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War in Congo

Yesterday, with great anxiety and finally relief the whole world waited and received the news of the cease-fire in the Israel-Gaza conflict, which over the last years has seen 2000 people killed. Yet, in another part of the world, one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of mankind is escalating again, with little press coverage. In Congo more than 3 million people have lost their lives in this millennium.

In the light of its bloody history a humanitarian catastrophe is feared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a rebel group by the name of “M23” captured the eastern town of Gomo from the Congolese armed forces without a fight. Goma is the main city of the mineral-rich North Kivu region which is close to the border with Rwanda. The capture of the town shows how control over precious metals and minerals still fuels conflicts, especially in eastern Congo.  

The Congolese army did little to hinder the attack, with witnesses saying they simply walked away as the rebel group entered the town. This led to riots in the capital Kinshasa against a weak government run by Joseph Kabila whose power and ability to rule the enormous stretch of land is questioned. The United Nations also has a peacekeeper force of about 1,500 soldiers in Goma, but as the rebels took over the town, they only watched passively. UN peacekeepers generally have a mandate to protect civilians, and in this case it was deemed that resisting the rebels would have led to civilian suffering.

A UN report claims that Rwanda and Uganda have been supporting the rebel group with arms and other aid; the report also indicates that the M23 chain of command includes wanted war crimes suspect Bosco Ntaganda, also known as the “Terminator”. Rwanda and Uganda have denied these accusations.

Although the Congo Wars, some of the most brutal in the continent’s history, ended almost a decade ago, the situation in eastern Congo has remained alarming and precarious. Government and rebel militias fight to control Congo’s rich natural resources. Profits from conflict minerals fund horrific violence that Congo’s disorganized military and police do little to stop. Armed groups, operating without accountability, use rape and murder as weapons of war to intimidate civilians. 

But one of the key drivers for these conflicts might well be closer to a Western citizen than one might think – namely the world’s endless and growing appetite for the minerals found in Congo, used in technological devices and gadgets from mobile phones to tablets to laptops. This way we co-finance murderers in our daily life.

Some encouraging initiatives have come from scientists who develop a mineral "footprint", organizations such as the "Enough"-project, Ben Afflecks Eastern Congo Initiative and some film, which Cinema for Peace invites you to watch, related to the conflict in Congo:

  • BLOOD IN THE MOBILE by Frank Poulsen, winner of the Cinema for Peace Award for Justice 2011 (presented by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno-Ocampo), is the story about how our phones are connected to illegal mining in Congo (DRC). Every time we communicate through our cell phones we are associated with the crimes in Congo.
  • PUSHING THE ELEPHANT by Andrew Walton, Cinema for Peace Nominee 2011, tells the extraordinary story of a mother and daughter reunited after a decade separated by civil war in the DRC.
  • In WEAPON OF WAR by Ilse and Femke van Velzen, military perpetrators unveil what lies behind this brutal behavior and the strategies of rape as a war crime. During the decades of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo possibly hundreds of thousands of women and girls were brutally raped. Since the filmmakers have showed the film to the military in Congo the amount of soldiers raping women declined from 20% to 5%.
  • THE GREATEST SILENCE – RAPE IN CONGO by Lisa Jackson tells of the treatment of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, focusing on the systematic use of sexual violence as a tool of war.