CONGO: Bishop says those who speak out on violence face maiming

November 20, 2009

A cleric who has in the past spoken out against injustices emanating from violence that ravages people in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo due to regional inter-ethnic violence has said he is now afraid to talk about it. The Congolese bishop, who wished not be named, said a Rwandan rebel group in the DRC is gouging out local people's eyes and maiming others as a response to condemnation of their crimes against innocent civilians. "It is becoming very risky these days to speak against the rebels," the bishop, who requested anonymity as he feared for his safety, told Ecumenical News International on Nov. 19 from Kinshasa. "Ordinary people have been targeted in revenge and their eyes gouged out." The bishop had been contacted by ENI seeking the opinions of church leaders about the arrest in Germany of rebel leader Ignace Murwanashyaka of the Forces Democratique de Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and an aide. Murwanashyaka, aged 46, was arrested in Karlsruhe, and Straton Musoni in the Stuttgart area of Germany, for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes in the DRC. "It has been the wish of many people -- including churches, ordinary people and the United Nations -- that the leaders be arrested," said the bishop. "They have been preventing the rebels who want to leave the bush from doing so." The rebel leaders fled to the neighboring DRC after the 1994 Rwanda genocide, in which 800,000 people mainly from the Tutsi ethnic group and some members of the Hutu group were killed. The rebel group's presence in the north and south Kivu provinces of the DRC has led to years of conflict and they are accused of using proceeds from smuggled minerals such as diamonds and gold to fuel the war. Separately, Anglican church leaders from Britain and the DRC on Nov. 19 urged strong political commitment from the governments of all countries in Africa's Great Lakes region in the center of the continent, to ensure that humanitarian needs of local communities are protected. "In addition to the atrocities of the war, Congolese people also suffer from social injustice, a culture of impunity and pervasive corruption that destroys our society like a cancer," said Archbishop Henri Isingoma of the Anglican Church of Congo. The Anglican statement was to mark the 100th anniversary of the Great Congo Demonstration led by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, to protest against violence and oppression in the Congo Free State in 1909. The statement said that 100 years later violence in the DRC continues to claim lives. It is characterized by human rights violations, including acts of sexual and other violence against women and girls, the deliberate killing of civilians, and the recruitment of children as soldiers. "It is impossible to look at the situation in the DRC without the most profound distress," said Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion. "To that must be added the burden of shame when we read the words of my predecessor, Randall Davidson, and reflect on why so little has changed in a hundred years of history."

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