Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire stated, “At its heart, the Rwandan story is the failure of humanity to heed a call for help from an endangered people.”
It would be nice to believe that the world learned its lesson in Rwanda, where nearly one million people were slaughtered in roughly 90 days as the world stood by and watched.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
The Rwandan genocide spilled into Zaire, destabilized the country, resulting in the formation of a new country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. A horrendous civil war has resulted in millions – yes millions – of deaths over more than 20 years.
The most vile weapon used in this war has been the rape of innocent Congolese women and girls. Today, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo is the most dangerous place in the world to be female.
Does the fact that the world has allowed this to continue for so long demonstrate that we’ve done little to address the issues of sexism and racism?
Have we forgotten that we share one planet and that what happens to one person happens to all of us?
The assault on one woman is an assault on all women, on all of our sisters, daughters, mothers and spouses. The rape of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of women is an attack upon the soul of the Earth.
Yet the media refuses to take this issue seriously. Why do we have to put up with hours of speculation regarding the supposed crimes of ridiculous politicians, yet hear nothing of the Congo?
When then-American secretary of state Hillary Clinton tried to address these serious issues in 2009 by visiting the Congo, reporters focused on the fact that she was slightly annoyed at being called “Mr. Clinton” rather than upon the crimes happening all around her.
And what of industry? Is it a coincidence that incidences of rape are most prevalent in areas where there’s mining?
Jewelry and electronics companies use ‘conflict minerals’ from these regions to keep their prices down. And consumers buy their products.
Governments also refuse to take a stand. In 2014, the Conservative majority in Canada’s Parliament defeated the conflict minerals bill of NDP member Paul Dewar. Though the Liberals supported Dewar’s bill, since they’ve taken office they’ve done little to hold Canadian mining companies, who are very prevalent in the Congo, to an acceptable standard of ethics.
Some are indeed trying to make a difference and they hold a light for others to follow. Apple Corp. has made an effort to not only avoid conflict minerals in its products, it has invested in development projects in the Congo. The same can be said for Canadian mining company Banro Corp., which has taken its social responsibility very seriously. Canadian actor Ryan Gosling has been very active in the cause for peace in the Congo, as has Eve Ensler, the author of the Vagina Monologues.
Yet the most honourable individuals in the face of these crimes have been the Congolese themselves. Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Denis Mukwege has operated on thousands of rape victims, and has worked with Ensler and teams of Congolese women in helping them to find their voices and heal.
It may seem ironic, but it’s these women who are the greatest source of hope in bringing change to the Congo and perhaps to all of humanity. Indeed, Liberian Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee has called the eastern Congo, “the world capital for sisterhood and solidarity.”
True power doesn’t rest with the violent, it lies with those of integrity and courage.
Now it’s up to us to pay attention to what’s happening in the Congo and demand change. It’s time to step forward with our beautiful and powerful Congolese sisters and say, “Enough is enough!”
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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