International House of Dan: The Belgian Congo

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Belgian Congo

The crises in the Sudan, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, and Rwanda have made it difficult for our attention to follow one of the worse humanitarian crises in history, the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Until 1960, a sizable portion of East Africa made up the Belgian Congo. Yesterday, 9 United Nations peacekeepers were killed in one of the countries carved out of the Belgian Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo. The peacekeepers were present as part of the global response to a brutal ethnic conflict that, since exploding in 1999, has claimed the lives of an estimated 3.3 million people. Over 50,000 of the deaths happened in the Ituri region, known as the bloodiest corner of the DRC, and the place where the peacekeepers were killed. This is the worst kind of violence, this is Rwanda, the Balkans, this is like the Holocaust, but with two sides carrying out reciprocal atrocities. This conflict has child soldiers, cannibalism, mass rape, mutilation of corpses, and any sort of sick, twisted, machete-wielding cruelty and violence you can imagine, it has happened in Ituri and the rest of the D.R.C.

The first case that the International Criminal Court decided to investigate, regards the situation in Ituri. I was at the U.N. in New York in September of 2003, when the Office of the Prosecutor announced it's intention to pursue approval for the investigation. The ICC has scheduled a closed conference to discuss the Ituri violence, to be held at The Hague on March 15th, hopefully some progress will come of it.

This post is titled "The Belgian Congo" because of the roots of the conflict. The Belgian colonists in the Congo favored the Hema over the Lendu, and as a result, the Lendu believe that the Hema have an unfair share of the land which both groups need. Violence ensued. If this sounds familiar, it's because it is, only you replace Lendu with Hutu, Hema with Tutsi, and Congo with Rwanda. You don't replace Belgian, though both were Belgian colonies.

I'm not going to chastise the administration of Belgium's former colonies. It's pretty clear that the Belgian government knows it was wrong. I also don't want to delve too deeply into the role of former colonial powers in the current affairs of their former colonies, except to say that there needs to be some involvement in remedying the troubles caused by the colonization. Obviously Belgium has changed drastically as Europe began looking inward, and they have worked hard towards international justice. When conservative U.S. politicians criticize Belgium's universal jurisdiction laws for crimes against humanity, perhaps they should consider that each State must atone for its sins in it's own way. Belgium may have overcompensated in international justice because of the devastating effect it's past policies continue to have in Africa.

Anyway... this post is just my two cents' worth to try to keep Congo alive in people's minds. It's too bad that as a society we seem to be unable to focus on more than one crisis at a time, so that the Tsunami replaces Sudan, and so on and so forth. Mr. Bush used past humanitarian abuses in Iraq as a pretext for war, this much seems clear from his simultaneous reluctance to deploy troops to end ongoing humanitarian abuses in Liberia, or his intractable opposition to the ICC. But if people genuinely care about ending these horrors, then our elected officials will have no choice but to adopt a stronger position against these recurring atrocities. "Live and Let Die" was a great song, but it should not be our national policy towards Africa.


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