[Cross-posted from the WITNESS Hub Blog.]
I generally read my news online, but sometimes you can feel the impact of a story so much more when you’re holding it in your hands. During a brief layover in London on the way to Athens for a conference (on which more in the coming days), I bought a slew of UK newspapers – and one of those papers deserves particular credit for its editorial choices today.
The Guardian has a special focus on the epidemic of rape in the Congo today, based on video testimonies (but unfortunately the Guardian doesn’t permit embedding of their media so visit their site to see the video).
On the Guardian’s homepage, the story is of course given prominence – it’s just below the fold at this late point in the day – but clearly has to operate in the context of breaking news. It’s rapidly been displaced from the top of the site by the US unemployment figures and the sentencing of OJ Simpson, among other emerging stories.
But the hundreds of thousands buying or seeing the print edition can’t possibly avoid the portrait and testimony of 50-year-old Mirindi Euprazi that dominate the front page, or the deeper crisis that her words describe. (Click the link below to see the front page.)
Her harrowing story of rape by militias in Walungu, in the eastern part of DRC, is just one of over 400 video testimonies collected by Leah Chishugi, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who travelled round eastern DRC between July and October this year talking to women who had survived in some cases repeated and ongoing sexual violence. Deeper in the paper, the story is given further space with a two-page spread, one side of which starkly presents stills and quotes from video interviews with 8 separate women. (Click below to see the two-page spread.)
I can’t recommend today’s Guardian coverage of this highly enough – it’s a powerful, purposeful use of their front page territory (more so IMHO than, for example, the Independent’s single-issue front pages).
Avaaz also recognises the power of print media to inform and influence public debate, and is taking a different but related tack, mobilising its members to donate for adspace in newspapers across Europe to urge action on the crisis. It’s not an either/or, but without the Guardian’s editorial commitment, and the compassion and insight brought by Leah Chishugi’s interviews, advocacy actions like those of Avaaz might have much less chance of success.
I urge you to watch and share these testimonies as widely as possible, not least since next week is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the world’s attention during the coming days will be squarely on celebrating human rights. These women’s testimonies are deeply sobering, and bear witness to a widening legacy of trauma both physical and psychological from a conflict that has not only claimed millions of lives, but continues to damage and destroy the lives of millions more. They deserve to be seen, heard, and acted on – immediately.
What you can do:
– learn more about the work being done by the IRC, Medecins Sans Frontieres, and even the late Miriam Makeba to spotlight and bring an end to the rape crisis, as well as addressing the widespread stigmatisation of survivors of sexual violence. The US TV channel HBO has a selection of local and international resources to accompany their showing of the film The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo. Worldpulse has a petition link. If you know of other actions or ways to support work addressing this crisis, just add them in a comment below.
– stay up-to-date with events in the DRC – IRIN and International Crisis Group are good places to start – as are Amnesty and HRW. Congo Resourcesand Friends of the Congo are blogs devoted to tracking and framing all things DRC. The Guardian’s overall coverage is here, and Global Voices’ coverage here. Again, please add more sources below.
– My colleague Bukeni Waruzi has spoken and blogged recently on the crisis that continues to face his country. Other videos on the Hub include this piece from Unicef on Rape as a Weapon of War in DRC, and this WITNESS co-production from Sierra Leone, Operation Fine Girl, on the use of rape as a weapon of war in the civil conflict there. Let us know below of any relevant videos or testimonies you come across.
Since I posted the post above a few days ago, NGO and media reports – particularly those involving the testimony of women directly affected – about this crisis have brought significant attention to the issue – but what is happening to stem the tide?
One month ago, the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect wrote an open letter to the UN (pdf) calling for direct intervention (read more on the R2P doctrine).
And over on Comment is Free, author Giles Foden calls for international military intervention in the DRC, using the reports of mass rape as the “platform for this intervention.”
Ordinary Africans are already suffering on a scale that dwarfs
casualties from terrorist outrages and conflicts in Afghanistan and
Iraq. In particular, the harrowing reports of mass rape in the Congo
demand a response – a military one. There are good political as well as
reasons why stopping mass rape should be the platform for this
intervention. Women are the “glue” in central African society. They are
the carers, the food providers. If many in several generations of women
are damaged, injured or killed, the chances of a return to civil
society are extremely slim.
Read the rest of Giles’ piece and the numerous comments on it here.