her by force.”

Beyond the violence and brutality endured by victims of rape, the social isolation and stigmas suffered by these women only perpetuate the severity of the situation. One such woman, who was pregnant when she was raped by multiple soldiers, reveals that “he [her husband] tells the children I want to be raped.” Conveying her suffering, she states, “My heart is broken. I know that wherever I go people will say that woman was raped. I hated myself.”

Another victim of sexual violence expressed her desire to marry, even though women who have endured sexual assault are rejected by their spouses and spurned by the community. She explains that “in our country, people consider sexual violence a taboo.”

Tracing the bloody history of the Congo, the documentary depicts the implicit role of foreigners within the human rights violations. According to the film, more than $1 million worth of minerals utilized in electronic devices are stolen from the Democratic Republic of the Congo every day. Despite the presence of more than 17,000 peacekeepers from the United Nations, the area is still raged by war and the continued acts of sexual violence, committed by both Congolese and foreign militias.

The documentary captures the scene of soldiers extorting money from villagers, who are rendered defenseless against the very entities designed to protect them. Depicting the gravity of the situation, the film reveals that it is not only the Congolese militia that is responsible for human rights violations. According to the documentary, peacekeepers from the U.K. have been accused of committing rape, with 19 recently investigated for exchanging milk and eggs for sex with girls as young as the age of 10.

The documentary takes viewers within the confines of the Panzi hospital, where women are treated for injuries suffered as a consequence of rape. One of the doctors reveals the unusual lesions and mutilations he has witnessed in patients as young as 2 years old to women in their eighties, stating that “this is the monstrosity of this century.” Suffering injuries caused by guns, sticks and other objects used to destroy the wall of the uterus and cause severe mutilation, many of these patients undergo multiple operations, although they may be forced to suffer chronic pain for the remainder of their lives.

Following the conclusion of the documentary, a panel of speakers debated the nature of the crisis within the Congo. Alain Lempereur, The Alan B. Slifka professor here at Brandeis, emphasized that “it is not about us and them.” He acknowledges the rapes and massacres committed by members of troops from the U.N.

Jeanne Kasongo L. Ngondo, or Mama Jeanne, president and founder of the Shalupe Foundation, emphasized that it is not only Congolese women who are being raped, but women from Uganda and other regions of Africa. She said, “it’s time for us as women from the Great Lakes region to come together and fight for peace.”

Discussing the lack of government and education, Germain Indjassa, who recently completed a masters degree in coexistence and conflict from The Heller School, explains that the soldiers lack training and pay, therefore abuse the locals as compensation. Pointing out that the documentary itself was produced by an American, he asserts its failure to confront issues pertaining to the government. “We are all part of the human family,” he said, urging a sense of global responsibility for the human rights violations and economic warfare occurring within the Congo.

Despite the involvement of multinational corporations in financing the atrocities committed within the Congo, Lempereur urges that “if we say we don’t want minerals from the Congo, it will have a terrible impact on poor people in the region.” He asserts the need to approach the situation carefully, explaining, “weapons are coming in, minerals are going out, but the problem is the people of the Congo are the ones who are suffering.”

Father Emmanuel Bueya, a Jesuit priest, activist and doctoral student at Boston College, expanded on the economic basis of the human rights violations occurring in the Congo and stressed that the focus should not be solely on sexual violence, but on the exploitation of resources and armed strength as well. Designed as an interactive discussion, an audience member responded, “We just want to stop the killing and the suffering of the people.” Emphasizing the implications of the economic warfare raging in the Congo, Father Emmanuel Bueya stated, “When I see your cellphones, what I see is violence and rape.”

Co-sponsored by Congo Action Now!, STAND, Amnesty International, Heller School Program for Coexistence and Conflict and the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life, the event concluded by urging audience members to become involved through letters to legislators.