Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bible Thumping Atrocity In Congo

The Lord's Resistance Army occupied Kapili village in northeastern Congo in late May as violence continues to wrack the eastern provinces. According to the Justice and Peace Commission of the diocese of Dungu, the armed force violently kicked the villagers out of their homes and took them over.

Joseph Kony's LRA is one of the most destructive factions operating in the region. They are reported to have abducted over 400 people in several attacks since February alone, according to UN and official sources. Of those, some 200 were abducted from eastern Congo, 150 from the Central African Republic and 55 from South Sudan. Most of those kidnapped were children who are forced into military training in the LRA Garamba base. In a cruel twist, Garamba National park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the world's last known population of northern white rhinos.

The LRA's supposed goal is to establish a theocratic government in Uganda based on Kony's warped interpretation of the Ten Commandments. Kony is reputed to have anywhere from 27 to 50 "wives," most of them abducted girls. He also "awards" young girls to his soldiers for exceptional performance. Kidnapping and enslavement are prime LRA tactics, with the number of abductees estimated at up to 60,000. The terror created by this abhorrent practice is one of the themes of Heart of Diamonds.

The International Criminal Court indicted Kony and four of his commanders in 2005. There were 33 charges against Kony himself, including 12 counts of crimes against humanity which include murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement and rape. The other 21 counts are war crimes including murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, pillaging, inducing rape, and forced enlisting of children into the rebel ranks.

In return for his attacks on northern Uganda, Kony receives support from the Sudanese government of Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir, which is responsible for the Darfur crisis. He hides in northeastern Congo where dozens of similar guerilla groups, insurrectionists, and maurading gangs roam the countryside outside the reach of regular Congolese and UN forces.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rape - A Weapon of Terror

Bloggers Unite for Human Rights"The word 'rape' or 'sexual violence' cannot fully translate the horror that hundreds of thousands of women are living," according to Dr. Denis Mukwege, Director of the Panzi General Referral Hospital Bukavu, South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Dr. Mukwege made the statement during his recent testimony before the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law Commitee on the Judiciary of the U.S. Senate.

Rape, as he describes what has happened to the thousands of victims he has seen over the last ten years, is an act of terrorism, not personal violation. As Dr. Mukwege points out, the act is done in a methodical manner by an armed group, usually in public in front of parents, husbands, children or neighbors, and followed by mutilations and other corporal torture. In many cases, it turns into sexual slavery that continues for months. Dr. Mukwege's testimony is not for the faint of heart, but it should be read by anyone doubting that rape has become the weapon of choice for armies and gangs throughout the eastern provinces of the DRC.

The effects on the individual of this type of rape are horrendous. Physically, genitals are destroyed by knives, guns, or other objects while infections of all sorts, including HIV, are rampant. On the psychological level, the act humiliates the woman, destroying her self worth and interest in living. These effects are compounded at the social level when women are rejected by their husbands. Families are destroyed, women and children turned into refugees with no resources.

The effects on society are, if anything, worse. As Dr. Mukwege testified:

In normal warfare, the men die at the front, but often the women reproduce children with some sick old men still alive. But the contrary is not true. When the uterus is destroyed, there is no possibility of reproducing. In the case of our species, when one destroys the genital apparatus, the men become useless, because they cannot reproduce children with sick women or women whose genital apparatus are destroyed.

10 healthy men can produce 1000 children if there are 1000 women. But 10 healthy women with 1000 healthy men can only produce 10 children under the same conditions. This analysis shows that man has been able to invent a horrible strategy of war which produces the same effect as a normal war (that is assassination, loss of property, occupation of land, internal displacements, and refugees with all the miseries that go with that) but worse yet, has an effect on the health of those concerned, with indelible marks that they will carry everywhere during their life span.

This situation is so much more serious because it does not concern ten thousand women, but rather several hundred thousand women.

It is believed that King Leopold's brutal regime killed, directly or indirectly, half the people of the Congo. Unless the crime of warfare by rape is stopped, the long-term impact of the current conflicts could be worse.

For more thoughts on the state of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere, read all my contributions to “Bloggers Unite for Human Rights

Rape - A Weapon Of Terror
Toys of Destruction
Human Rights Criminal On The Loose
Human Rights – Major Theme In Heart of Diamonds
Children of the Congo – Soldiers Still
A Century of Horror – Red Room
Eager To Learn
God Is Love

Is America A Human Rights Weakling?

To see what it’s all about, read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

To do your part, see these sixteen ways to make a difference.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Bloggers Unite For Human Rights

Bloggers Unite

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations. If you are a blogger, consider this appeal from Bloggers Unite for Human Rights, an event sponsored by Amnesty International, BlogCatalog, and Copywrite, Inc.

Bloggers Unite For Human Rights challenges bloggers everywhere to help elevate human rights by drawing attention to the challenges and successes of human rights issues on May 15. Topics may include any number of subjects — the wrongful imprisonment of journalists covering assemblies, governments that ignore the plight of citizens, even censorship of the Internet. What is important is that on one day, thousands of bloggers unite and share their unified support of human rights everywhere.
I'll be blogging that day about human rights here as well at Kunati, Amazon, Heart of Diamonds - Life in Africa, Daily Kos, Red Room, and MySpace. I'll also have a special photo on Photogafrica and even an appropriate cartoon on ToonLand. I hope you'll join me in reminding the world that Human Rights are hard to earn but easy to lose if we don't stay United.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Food Riots Have Many Fathers

Food rioters in Somalia have joined those in Haiti, Egypt, Cameroon and Burkina Faso to protest the brutal jump in food prices around the world.

Culprits on both the supply and the demand side have caused the current crisis. Everything from weather to a new taste for richer foods are to blame, exacerbated by import curbs and agricultural subsidies by rich nations and export bans by poor ones. Even the well-intentioned but controversial move to biofuels has impacted markets. There may be a silver lining, though, as sky-rocketing prices and the resultant food riots around the globe might prompt some meaningful long-term changes in both trade policies and aid practices.

Weather is a well-recognized demon in the food markets, of course. Most recently, a prolonged drought in Australia's wheat belt has cut supply at the worst possible time. On top of that, though, is a long-building increase in demand for richer diets in the booming economies of China and India. Those same economies are in some part responsible for the soaring cost of oil, which makes food production and distribution an increasingly expensive proposition. The concurrent rise in the price of natural gas and potash, both used to produce fertilizer, hurts too.

Diversion of a significant part of the U.S. corn crop to ethanol production, that silver bullet meant to solve both global warming and America's addiction to foreign oil, also impacts food prices, although not significantly according to most experts. The USDA reports that American farmers grew 13.1 billion bushels of corn last year. Of that, 22% went to make about 7 million gallons of ethanol. That still left enough to feed the domestic market, push exports to record levels, and store a 10% surplus. While the price of corn has more than doubled in the last three years, it's still a very, very small factor, contributing less than 3% to the overall rise in food prices.

The biggest culprits, though, are national policies that warp the supply-demand equation. The rich nations aren't the only ones to blame, either. Both India and Vietnam, the world's number 2 and 3 rice-exporting countries, have imposed limits or complete bans on rice shipments outside their borders in order to shield their own populations from the perceived shortages. Indonesia enacted similar measures. The ripples have been felt as far away as the U.S., where major retailers have put limits on the amount of rice that customers can buy. Considering that worldwide rice production was up in 2007, this can only be a result of increased demand.

Unfortunately, export restrictions also reduce local farmers' incentives to grow more since lack of access to international markets reduces their return. Meanwhile, an even greater portion of the world's food supply must come from high-cost producers in North America and Europe, both big exporters, but both also heavy subsidizers of their own farmers. The rich nations' protective import restrictions further reduce the poor farmers' chances of competing in world markets, thereby giving them little reason to plant at more than subsistence levels.

All this has created turmoil in world food markets, which may in turn create some real policy changes at several levels. The current round of global trade talks broke off twice in the past two years, mainly over the issues of subsidies and price controls. With food riots spreading, however, it's becoming harder and harder to justify crop price support systems. Business Week reports that there's optimism about change from both sides of the table, quoting positive statements from Indian and U.S. trade officials. Even the American Farm Bureau Federation says there's room for change in their normally protectionist stance. They are far from the only parties to the talks, however, so nothing is certain.

Another long-overdue change may come in U.S. food aid policy, which has persistently required developing nations to use the rescue funds to purchase American crops and transport them on American ships. George Bush's recent call for not only another $770 million in emergency food aid but for 25% of that to be purchased from local producers in recipient regions is a positive sign. It remains to be seen, of course, whether the super-influential U.S. farm lobby will allow that to happen.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Foreign Aid That Delivers On Its Promise

Can foreign aid improve conditions in the developing world? The debate continues as even commentators like the NY Times' Nicholas Kristof can't find data to support either side. What few argue, however, is the impact aid dollars have had on health care in the third world. Literally millions of lives have been saved as a direct result of foreign aid programs of that type.

The Center for Global Development reports that routine childhood immunizations funded by aid has nearly eradicated measles as a cause of childhood death in seven African countries since 1996. Some 18 million children have been saved from river blindness since a regional control program for the disease was launched in 1974 in West Africa. Infant deaths due to diarrhea in rural Egypt fell 82% as a result of an aid-financed national campaign on oral rehydration therapy.

Progress has been made in the fight against malaria, too, as well as HIV/AIDS, although these pandemics are far from over. Not surprisingly, the greatest gains have come in relatively peaceful, stable countries like Zambia, Uganda, and Botswana, where secure, reliable delivery systems have been developed to accompany the medications, supplies, and education that make the programs work. Scandals have rocked some efforts, but strong public support for governments willing to crack down on the perpetrators has kept efforts on track.

We may never know if the IMF's macro economic approach is better than Grameen Bank's micro finance operations, but we do know that foreign aid directed to solving regional health programs can be successful.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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