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Dear General Public, What About Congo?

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Dear General Public, What About Congo?

Posted by Laura Heaton on February 3, 2010

Dear General Public, What About Congo?

“Sometimes I wish eastern Congo could suffer an earthquake or a tsunami, so that it might finally get the attention it needs. The barbaric civil war being waged here is the most lethal conflict since World War II and has claimed at least 30 times as many lives as the Haiti earthquake.

“Yet no humanitarian crisis generates so little attention per million corpses, or such a pathetic international response.”

Reporting from eastern Congo this weekend, the New York Times’ Nick Kristof filed a compelling commentary on the decade-long conflict there that should make world leaders and the broader public stop in their tracks and ask themselves what they’ve done to help the people of Congo. The story of nine-year-old Chance, herself a survivor of rape – the weapon of choice for the various rebel groups and even the government soldiers – brings the conflict down to eye level in a way that inspires action. Kristof doesn’t downplay the complexity of the crisis, but his simple suggestion that the world should show the same compassion to Congo as we have shown to Haiti is hard to dispute.

Kristof’s piece focused on the FDLR, the main rebel group in eastern Congo whose leadership has ties to Rwanda’s genocidaires of 1994. With regards to the FDLR, at least, concrete steps can actually be taken to weaken the predatory group’s presence in the region. As a Washington Post story recently exposed, one leader of the FDLR, Callixte Mbarushimana, supports the rebel group with impunity, from the luxury of his home in Paris.

“He acts like a man with nothing to hide, except that he won’t allow reporters to his house or say where in Paris he lives. The only subject he won’t discuss is what exactly he was doing in 1994.”

Mbarushimana may be tightlipped, but former co-workers and eyewitnesses to his alleged crimes are willing to share. The article describes in startling detail Mbarushimana’s role in the Rwandan genocide as a U.N. employee and in atrocities occurring today in Congo. But rather than land in prison or face the international tribunal set up for Rwanda, Mbarushimana managed to evade justice through a series of loopholes and even continued to receive U.N. contracts, thanks to multiple instances of the United Nations turning a blind eye to the protests of former colleagues and documented claims against him.

Reassuringly, a case in Germany last year against Ignace Murwanashyaka, then the head of the FDLR who was directing assaults on the ground in Congo from his home in the German town of Mannheim, generated enough public outcry to compel the German authorities to arrest him. Though apprehended on unrelated charges, the arrest at a minimum shut down his communication with the fighters in the field. This creative maneuvering by German authorities should serve as an example for leaders in other countries that continue to play host to people not just wanted for murder but for genocide. People like Mbarushimana in France, whose current activities continue to put civilians’ lives – like nine-year-old Chance’s – in jeopardy, should be at the top of their list.

An outpouring of compassion for the people of Congo and outrage that perpetrators walk free is sorely needed. Check out Enough’s RAISE Hope for Congo campaign for ideas of how you can join and help build the movement.


Photo: Three women in eastern Congo (Enough/Sarina Virk)