To fully understand the depth of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s current struggles, one has to become familiar with their long history of war and conflict.The first reported Congo War started in 1996, fueled by the neighboring genocide in Rwanda between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. With more than 800,000 people killed in just 100 days, this massive murder displaced nearly two million Hutu Rwandan refugees that flooded the Congo borders to seek sanctuary. As refugees began entering the country en masse, guerrilla groups soon followed and began ravaging the local communities, causing the native Congolese Tutsi to fight back to force the population out of their regions.
Only a few years later, another conflict dubbed the “Great War of Africa”, broke out in Eastern Congo. As the Rwanda and Uganda forces regrouped in Eastern Congo, a joint invasion ensued causing a 5 year conflict between the neighboring countries. It wasn’t until 1999 that the region found support through the Lusaka Peace Accord. During the two wars, it is estimated that over 3.8 million people died in the Congo due to the ongoing conflict.
Human Rights Abuses
Human rights abuses in the Congo can be traced back to the days of the colonial control of King Leopold of Belgium. The Congo was under personal control of the King between 1885 and 1908. The country’s vast natural resources – particularly rubber – were of great interest to the ruler and many Congolese were forced into labor on rubber plantations. These slaves were subjected to rubber quotas, and if they were not met, faced amputation, rape, or death. Between two and 15 million Congolese were estimated to have been killed under King Leopold’s rule and Belgium ultimately took control over the colony from the King.
In modern day Congo, constant war and conflict has lead to increased sexual violence in the area. Named the “rape capital of the world” the Congo continues to struggle for peace with women, children, and men suffering from the ongoing crisis of rape and sexual abuse. While the exact number of people being raped each day is unfathomable, many are crying out for help. In 2014, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict formed to begin working towards a resolution. As the world leaders gathered, policies and laws were explored to help curb the rape rate of the region, including persecution, prison sentences, and other repercussions. Since the summit, progress has been limited in the correction of these extremely violent acts, which many attribute to the current leaders in power — leaders simply do not want to intervene.
The Underlying Causes
As political and religious leaders continue to stay in power, political tension and violence has continued to rise in this grief stricken region. While many activists, students and other leaders have spoken out against the level of violence the people face on a daily basis, no real changes have been made to the current state of affairs and any opposition is met with threats of violence and unwarranted arrests. In addition to the political struggle, armed groups continue to patrol the countryside, furthering the conflict. Leaders of these guerrilla groups have been accused of numerous war crimes but have not been brought to justice. Political instability, war, rape, and the unmet basic needs of the people keep the DRC in a perpetual state of violence.