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Congo Market

Congo marketplace (Photo: G. Nienaber)

The fact-finding report from the United Nations documents the atrocities. Rapes and brutilizations designed to terrify the civilian populations in the remote region of Walikale have succeeded brilliantly. In villages connected with dirt roads that are impassable in the rainy season, village leaders walk into the forests to pay bribes for protection. They make offerings of $150 US to local rebels (Mayi Mayi Sheka), to the barbaric FDLR which continues the practice of genocide it initiated in Rwanda, and unfathomably to the FARDC-- the Congo army which is sworn to protect them.

But, the "security tax" is of little value. Villagers remain subject to summary executions, mass sexual violence, systematic lootings, abductions and the use of civilians for forced labor.

Rape victims are taunted by the barbarians at the village gates and reminded of the price paid for perceived disloyalty. In sickening, obscene deatil, the UN report describes the atrocties.

Taking turns, one would immobilize the victim by pinning down the chest and arms, a second would hold the legs, while a third would rape the victim. In addition, the assailants would push forked sticks, or simply their hands, into the intimate parts of the victims, purportedly to look for gold or silver.

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After the search, they would wipe their hands on the faces of their victims, insulting them and humiliating them verbally, with expressions such as "you betray us, so you don't deserve to be left alive."

In recent months, the leaders of Walikale have reached out to the United Nations, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and to journalists they have met along the way. Many of the Walikale leaders are in hiding, targets of assassinations telegraphed in advance by the FDLR. As of early January 2012, 20,000 people are displaced and hiding in the forests.

There are some stunning images in this Guardian video. Notice the FDLR soldier in the Obama T-shirt, and the UN forces doing absolutely nothing.

This week, the leaders of Walikale released a bulletin, Kwetu Walikale, for the residents of the territory. Perhaps it will make a stronger impression to hear a voice directly from the people--people who feel that no one is listening. The United Nations mission MONUSCO will not even pick up their phones or answer emails.

Here is a translation of part of the document, which you can download here.<

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How long will these people have to "grind their teeth, groan and know the worst days of their life?" What follows is a portion of Kwetu Walikale.

As elsewhere around the world celebrates the end of 2011 and early 2012, the population of Walikale grind their teeth, groan and know the worst days of their existence. It's party time at the United Nations, the feast at the top of the state party headquarters and provincial institutions in North Kivu. All organizations defending human rights are on leave. Officials have turned off their phones not to be disturbed while we celebrate this important event of the year. An automated message is the reply every time one is tempted to inform electronically (by email). Messages of greetings and gifts are exchanged and shared among the officials. However, no message of compassion has been sent to people in pain. No assistance is provided to victims of armed conflict.

Hoping for a solution, the community of Walikale wrote to the UN Secretary General on 10 December 2011 to announce the imminent threat hanging over the entire community, in particular 49 people targeted by the FDLR. For fear of being killed, they are currently limited in their movements and initiatives. The cry of the community seems, therefore, have been launched in the desert.

Human rights organizations have remained silent. None of them dared to ask. One would wonder why they silence themselves in front of a threat as serious as violation of the rights of a group of Congolese citizens. The rights of a man (sic) knows no race, religion or membership in tribal-ethnic group. Who is this man? Of which tribe and which ethnic group is he? Can we conclude that the man of Walikale is not eligible? How is the the involvement of a human rights advocacy organization motivated? Walikale is certainly rich enough to merit protection.

("The territory of Walikale is rich in minerals, and consists mainly of mountain ranges covered with abundant indigenous forests. Its residents are Bantu, mainly belonging to the Nianga, Nande, Shi, and Hunde ethnic groups, and the most widely-spoken language is Swahili."--from UN Report)

This is what the community is doing. Since November 2011, villages are emptied of their populations. They are on the move. A slow pace is shown by the agencies of the United Nations in charge of humanitarian issues. Bodies in charge of protecting civilian populations are not running (to help) yet the events take place in broad daylight in full view of everyone. Walowa-Yungu, Walowa-Uroba, and Walowa-Loanda have become fields of battle. The atrocities are mounting. During the movement, women are raped and killed -young men cut into pieces. 40 deaths and over 20,000 displaced persons are the results of fighting in early January 2012. No person is visible in the streets of these three villages on this day, January 8, 2012.

Luberike, Ihana and Ikobo are not spared. But there is no assistance soon to come. Pregnant women, the elderly, children and people with disabilities experience a nightmare. Yes, are all guilty of the offense of failure to assist a person in danger.

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Some people wonder whether to cross borders to draw the attention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees "UNHCR" because the organizations in charge of IDPs want to give the impression that they only care about refugees. Yes, people in Walikale are victims of a conflict of international character. The victims could therefore benefit from the advantages associated with this characterization of the conflict.

Yes, we are all guilty of the failure to assist people in danger. It is our moral duty to provide a voice for these Congolese. It is time for the United Nations and human rights groups to dispense with "fact-finding" after the carnages and provide pro-active protections for these innocents.

It is no excuse to say the UN faces "constraints related to the prevailing insecurity in the area visited." That statement flies in the face of all that is rational in an insane world.

Georgianne Nienaber