On Monday night, the Loyola College Community joined together to kick off Congo Awareness week. The opening event was the showing of the documentary The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo. This film, a Sundance Winner in 2007, was about the brutal rape of women in the Congo during its civil war. According to the film, rape has always been used as a weapon of war, and in the Congo it seems to be no exception to this age old rule of war. In the past 10 years, there are estimated to have been hundreds of thousands of rapes. These rapes effect many different demographics, including the young, the old, mothers, grandmothers, teens, and children but also effect every member of society, including men—husbands, fathers, sons. The Congo is so violent because there is a strong reason to fight over its many natural resources. It was first developed as a colony for its rubber supply, but it has since branched out into the fields of gold, silver, and diamonds. Most recently, the valuable mineral of Coltan has been extracted from the region. Eighty percent of the world’s supply of Coltan, which is used in all cell phones and laptop computers, lies in the Congo and this is where the greatest amount of riches, and also of violence, comes from. Whoever controls this resource will be the one with the power to maintain control of the region.
Today, the Congo has come under the eye of the United Nations, which have stationed almost 17,000 troops in the Congo because of this conflict. These troops have been working with the Congolese army to keep the many militia groups in check. While the U.N. has done a great job with the men, they are sadly sometimes part of the problem. Some of the Congolese soldiers are corrupt, and extort money and sometimes sex from the very people that they have been designated to protect. Also, the U.N. soldiers have also been under investigation for exchanging sex with locals for food and other necessities.
One of the worst parts of the rape of the Congolese women (besides the act itself) is that the government does not even acknowledge the severity of the problem. There is no sex crimes department like we have here in the states. The entire “task force” consists of a female commander and a few glorified secretaries to write down the statements of the victims. There is nobody to speak for these women who have been brutally tortured—as the title of the film states, they truly are invisible. This is where I feel that the Jesuit motto of being men and women with and for others really comes into play. The people of the Congo are really hurting, and we are in the position to do something about it. We can voice our opinion in many different ways, ways in which these suppressed people cannot. We can write to members of congress asking them to pursue a resolution for the situation in the Congo. We can raise our voice to act in solidarity with the people suffering. According to Fr. Kolvenbach, “The overriding purpose of the Society of Jesus, namely ‘the service of faith,’ must also include ‘the promotion of justice.’” The situation in the Congo is a great way for us to voice out our concerns for this war torn country. As Milton would say, now is our time—we must seize our opportunity before it is too late.