Monday, March 9, 2009

Women Voices Raised Against Congo Rape

Yesterday's Break The Silence Forum provided an excellent overview of the rape epidemic that continues unabated in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The program at the New School in Manhattan featured a screening of "The Greatest Silence: Rape In The Congo" followed by an informative panel discussion. Many eyes were opened by the presentations.

Jennifer Thomas-BoatengJennifer Thomas-Boateng, the Program Coordinator for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, NY Metro Chapter, began the program with a powerful discussion of how corporate interests around the world are fueling the war in Congo. She termed several firms "corporate rapists," including Cabot Corporation and OMG Group, who process minerals that are illegally mined in the DRC, as well as contractors Bechtel, Brown & Root, and MPRI, who are major suppliers to the armed forces of Uganda and Rwanda, nations that have played significant roles in the violence in the DRC.

Vinie BurrowsActor Vinie Burrows gave a brief history of Congo from King Leopold II to the present, highlighting the continuing theme of exploitation that has marked the nation's history.

Misengabo Esperance KapuadiMisengabo E. Kapuadi, a founding member of the Georges Malaika Foundation, spoke about the growing role of the Congolese diaspora in breaking the silence. She quite eloquently pointed out that we were gathered not just to celebrate International Women's Day, but to make sure women in the Congo are not forgotten.

"The stop the rape, we have to stop the conflict," she said. "To stop the conflict, we have to stop the economic exploitation of the Congo."

Nita EveleNita Evele, representing the Friends of the Congo and Congo Global Action, gave an impassioned explanation of how terror rape has grown to epidemic proportions in the DRC. The Congolese army, she pointed out, is made up of former rebel groups--the same people who victimized the civilian population for years. Many of the soldiers were children when the fighting started in 1996, and were themselves traumatized.

The rebel forces use terror rape to control villages near the mineral deposits and rich farmlands they covet. The idea, as Nita put it, is to "kill the soul and spirit of the people by inflicting harm that hurts forever." Raping and killing children in front of their mothers, forcing children to rape their own mothers, humiliating men and boys by raping them, and using guns, sticks, knives, and other foreign objects to destroy a woman's ability to reproduce are some of the abominable tactics these criminals use.

The event was sponsored by Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and Friends of the Congo, as well as Project Africa at the New School, Black Radical Congress, Granny Peace Brigade, Barnard Center for Research on Women, and Medgar Evers College.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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