The Syrian civil war, with all of the harm done to civilians, now has the world’s attention. The Obama administration, by threatening a missile strike, is claiming the moral high ground in responding to the use of chemical weapons. Meanwhile, millions of Congolese are asking: why does the world continue to look the other way at the war of aggression in their country where millions of civilians have died over the past 18 years, where rape is on a massive scale, and children are still being kidnapped and forced into the fighting?
Unlike Syria, the situation in the Congo is not a civil war. No one internal rebel group is seeking to overthrow the government. Nor is it a war between African tribes, as so often suggested by cynical Western observers who shrug their shoulders at African conflicts as if the warring parties are hell-bent on killing each other.
The war in the Congo, on the other hand, involves a purposely weak central government fighting against militias that are backed by outside interests. These interests by many accounts are fighting for control of one of the most resource rich areas in the world. The Congo is flush with tantalum, tungsten, and tin required to make our electronic gadgets work; gold and diamonds; copper; timber; and an abundance of water for drinking and hyrdro-electric power.
The most powerful of these militias, M23, is backed by Rwanda. Life in areas controlled by the M23 rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is one of daily suffering and fear. A recent, dispatch by Human Rights Watch’s Ida Sawyer, reports: “Families worry their children will be forced to the frontlines, their wives, sisters, and mothers might be raped in their fields, or their brothers and husbands killed for being “on the wrong side.”
“Just in the last two weeks, M23 fighters executed two local chiefs, shot and stabbed to death a boy, and shot dead at least three other men. Their shelling of populated neighborhoods in and around Goma killed at least seven civilians and wounded more than 40. A 16-year-old girl was killed while bathing when a mortar landed outside her home. A 14-year-old boy was killed when a mortar hit his home as he slept. Another mortar landed on a school, crushing to death a child playing.
“Since April 2012, the rebels have committed widespread war crimes, including summary executions, rapes, and forced recruitment of children. Yet Rwanda has supplied them with weapons and ammunition, provided them new recruits, and backed them with military forces. Other armed groups and Congolese soldiers have also committed serious abuses.”
We recently talked to representatives of the North Kivu Civil Society who sent a delegation to the Washington, D.C., area to communicate their plight. They described the daily oppression of their villages being controlled by M23. They demand “taxes,” grains and food from each family member each week. They call it a “war contribution.” They impose a curfew on farmers then harvest their fields. Rwandan soldiers are in the M23. Arms and munitions are being delivered to the M23 through Uganda, violating the most recent brokered agreement.
While President Obama, the State Department, and the United Nations have sought to hold Rwanda accountable for its sponsorship of violence in the Congo, their efforts have lacked political clout. Why? We have made the case that former president Bill Clinton whose foundation is active in Rwanda and who has expressed deep regret at not responding effectively to the Rwandan genocide, is white washing Rwanda’s destructive activities in the Congo. Tony Blair has performed the same service for Rwanda before the UK public, applauding Rwanda as an Africa success and down playing their sponsorship of terror in the Congo.
Rwandan troops have invaded the Congo twice during this 18-year conflict. Their sponsorship of M23 is in line with a well-orchestrated Rwandan strategy of using proxies in the DRC to wage a permanent war of predation; M23 is just the last such Rwandan creation following many others. During the course of the past 18 years Rwandan backed militias AFDL, the RCD and the CNDP have contributed greatly to the death toll in the DRC.
For the people of Eastern Congo, particularly the North Kivu province, these Rwandan backed militias have raped, plundered and murdered civilians and caused tens of thousands of Congolese to flee from their villages toward refugee camps. And yet the big media outlets in the U.S. rarely report on the conflict.
The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, where UN envoy Mary Robinson has encouraged the M23 into direct negotiations with the M23, is deeply problematic. According to a recent blog post by Jason Stearns, despite the resumption of talks, the parties effectively remained deadlocked, with M23 saying “they would only put down their weapons if the FDLR are neutralized and Congolese refugees are allowed to return to the Congo, two goals that will take years to fully achieve”.
Those two goals are impossible to achieve. Why?
1. For many years now, different conjoined operations (with Rwanda) have taken to disarm the FDLR, without success. The evidences show that among the soldiers of the FARDC imprisoned there the Hutu militias that are recycled to fight in the ranks of the M23.
2. The repatriation of Tutsi refugees is a false pretext that only allow their implantation in villages who fled the atrocities of the M23 and are thousands of displaced in camps in the interior of DRC. This requirement be valid only insofar as internal displaced have found their villages.
3. The problem of impunity of the M23 and especially the Congolese army does not even seem to be in party talks. The M23 will put down their weapons and will live quietly without being worried by the justice among the scared by suffering population (rape, massacres, etc) for over 18 years.
According to these village leaders, the long oppressed population of North Kivu considers that the so called peace brokers “have spit on the dead and victims of wars of aggression imposed by Rwanda and also Uganda by signing a deal with criminals who may integrate the military, police and political institutions.”
In conclusion, the international peace brokers are following a similar pattern that continues the destructive status quo in the Congo, the repetitive and cloaked aggression of Rwanda.