Call goes out for peacekeepers for Congo

  • November 13, 2008
{mosimage}OTTAWA - A number of Catholic and Christian organizations have asked Canada to intervene in the crisis that has gripped the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The whole civilian population is being held hostage,” said Development and Peace advocacy officer Mary Durran.
The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace joined KAIROS, an ecumenical social justice organization, the Coalition for Women’s Human Rights in Situation of Conflict and NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar, at a news conference Nov. 7, called for a Canadian peacekeepers’ mission and CIDA funds for humanitarian purposes.

Five million people have died in the Congo since conflict spilled into the vast African country following the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Dewar said. Another two million are internally displaced.

The Congo has recently experienced a flare-up in violence that has targeted women and girls with sexual assault.

“Massive displacements, arbitrary assassinations, pillage, torture, kidnapping and an undetermined number of rapes have happened in Congo,” said Gaëlle Breton Le Goff of the Montreal-based women’s human rights coalition. “War, once again, is being waged on the bodies of women and girls — Canada must take immediate action.”

KAIROS corporate social responsibility program co-ordinator Ian Thomson called on the United Nations to do everything to bring about a lasting peace. He also urged Canada to support local NGOs rather than international agencies, because they have proven more effective.

The UN peacekeeping mission already in the country is “on the brink of collapse,” Dewar said. Canada was asked to help with logistical support and leadership assistance as recently as last June but refused, he said. It also turned down a 2003 request. He described it as a “missed opportunity to entrench ourselves as a strong middle power.”

Durran said a strong UN military response could have a similar result as the British intervention in the civil war in Sierra Leone, where the British troop presence ended the fighting within a few weeks. She did not anticipate an insurgency developing like that in Afghanistan.

She also called on Canada to implement the recommendations of the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility concerning Canada’s mining and extractive industry operating overseas, because natural resources are the source of the fighting. While other parts of Africa have blood diamonds, the Congo has “blood tin” and “blood coltan,” a metallic ore widely used in cellphones, lap tops and DVDs, she said.

Durran said the violence is rooted in the smuggling of tin, coltan and gold through Rwanda. Though Canadian mining companies operate in the Congo, they are not operating in the area where fresh violence has broken out. Most of the coltan and other minerals are mined by local “artisan” miners, she said, but an investigation needs to determine where the smuggled material is going once it leaves Rwanda.

Development and Peace, the Canadian Catholic bishops’ overseas development agency, is working with Caritas Congo in the area. It has put out an appeal for donations and joined the other groups in asking CIDA to contribute. Durran said the Catholic Church is “very present in the whole” of the Congo, though the development agency does not only work with church-related NGOs.

Even though the number of deaths in the Congo has exceeded by more than five times those of the Rwandan genocide, Durran said the deaths have not gained the same media attention because they have taken place over a longer time frame than the swift, mass killings in Rwanda that took place over a few months.

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