There is a human rights crisis that is unfolding today in the Democratic Republic of Congo that requires the attention of all journalists. A photographer working in the region was quoted as saying that ANY journalist, publisher, or news organization that turns their back on this crisis is as guilty of pulling the trigger as any warlord in the region.
Mainstream media is not covering this humanitarian disaster. By some accounts there are at least 800,000 and as many as 1.2 million refugees in Kivu province alone.
Human Rights Watch issued a press release this week which outlined the findings of an investigative team lead by senior Congo researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg.
In a recent 10-day mission to the most affected territories of Masisi and Rutshuru in eastern Congo, Van Woudenberg's team documented more than 200 killings of civilians and the rape of hundreds of women and girls since January by all armed groups, including Congolese army soldiers.
"Six months after the peace agreement was signed there has been no improvement in the human rights situation and in some areas it has actually deteriorated," said Van Woudenberg. "While the parties to the peace agreement attend talks in Goma, their troops continue to kill, rape, and loot civilians."
In January 2008 the Congolese government signed a peace agreement in Goma, North Kivu, with 22 armed groups committing all parties to an immediate ceasefire, disengagement of forces from frontline positions, and respect for international human rights laws. The Congolese government set up a peace program, the Amani Program, to coordinate peace efforts in eastern Congo. However, the government and international donors have provided limited funds to carry out that work.
United Nations officials have documented some 200 ceasefire violations since January 23, the majority between the forces of renegade general Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) and a loose coalition of combatants from the Mai Mai Mongol, the Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Resistance (PARECO), and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan armed group whose leaders participated in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The FDLR was not a party to the Goma agreement.
Human Rights Watch also found credible evidence that soldiers from the Congolese national army were supporting the PARECO, Mai Mai Mongol, and FDLR coalition, and question the government's commitment to the peace process.
Many of the worst human rights abuses were committed in and around the Bukombo administrative area in western Rutshuru, where some 150 civilians were killed between February and May 2008. PARECO and Mai Mai Mongol combatants, many of whom are untrained and poorly equipped, held the area from December to March, supported by FDLR combatants. According to dozens of people interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the fighters repeatedly raided villages for cattle, goats and other goods, raping women and girls, and killing civilians who opposed their activities or whom they accused of being collaborators of their enemies.
After the online news organization OpEdNews had a conversation with Van Woudenberg, Friends of the Congo suggested a plan to have a non-celebrity driven independent media group go to DRC, document this crisis, and get it out by whatever means possible.
Objective: The objective of this proposal is to secure the necessary resources for a delegation of independent journalists to travel to the Congo to bring attention and perspective to the conflict that causes 45,000 deaths per month. In 12 years of conflict that has resulted in a biblical scale of deaths beyond 5 million souls, we are not aware of any such delegation of journalists covering the situation in the Congo. Therefore this would be a novel and groundbreaking undertaking.
1. Organize trip for a group of 10 independent journalists for ten days to travel to the Congo to cover the situation in the country2. Document the source of the conflict
3. Provide a novel view of the heroic struggles being waged by everyday people to overcome enormous obstacles of living in an unstable environment
4. Provide an alternative prism through which the global community views the Congo in the hopes of stimulating a response that will lead to more being done to resolve the Congo crisis.
5. Introduce the enormous range of issues (women & children, human rights, child labor, environment, resource exploitation, endangered species threat, and more) plaguing the Congo, but also explore the unfathomable potential that exists in the Congo should stability and unity be realized.
Congo recently held elections in 2006, but it is still very much a country under western tutelage where the interests of the people are not being served in spite of its enormous natural wealth. The average Congolese earn $100 per year and 80 percent of the population live on 30 cents or less per day while billions of dollars escape out the back door of the country to the coffers of foreign multinationals