United Methodist Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda displays one volume of the million-plus name petition to the United Nations demanding meaningful peacekeeping and serious consequences for the Rwandan government for supporting militias in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Behind him are Mme. Emma Zanao Selenani and Prof. Raymond Mande Mutombo. Photo by Michael Swan

Canadian voice sought to bring Congo peace

By 
  • September 29, 2012

TORONTO - With a death toll estimated at 5.4 million and climbing and a campaign of rape reshaping the nation, Congolese religious leaders arrived in Canada with a petition signed by more than one million Congolese and a request that Canadians support practical measures for peace at the United Nations.

“You have a voice and your voice is strong to stop this war. You have the means to stop this war. And you have a way,” Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda of the United Methodist Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo told The Catholic Register.

The bishop was part of a delegation that visited the Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto in mid-September. The delegation was at the university to speak to students about the effects of the war after meeting earlier in Ottawa with Canadian government officials.

The war in the Congo has officially been over since the Sun City Agreement installed a government of national unity under President Joseph Kabila in 2003, but in the eastern provinces militias and government troops continue to battle for control over lucrative mines. The most notorious of the militias, the M23 Movement, has had the quiet backing of the Rwandan government and finds refuge across the border.

In June United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called M23 leaders “among the worst perpetrators of human rights violations in the Congo, or in the world.” Human Rights Watch reports that since June M23 fighters have deliberately killed at least 15 civilians. They have also raped at least 46 women and girls — the youngest just eight years old. They killed a 25-year-old pregnant woman because she resisted and two other women died from wounds inflicted by their rapists, the organization says.

While the UN has one of its largest peacekeeping missions stationed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the troops lack basic equipment and the mandate is so weak it would be better to describe them as an observer mission, said Prof. Raymond Mutombo.

“We do not specifically ask Canada to reinforce the UN mission with troops as such,” said Mutombo. “But the request we’ve placed is to support our petition to the United Nations.”

The petition asks for a more robust peacekeeping mandate for troops.

“Canada certainly could do it,” said John Seibert, executive director of Project Ploughshares, a Kitchener, Ont.-based ecumenical think tank dedicated to peace and defence issues supported by the Canadian Council of Churches.

Canada wouldn’t have to dedicate large numbers of troops to the Congo to make a difference, Seibert said. Canada’s French-speaking officer corps, tactics, heavy transport equipment and communications equipment would give the UN mission a huge advantage over rebel groups that employ drugged-up child soldiers with AK-47 automatic rifles.

“Look at the equipment and experience gained in the Afghanistan mission — highly mobile, tough as nails, people who know how to interact with cultural difference,” said Seibert.

Getting the international community to condemn Rwanda has been a tough sell, said Mutombo.

“From 1994 when the genocide took place in Rwanda, the international community has been taken hostage,” he said.

Guilt over the international community’s inaction during the Rwandan genocide prevents criticism of its government.

“(Rwandan President) Paul Kagame is still held in some esteem because of his stopping the genocide and bringing stability to Rwanda,” said Seibert. “That does not give him a get-out-of-jail-free card on activities in the DRC.”

Much of the fighting is over control of coltan, or more formally columbite-tantalite, an essential ingredient in the capacitors at the heart of cellphones, tablet computers, hearing aids, pacemakers and other products. As of 2009, 44.3 per cent of the world’s coltan originated in the Congo, compared to just 3.7 per cent in Canada.

Research In Motion, the Canadian company whose Blackberry phones constitute about 10 per cent of the world’s smartphones, has a “responsible minerals policy” and a “supplier code of conduct” to ensure it does not use conflict minerals in its phones. But corrupt businesses in Rwanda working with M23 rebels are able to disguise the origins of coltan they sell on the international market, according to the Congolese Church leaders.

“Coltan is just a mineral. Human life is more than a mineral,” said Ntanda. “Human life is being destroyed for no reason. People are being killed for no reason.”

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace said it hears the same demands for international intervention to stop the violence from its partners in the Congo, said program officer Serge Blais. Development and Peace works extensively with the Congo’s Catholic bishops on projects that encourage people to engage in the democratic process.

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