Sexual violence in the Congo
Derek McAuley, Chief Officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, joined leaders from various faiths to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Great Congo Demonstration held at the Royal Albert Hall on 19 November 1909. That demonstration, hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, was a protest of Christian England against the violence in the then Congo Free State.
Exactly one hundred years on multi-faith representatives of religious organisations from across the UK gathered with celebrities, business women and men, activists and politicians from all parties in the Royal Albert Hall to highlight that violence and exploitation remains a major scar on the conscience of the modern world.
Over the past 12 years the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has claimed the lives of an estimated 6 million people and sexual violence is being used in eastern Congo to torture and humiliate women and girls and destroy families.
The gathering was organised by the V-Day UK Committee to stop the Rape of Women and Girls of the Congo . V-Day Founder and Playwright Eve Ensler said "What we are seeing in the DRC is a war being enacted on the bodies of women that is conscious and intentional - it is the systematic destruction of the female population of the Congo."
Hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped since the conflict began. In addition to the severe psychological impact, sexual violence leaves many survivors with genital lesions, traumatic fistulae, severed and broken limbs, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
Derek McAuley said: "In 1909 the campaign against the exploitation, slavery and murder of the people of the Congo led ultimately to the demise of the King Leopold's personal empire. In 2009 we must awaken to the catastrophe that is taking place in the Congo and we in the UK must not be silent. We must use our influence to help stop the horrors of the Congo and ensure the international community rises up to support and empower these women and girls."
The event is the first in a series that make up Congo Now - an international campaign that unites a coalition of more than 20 of the UK 's biggest NGO's plus UK parliamentarians. The campaign combines British and Congolese voices to demand an end to the world's worst humanitarian crisis - an action to address its underlying causes and consequences. The campaign will reach a climax in June and July 2010, when the DRC celebrates 50 years of independence.
What can we do? Support Emergency Appeal to Unitarians for Support from Quakers.
GA Chief Officer, Derek McAuley said: "It is easy to say that this is such a big problem we can do nothing. On the day of the commemoration event I received an appeal to Unitarians for financial support from the Quaker Congo Partnership. The Group has been active over the past year in supporting Quaker led initiatives in the eastern Congo, including the only hospital for many square miles, trauma counselling and a women's income generation project."
Fighting has returned to the region and people have fled from their homes in Abeka, in South Kivi . There have been no civilian casualties registered as a result of the recent fighting, however several thousand people have been displaced towards Uvira and Baraka including many Quakers from CEEACO, the Yearly Meeting in the area. A number of families have also fled to Burundi in fishing boats.
Patients of the Abeka hospital were among those who fled the fighting in Abeka. CEEACO has chosen to keep the hospital open, and has elected to give free treatment to patients during this period, due largely to the fact that almost all of the other surrounding Health Centres are now closed and many have been looted.
An emergency appeal has been launched and there is an immediate need for food, transport and medical supplies, and strategic peace-building.
Derek McAuley urged Unitarians to support this appeal: "With the approach of Christmas its too easy to settle down into our comfortable homes and enjoy warmth, good food and drink, family and friends. We should not forget people just like forced to flee their homes and living outdoors and facing the dangers of cholera."
If you and/or your Church or Chapel wish to support this appeal please send your donation either to:
"Cambridgeshire Area Quaker Meeting Congo Fund" , to: Quaker Congo Partnership, The Treasurer, Cambridgeshire Area Meeting,
Friends Meeting House, 12 Jesus Lane, Cambridge CB5 8BA, UK
This article first appeared in The Inquirer 12 December 2009 Issue 7736
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