By Lauren Shaw
Last week an attack by armed rebels on a peacekeeping mission was condemned by the United Nations Special Representative to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Roger Meece. Peacekeeping operations have been in full force since this summer’s attacks when, despite appeals to the UN for protection, over 200 villagers in the Democratic Republic of Congo were raped, with victims ranging from elderly women to a one-month-old baby boy. These atrocities were merely the latest in what has been a complex and blood-soaked history for the Congolese people. Survivors of the attack have blamed the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) rebel group which is led by those who fled to the Congo after carrying out the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
A British MP has claimed that the best solution is to appeal to Rwanda for military support, but this solution seems unlikely. A recent leaked UN report has accused Rwanda of wholesale war crimes including possible genocide during the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report claims that the army embarked on a “relentless pursuit and mass killing” of Hutus who had fled to the Congo. Rwanda’s first invasion of the Congo (known then as Zaire) in 1996 was to search for those responsible for the Rwandan genocide who were using the UN refugee camps as bases from which to continue their war against the Tutsi led government . The victims of the invasion were often women, children, the elderly and the ill that were butchered with hoes and axes, bayoneted or burned alive. These attacks are reported as “systematic, methodical and premeditated”.
Accusing the Congolese government of supporting the Hutu rebels, Rwanda invaded again under the guise of national security, but greed and self-interest took over as the conflict descended into the mass plundering of the Congo’s minerals. While the fighting officially ceased in 2003 the exploitation of the countries natural resources continues with the Congolese army and rebel groups such as the FDLR controlling the mines and using acts of violence like the recent rapes as a way to suppress the population and maintain their control. While these acts of brutality ought to receive full attention and media coverage from the West’s influential nations, the sad reality is that these nations are benefitting from the Congo’s resources. Apart from gold, the Congo exports cassiterite (used in laptops), coltan (mobile phones) and wolframite (light bulbs). Many international companies who get their supplies from the Congo directly or indirectly pay the army or rebel groups, with almost none of the profits going to the Congo’s treasury.
The fact that pieces of the Congo are found in our homes, workplaces, and even in our pockets shows that the West must take some form of action to end the injustice. The complexity of the issue means the international community must bring Congolese nationals into the discussions with the intention of re-establishing the Congolese state before the reformation of the mining industry can be achieved. The US should put pressure on its allies Rwanda and Uganda, to whom it gives aid, to cease the destabilisation and looting of the Congo. And perhaps, most importantly, Western nations must pay greater attention to where their resources are coming from and companies who continue to purchase blood minerals should be held accountable. As Global Witness, an international NGO that works against natural resource exploitation, has said “The illicit exploitation of natural resources in [Congo], and the accompanying serious human rights abuses, would not have taken place on such a large scale if there had not been customers willing to trade in these resources.”