JUBA, Sudan — While celebrations marked the inauguration of Sudan president Omar al-Bashir to another term of office in Khartoum, the mood was more somber and determined in southern Sudan. The people of southern Sudan are looking ahead to the referendum in January 2011 when they will vote to determine if the south can secede to become an independent country.
The epidemic of rape and sexual violence in the Congo takes center stage in an all-new episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, airing on Wednesday night.
Portraying the world's worst violence against women -- taking place half a world away in Central Africa -- in a TV show set in New York City is a challenge. But Law and Order: SVU creator Neal Baer and writer Dawn DeNoon have managed to convey the facts on the ground in Congo through the eyes of a Congolese woman portrayed in the episode.
Eastern Congo is the world's deadliest conflict globally since WWII. Widespread rape is used as a strategy of war and an instrument of communal terror, making this region the world's most dangerous place to be a woman or a girl. Armed groups compete to control lucrative mines and smuggling routes. Rape becomes their principal means of terrorizing local populations into passive compliance, so they can steal the mineral wealth without opposition. These crimes destroy families, decimate communities, and lethally spread HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Most governments don’t acknowledge it. The Sudanese president dismisses it. Darfurians demand that it be recognized. Academics, activists, and lawyers dispute whether it is still occurring or whether it occurred at all. International Criminal Court (ICC) judges debate standards of evidence surrounding it. The nature of recent attacks this past week by Sudanese government forces and militia allies against defenseless civilians potentially augurs its resurgence. And if a fledgling peace process continues to move forward, then any evidence of it ever happening may well be swept under the rug.
The “it” in question is Darfur’s genocide. Seven years after a small rebellion in western Sudan by Darfurian insurgents unleashed a massive counter-insurgency strategy by the Sudanese government and its Janjaweed militia allies, the debate continues: What should be done about the genocide? How can justice and peace simultaneously be pursued?
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is not an obvious candidate to be Africa's turnaround story of the coming decade. This is a country that has been pillaged by outsiders for more than a century, cursed by its extraordinary natural resource base to unparalleled levels of death and destruction. With a seemingly intractable war in the east, one of the worst corruption-fighting records in the world, and some of the highest rates of sexual violence ever recorded, Congo does not, understandably, lend itself well to optimistic prognoses. But sometimes a situation deteriorates so badly that it catalyzes transformative responses. And things can actually change, no matter how entrenched the troubles. That opportunity for real progress is exactly what I found on my recent visit to Congo.
Congo's conflict, the world's deadliest since World War II, is not really a war -- it's a business based on violent extortion. There are numerous armed groups and commercial actors -- Congolese, Rwandan, and Ugandan -- that have positioned themselves for the spoils of a deliberately lawless, accountability-free, unstable, highly profitable mafia-style economy. Millions of dollars are made monthly in illegal taxation of mining operations, smuggling of minerals, and extortion rackets run by mafia bosses based primarily in Kinshasa, Kigali, and Kampala. The spoils are tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold, minerals that go into laptops, cell phones, MP3 players, and jewelry stores in the West. Armed groups use terrifying tactics such as mass rape and village burning to intimidate civilians into providing cheap labor for this elaborate extortion racket.
(Jan. 29) -- On Jan. 22, a little-known but highly influential group of senior policymakers met in Washington to hash out the next steps for U.S. policy toward Sudan.
Because of the confidential nature of this meeting at the National Security Council, we may never know the exact decisions made, but in the coming weeks we hope to see indications that the Obama administration is willing to ratchet up pressures in Sudan to produce meaningful progress toward peace at a time when a return to large-scale war looks increasingly possible.
During Sudan's half-century of independence, few spots on Earth have witnessed as much death and destruction, with 2 1/2 million war-related fatalities during the past two decades alone. Although the Darfur genocide that began in 2003 is only one of the conflicts raging in the country, they all stem from the same cause: the abuse of power. The ruling party represses independent voices and supports militias that have used genocide, child soldiers and rape as weapons of war.
Sudan faces a critical new year, with an unfree election coming in April and a referendum on the independence of the south the following January -- tripwires that could provoke a return to full-scale war. In Washington, meanwhile, few challenges have produced a greater chasm between words and deeds. A first step toward closing that gap is debunking the myths about Sudan that persist among policymakers, diplomats and the public.
Last year, the bus in which a young Congolese woman we met named Mary was riding was stopped by a militia. "They wanted to all have me, to rape me," she related haltingly to us. "I told them no, and then they took off my shirt and beat me. I have terrible marks now."
Mary's story is similar to hundreds of thousands of women's experiences in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where rape is routinely "deployed" as a weapon of war by the armed groups fighting over a nation that has some of the richest nonpetroleum natural resource deposits in the world.
Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health today at a hearing to review the administration's new Sudan policy, I expressed the Enough Project's deep concern that the existing strategy of the United States and the broader international community to prevent all-out war in Sudan is failing.
One month after the release of the Obama administration's new policy, the situation on the ground has further deteriorated, with life or death implications.
Central to the administration's new policy is support for full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, as U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration reiterated in his testimony today.
To date, not one of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement's (CPA) preconditions for holding credible elections has been met. The risks of ignoring preconditions and holding a non-credible election are enormous.
WASHINGTON — In an effort to shine a light on the darkness at the heart of the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II, the Enough Project traveled to eastern Congo to better understand how the 3Ts (Tin, Tantalum, and Tungsten) and gold make their way from Congo’s killing fields to our cell phones, laptops, MP3 players and video game systems. (Read more about the first American company to be indentified, in an upcoming U.N. report, as a buyer of conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo.)
What we found is that the conflict minerals supply chain is far less intimidating than the electronics industry would have consumers believe. In fact, the journey from mine to cell phone can be broken down into six major steps that make the supply chain relatively easy to understand.
From the satellite mapping of atrocities and data-driven prosecution of war criminals to the use of social networking to mobilize against repressive regimes, advances in science and technology hold unprecedented potential to make human rights a reality across the world.
A new report from the Center for American Progress, "New Tools for Old Traumas," calls on President Obama -- recently dubbed "Scientist in Chief" for his unprecedented commitment to research and development -- to lead efforts to use these new tools to bring human rights perpetrators to justice; halt ongoing atrocities; and empower victims to fight against injustice. Cell phone companies have crucial roles to play as well because part of the complexity of this issue is ensuring that these tools do not foster human rights atrocities as well as stop them.