Human rights attorney Carrie Crawford was in Portland Oct. 22, as part of Congo Week, which aims to raise awareness about mass killings and rape of civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"We believe the situation in the Congo is just as important as the movement to free South Africa was so many years ago," says Crawford. She chairs the nonprofit Friends of the Congo.
The conflict, which has killed an estimated six million people, is part of a struggle by nations and corporations to control the country's abundant mineral wealth, Crawford says. Militias and rebel groups have waged a campaign of destruction, killing and rape-- in order to drive people from their homelands and seize their lands. The Lords Resistance Army, for example, recruits child soldiers and is accused of many atrocities. Some of the combatants are sponsored by neighboring countries that include Rwanda and Uganda,
The Congo produces more than $1 billion of gold alone each year. That's in addition to diamonds, copper, coltan, uranium and other rare metals. Congolese minerals are essential to industries in the developed world. They're used in our cars and our planes, our computers and our smart phones. Without Congolese diamonds and gold, our jewelry industry would be much poorer.
"All of that we're benefiting from. And yet we're silent," says Maurice Carney, executive director of Friends of the Congo, in the video, "Crisis in the Congo."
"There's a global consensus that exists, that says it's ok for nearly six million Black people to die in the Heart of Africa and for us to be silent."
The advocacy group, Human Rights Watch says the situation is grave.
"National elections were chaotic and marred by state security forces attacking opposition candidates, journalists and ordinary citizens," the group says on its website. "Incumbent President Joseph Kabila claimed victory, but election monitors said the results lacked credibility. Attempts to protest were brutally suppressed, and the main opposition candidate was put under nominal house arrest. In the east, the military and armed groups continue attacks on civilians, including rape and killings. A few perpetrators were prosecuted, but Bosco Ntaganda, an army general wanted by the International Criminal Court, remains free while his forces continue to commit atrocities."
Who's responsible? The neighboring countries of Rwanda and Uganda have invaded Congo in the past and are currently linked to warlords responsible for mass killings and rapes. Angola and Burundi were also implicated in a U.N. mapping report released in 2010.
"They have looted the place outrageously, taking hundreds of millions of dollars, and supporting some of the worst warlords, with never a word of protest from the United States," Carney says.
Friends of the Congo is asking the United States to enforce a law, passed by Congress in 2010. The Democratic Republic of Congo Relief, Security and Democracy Promotion Act, requires the Secretary of State to withdraw aid from any countries shown to be promoting conflict in the DRC. The United States gives aid to Rwanda and Uganda, as well as to the DRC.
"The law is on the books; there is no excuse not to enforce it," Crawford says.
For centuries Congolese music has influenced musicians across the African continent and beyond. And its art has been admired and emulated by artists such as Picasso and Matisse.
Congo's descent into widespread conflict came after 125 years of subjugation by Western powers. The Congolese people were enslaved and exploited from 1885 through the end of colonization in 1960. King Leopold of Belgium owned the country as his personal property for a quarter of a century. During that time he made millions on Congolese rubber. Its first democratically elected leader, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated within a year. Lumumba was succeeded by a dictator, Joseph Mobutu, who ruled for 30 years, with U.S. and British support. Civil war broke out in 1996 and again in 1998.
"We have 125 years of this, and what it does is it destroys and eviscerates Congolese institutions," Carney said.
Crawford says the challenge of healing from decades if violence is daunting, but she is optimistic that the young people will be able to move forward. The United States has taken action against Rwanda for the first time, she says. "We've seen progress since we started this campaign in 2004," she said. "This is not a hopeless situation."
The Global Post also reports on other actions designed to halt the conflict.