Friday, May 1, 2009

DC Groups Talk Congo Action

Last week on Friday, April 24th, the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) and Friends of the Congo (FOTC) co-hosted a Congo Social at Crepeaway at 2001 L st. NW. A well-attended event, the gathering comprised various activists committed to bringing peace and justice to the turbulent state in the DRC. Introductory words about the conflict were offered by representatives of UNA-NCA along with Carrie Crawford (Chair) and Maurice Carney (Executive Director) from FOTC. The history and nature of the conflict in the DRC became a topic of conversation as attendees reflected on the most urgent and immediate points of action--from trying to implement the Obama-sponsored bill (S.2125) to promote relief, security and democracy in the DRC to ways to become more conscious consumers of "conflict coltan." Of course there are plenty of skeptics of the latter argument that coltan mining is fueling or prolonging the DRC unrest (such as Jack Ewing of BusinessWeek in this Der Spiegel article). During the social, some voices inquired whether there was hope in organizing a divestment movement away from manufacturers of coltan-based technologies, to which Carney responded there were plenty of other routes to pressure the industry short of a full-on boycott. Interventions came from various sources including the always-animated and charismatic former Clintonite Jan Hartke who now heads EarthVoice. Evidently he brought the greetings and blessings of Wangari Maathai, Kenyan and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Under normal circumstances, this wouldve been extremely motivating to say the least, but surprisingly none of the attendees reacted--perhaps out of skepticism! We were then privy to the reflections of several Congolese gentlemen in the audience who offered their views on the conflict and how to address it. This also led to a frank discussion about whether the Joseph Kabila government had done enough to propel the DRC forward or to quell the violence. There were conflicting views on this issue with some acknowledging the holding of a free election as reason to commend Kabila while others implied he was completely ineffective in protecting DRC's sovereignty. However, the golden comment of the night comes courtesy of Vijaya Thakur who Twitters on the Congo under the alias Thakuraine. On the topic of resource exploitation, she stated the always elusive commonsense--that Congolese control of national resources assures local responsibility for its use and abuse. Bingo! I will bite my tongue for fear of sounding like a Chavista on the DRC!

For a slideshow from the event, see our event Flickr album (photos by Nathalie Fatuma kalala).

Photo of child mining coltan above courtesy of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Farnham Faults World Inactivity on Congo Rape Crisis

The issue of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was the subject of an opinion article authored by human rights activist and Voices Without Borders Int'l (VWBi) board member Amanda Farnham in the January 2009 issue of the Ambassadors Online Magazine.

In the essay, Farnham pointed out the burden of responsibility that has so far been forsaken by the the US government over the years. From the growing culture of perpetrator impunity to the sluggish inaction of Western officials and institutions, Farnham makes an urgent plead for a concerted and immediate legal action to prosecute both the criminals and the institutions, both political and economic, that have served to perpetuate these crimes. While she suggests there are reasons to be hopeful with Barack Obama and Joseph Biden's election and the appointment of Hillary Clinton to Sec. of State (all three with notable records of advocating for international human rights justice esp. on gender issues), it appears little has been accomplished in the first 100 days of the administration. Few public condemnations and even less media coverage.

Here's the full-text of Farnham's article: Morality in the Congo: Between Moralists and Apologists.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Confronting Rape in the DRC

The veteran award-winning independent documentary filmmaker Lisa Jackson has produced a masterpiece in investigative journalism. Her engrossingly passionate The Greatest Silence, painstakingly documents the epidemic of rape in the DR Congo by delving into the psychology of rape from both the victims and the rapists. The gut-wrenching testimonies from victims, physicians, families, and all those affected by rape are an urgent call to action. Herself a victim of gang rape some 7,000 miles away from the jungles of the DRC where she begins her expose, Lisa Jackson shows the common bonds of pain and dehumanization that all victims of rape and sexual assault experience. Her courageous interviews with unrepentant rapist militias deep in the jungle are perhaps the most dramatic and fearsome scenes in the film. The film deservedly won the Special Jury Prize for Documentary Film at Sundance. For a review, see this article on

Voices Without Borders International is teaming up with several international human rights organizations and Jackson Films to develop an activism and advocacy campaign around the film for lawmakers and the public to address this pressing issue. The effort, coordinated by Working Films, will support legislation and action that helps alleviate this problem not simply by attending to the victims, but highlighting the connections to the coltan cartel and rooting out the problem.