In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a civil war which supposedly ended over 5 years ago, goes on. Over six million people have been killed during the past six years. That’s the equivalent of the entire population of New Zealand – or New York City – dead. Its also the approximate number of Jew’s killed in the Holocaust, the first major genocide. Like every other genocide, it is being largely ignored. Half of all deaths are of children under the age of five – a quarter of all children born in the Congo today won’t make it to the age of 5.
The worst of the violence though, is being committed against women. Rape has become the weapon of choice of the Congolese military, as well as the “Mai Mai” militias, civilians, UN Peacekeepers, and perhaps most telling of all Hutus who fled Rwanda after committing genocide against the Tutsis their and who have taken up residence here in the Congo.
Some of the Hutus have become known as the Rastas, who wear shiny track suits and LA Lakers’ jerseys. They have become notorious for burning babies, kidnapping children and killing any and everyone who dares to get in their way.
There is one light of hope though in all the killing. At Panzi Hospital Dr Mukwege, an OB/GYN does six surgeries a day on women who have been raped. Most who come have fistulas – holes inside of their bodies. Many are the result of having had various implements – guns, bayonets, bottles, sticks – shoved inside of their vagina’s and rectums, literally ripping them apart from the insides. Others stem from birth complications. A mother who cannot give birth due to militias, who has no time for labor and whose child dies inside of her. One carried her dead child inside her vagina for a week before arriving at the hospital.
Because of their woods, they are unable to control their bodily fluids, and so their urine and feces literally leak out of their bodies. Many are shunned by their communities – and yet in some villages over half the women have been raped. Few are spared – Dr Mukwege says his oldest patient was 75, his youngest just 3.
Why is this occurring? That is the question, that no-one can answer, although it is clear the purpose of the attacks to terrify. Why else would women be raped in front of their families – husbands brothers, sisters, children, communities? By doing so they are raping not only the women but everyone around them as well. Showing them, proving to them, that they are powerless and helpless before such as them.
I’m still trying to figure out what I can do, what we can all do to help, to end the violence. Perhaps the best option is to write the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila Kabange, and urge him to take action to stop the violence. Write your representatives, and urge them to start proceedings to take action. Or you can donate money directly to Panzi Hospital where Dr Mukwege works, print out posters, and sign up for email alerts at http://www.vday.org/contents/drcongo.
But, perhaps most importantly, you can speak out to your family & friends. Tell them about the conflict, and keep it fresh in your mind. The perpetrators would prefer that we forget, that we pretend its not happening. But it is. And the least that we can do for those who are being hurt is to not forget them, and their struggle.