Skip to main content

Congo needs our help

By Susannah Sirkin, Special to CNN
updated 8:27 AM EST, Fri November 30, 2012
The M23 rebel group is fighting the Democratic Republic of Congo military for control of the country, and the violence is driving tens of thousands of Congolese out of their homes. Here on November 22, thousands fled the town of Sake and headed east to the camps for displaced in the village of Mugunga. The M23 rebel group is fighting the Democratic Republic of Congo military for control of the country, and the violence is driving tens of thousands of Congolese out of their homes. Here on November 22, thousands fled the town of Sake and headed east to the camps for displaced in the village of Mugunga.
HIDE CAPTION
Crisis in DR Congo
M23
Crisis in DR Congo
Crisis in DR Congo
Crisis in DR Congo
Crisis in DR Congo
Crisis in DR Congo
Crisis in DR Congo
Crisis in DR Congo
Crisis in DR Congo
Crisis in DR Congo
Crisis in DR Congo
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Violence erupted in eastern Congo, creating a humanitarian crisis
  • Susannah Sirkin: The international community cannot stand by and do nothing
  • She says there's truth to the saying that Congo is the "rape capital of the world"
  • Sirkin: The courage of the Congolese should inspire us to take political action

Editor's note: Susannah Sirkin is deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights.

(CNN) -- Some of the bravest people I know are cowering today in eastern Congo, wondering where their supporters are. While our daily news zeroes in on Syria and Gaza, the fiscal cliff and Christmas sales, our friends in the war-ravaged part of the immense, mineral-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo are once again convulsed in a conflict they did not choose.

A resident from Goma, in North Kivu province, who for security reasons must not be named, sent me a heartbreaking e-mail accompanied by a photo taken by The Associated Press' Jerome Delay. It shows a tiny girl leading a long line of displaced women who carry enormous loads on their backs, a look of utter desperation on her face as tears stream down her cheeks.

The e-mail says, "This girl is a future mother, barely four years old and she must walk many kilometers due to the attack on her village. She cries, but who is listening? No one takes care of her, no one to console her. Her mother can't help because she is carrying their entire household's possessions on her back. Just one attack on this column of displaced people and she will find herself alone in the jungle. We only ask for peace. It's unacceptable that we deny her the chance to grow up and become a mother one day."

Susannah Sirkin
Susannah Sirkin

It is shocking how ill-prepared the international community has been for this latest round of violence in Africa. A leading hospital in Goma, where guerrilla forces have been poised to enter the city for months, sent desperate e-mails to friends around the world pleading for antibiotics, painkillers, plaster and bandages, as international agencies focused on evacuating their staff members from border areas. E-mails I received showed bloody, shattered limbs of children and badly wounded patients with expressions of horror and despair.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Many call Congo the "rape capital of the world," and when you work as I have with the doctors and nurses who have treated tens of thousands of rape survivors, it's hard not to acknowledge some truth to this terrible epithet. For the past 16 years, armed factions supplied by Rwanda, Uganda and the ragtag and ill-paid army of the Congolese government itself have carved up the Congolese provinces of North and South Kivu, marauding, pillaging, killing, abducting children to be soldiers and, yes, gang-raping women and girls as well as men and boys.

All the while, gold, diamonds and precious coltan ore have continued to be extracted and exported as the people of the Kivus have suffered without electricity, roads, schools and good government.

The single largest U.N. peace-keeping force in the world, MONUSCO, stood by virtually impotent last week as some 1,500 M23 rebels overran Goma. Congolese troops, many of them hungry and penniless, ran for the hills. And while we gathered around our Thanksgiving tables, the people of Goma hid in their homes or fled.

Life in Goma amid crisis
DR Congo rebels make demands for exit
Congolese rebels take over Goma

For months, refugees from North Kivu have streamed across the border into Rwanda as the rebels, led by indicted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda, have mounted increasingly brazen attacks on North Kivu villages. While driving across the Rwandan border into Goma in May, I saw buses and cars loaded with families carrying their meager possessions, once again fleeing chaos in their country and renewed attacks by the M23 rebels. Last month when I traveled to South Kivu, Goma was under curfew.

In Goma, people who have bravely defended the rule of law and supported human rights for more than a decade were terrorized into silence amid reports of targeted assassinations and disappearances. The Goma prison emptied out mass murderers and rapists, previously convicted by courageous magistrates in the mobile courts set up across the region in recent years. MONUSCO reported that it was airlifting the magistrates to safety, an ominous sign that justice is giving way to guns.

In 2008, the International Criminal Court accused Bosco Ntaganda of conscripting children and called for his immediate arrest. The court's prosecutor has stated that he is as dangerous a war criminal as the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. Once again, governments responsible for setting up and subsidizing the international rule of law have failed these very institutions.

Meanwhile, in South Kivu's capital of Bukavu, a two-hour boat ride across the lake, residents prepared for the unknown. Who launched the brazen armed attack in October on our beloved medical colleague, Dr. Denis Mukwege, whose hospital near Bukavu has treated tens of thousands of rape survivors? Was this a warning shot?

Amazingly, in the midst of the current convulsions, military magistrates in this city are prosecuting rapes and pillaging by their own government's troops as they defend the rule of law despite the chaos. As one of the magistrates told me Wednesday, "It's our country, and we will defend justice here until it's no longer safe."

The courage and commitment to justice and human rights of our Congolese counterparts are an incredible inspiration. Their actions must inspire not only our admiration but our reciprocal commitment to respond with equal political courage and whatever other resources we can bring to bear.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Susannah Sirkin.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT