On Thursday, the head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Alan Doss, said that joint efforts between Rwanda and Congo represented a “sea change” in the region that could create “real hope of being able finally to find a durable solution to the problems that have haunted this region of Congo for more than a decade.”
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch reports that Rwandan rebel forces, Congolese army soldiers and their allies have raped at least 90 women and girls since late January 2009 — when Rwandan troops first entered Congo as part of a joint military operation to target Rwandan rebel groups.
Rwandan rebel forces have also been implicated in the deaths of 180 civilians killed since Rwanda and Congo joined forces.
Maartje, a Doctors Without Borders worker in eastern Congo, writes about her encounters with Congolese rape victims in the “Condition Critical” blog:
I’m responsible for the ‘MSF/SOPROP’ clinic (‘Solidarité pour la promotion sociale et la paix’), a place where we offer help to victims of sexual violence. […]The team is working hard to make the clinic’s presence known among the population so people know where they can get care. We have also started setting up a focus group. This is where victims can share their experiences. Listening to their input also helps us improve the care we offer.
It’s starting to work. Last Tuesday, 16 women showed up. Quietly and shyly they came inside one by one. Some women entered seeming completely broken, others appeared to take a deep breath and then square their shoulders.
I was actually nervous. I found it difficult to see all of these women, knowing how much pain they had suffered. I felt so powerless.
First we drank a cup of tea together. The conversation began to build softly. Then a few women started to answer questions posed by the nurses. Others stayed silent but listened intently. As time went by, more women spoke up and the group began to relax. After an hour, it was as if the group had undergone a complete transformation. We laughed and had fun together.
Doss also reiterated the need for troop reinforcements and equipment to the U.N. Security Council. In a post entitled “U.N. talks while Congo civilians suffer,” blogger “Dave” criticizes the U.N. for not coming through on its promises:
While joint operations were declared successful by the governments involved and the UN hailed the strides toward peace, the people of the region continue to suffer at the hands of all the combatants.
[…]The UN Security Council meets today to talk about the situation. Last year, they promised an additional 3,000 troops to aid the 17,000 blue helmets already in the Congo protect the civilian population. Not only have none of those additional troops arrived, there have been no reports that they are even en route. No one expects much from the additional troops anyway. The original Security Council mandate called for UN troops to protect UN relief operations and Congolese civilians, but their record has been dismal. Civilian casualties in the eastern provinces continue to mount and the epidemic of terror rape continues to destroy the lives of hundreds of women and their families.
The “Impudent Observer” blog calls eastern Congo an “invisible land”:
The world becomes furious at the death of a thousand civilians in Gaza, the world becomes furious at the ongoing deaths in Darfur, but the world simply ignores the death of millions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Latest reports are that at least 90 Congo women were raped and about one hundred fifty villagers killed. Unfortunately, the Congo government took into the ranks of its army former rebels and sent them on this operation. These soldiers lacked training, pay or food so they proceeded to steal, rape and kill the people they supposedly were protecting.
Cry the beloved people of Congo because no one cries for you.
Also see our coverage of the crisis in Congo and Worldfocus correspondent Michael J. Kavanagh’s Potraits of Insecurity, a slideshow of the tenuous situation in the corners of eastern Congo at Foreign Policy.