WTF is going on in the Congo?

Tied to a tree and raped for days. (All photos by Hazel Thompson for the New York Times @2007.)

I don’t think I can bear to read one more story about the horrors of women (and now apparently baby boys, from one month to 18 months old ) being brutalized in the eastern Congo. The latest outrage of almost 200 women being repeatedly gang raped, most in front of their husbands and children, came out in the news last night. Apparently, the farming town of Luvungi was taken over from July 31-August 4 by Congolese Mai-Mai rebels and FDLR rebels, including the Hutu perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide who fled into Congo from Rwanda in 1994. Those groups, along with the Congolese army itself, have been terrorizing the eastern Congo for over a decade with what appears to be complete impunity.

Raped in front of her husband, who was then shot

I’ve been reading about the atrocities against women that have been taking place in the Congo for years… but this story just killed me. The women were gang-raped in a village just 10 miles from a U.N. peacekeepers’ base — peacekeepers who are being kept there, at the cost of $1.35 billion a year, to prevent exactly this kind of thing from happening. Ten miles is about how far I live from downtown Atlanta. It’s nothing. It’s virtually right next door – even in Africa! In fact, the peacekeepers were sent as a military escort to protect a large commercial truck traveling to Luvungi while the rebels were in control of the town.  So why couldn’t they protect the women from the savagery that has befallen more than 200,000  women and girls in this insanely brutal conflict?

Only 3 women of the 200 were able to be treated vs. AIDS or given contraception.

Well, one reason might be the ineffective number of troops. Only 25 peacekeepers were available to hold off 200-400 rebels occupying the town. The other is the huge land mass of the Congo – the country is the size of Western Europe. And finally, there is the sickening trove of wealth that makes the Congo such an irresistible target for every thug nation … starting with Belgium, continuing with U.S. support of the creepy, corrupt Mobutu, and culminating with Africans now fighting over the riches themselves. Cobalt, copper, cadmium, industrial and gem-quality diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite, iron ore, and coal exist in plentiful supply, and as the leader of Luvungi said plaintively, “The minerals are our curse.”

Their bodies are the battleground, and it has to stop.

I really don’t think I can stand more of these stories and I feel bad that I’m subverting my promise to be upbeat and positive with this blog. But something has to change – we have to protect these women and girls—and figure out what it making these men kill and rape their mothers, sisters, daughters and grandmothers. We can’t let it keep happening.

I’m giving $100 today to V-Day — the activist, human rights organization of big-mouthed, brash, brave and beautiful Eve Ensler (author of the The Vagina Monologues) who has been bewailing these events for years. In 2007, V-Day and UNICEF launched the global campaign Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource: to raise awareness of the atrocities, advocate for change and intervention, and create City of Joy to help women survivors rebuild their lives. I think it’s time the world got together and intervened in the Congo. In fact, it’s far, far past time. If we can’t hear women’s hearts, minds and bodies breaking from 10 miles away … well, we’re just not listening. To donate, click here


On a much brighter note ….

The fabulous Ramona & Charmaine, with an international cadre of friends, have been fundraising for the Fistula Foundation (see post 6/15) and raised $10,000 — enough for 23 operations for women in Ethiopia! I know some of YOU stepped up — so YAY!! What an awesome accomplishment!!