Progressive Women welcome guest blogger Sarah O’Malley of Women for Women International
People in The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have known Joseph Kony’s name for years, having lived in a country terrorised by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) he commands. With the UN reporting last week that attacks by the LRA have been increasing – there have been 13 in DRC in the last month – the need to apprehend the man behind them cannot be doubted. However, Joseph Kony is not the only person causing the kind of horrific violence and suffering he is now infamous for.
Another name on the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) ‘most wanted’ list is Bosco Ntaganda. Described by the ICC Chief Prosecutor-elect as “just as dangerous as Joseph Kony”, he is wanted for various human rights violations in DRC, including the enlistment, conscription and active use of child soldiers.
Bosco Ntaganda served as Chief of Military Operations in Thomas Lubanga’s Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), a brutal military organisation that terrorised the Ituri region of the DRC when fighting began there in 1999. Lubanga himself was tried and convicted by the ICC only last month, yet his former collaborator walks free.
Known throughout the DRC as ‘The Terminator’, Ntaganda now serves as a General in the Congolese Army and has 50,000 men under his command. He lives openly in the eastern city of Goma, dining in expensive restaurants and playing tennis in his local club. Reports of rape, torture and recruitment of child soldiers by Ntaganda and troops loyal to him have been reported as recently as this week, and the UN has accused him of mass killings during a rebellion in 2009. Despite being aware of his actions and location, and legally obliged to deliver Ntaganda to the ICC, the Congolese Government has refused to do so, claiming he is essential to peace in eastern Congo. The truth of this claim is contested by many, including Anneke van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch, who claims that after 3 years of continued killings and abuses it is “an excuse [that] is no longer valid.”
The peace and security situation is DRC is complex, and will never be resolved with the arrest of just one man, but the fact that men like Ntaganda are left unpunished by their own government can do little to reassure the people who have suffered because of his actions. The majority of victims are civilians, most of them women and children, all of whom are left physically and emotionally traumatised by the violence they suffer – how can they be expected to sleep at night when the man who has inflicted so much suffering walks freely amongst them? The psychological suffering caused by the vulnerability women feel in a country where men like Ntaganda hold positions of power should not be underestimated.
It is essential that the social climate in DRC evolves so men like Ntaganda are brought to justice rather than allowed to amass power and status unchallenged. Equally important is the investment in the empowerment of women, to help them move from victims to active citizens able to implement the changes they want to see in their communities and country. If you would like to help Congolese women achieve this why not join Women for Women International on 3rd June at our Run for Congo Women? Every penny you raise will go directly to our programmes in DRC, and towards helping women survivors of war and conflict rebuild their lives.
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