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Posts Tagged ‘Congo’

I would like to thank Ashley Judd for being gracious enough to say a few words about the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). She was a panelist at “Slavery and Human Rights” earlier this month with journalist and abolitionist, Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves.

The bill was introduced in the House as H.R.4594 by Rep. Bill Delahunt (MA-D) and it is currently co-sponsored by 71 representatives.  On the Senate side, S. 2982, has been introduced by Sen. John Kerry (MA-D), and this bill currently has 28 co-sponsors.

Violence against women takes many forms.  Rape is often used as a weapon in military conflicts such as the former states of Yugoslavia and in the Congo where the BBC has reported gang rapes are on the rise.

Another form of violence left Manzour, a mother of two from Pakistan, scarred for life after her in-laws threw acid at her causing her chin to fuse to her chest in a report found by the BBC.  The video contains disturbing images.

A reporter from The Economist recently reported the visit of Xinran Xue, a Chinese writer, who witnessed a birth in Shandong province and wrote about it in her book, Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother.

Xinran writes, “when we heard a moan of pain from the bedroom next door. . .The cries from the inner room grew louder- and abruptly stopped.  There was a low sob, and then a man’s gruff voice said accusingly:’Useless thing!’  The writer saw in horror a tiny foot poking from a slops pail after the baby girl was discarded by the midwife.  She tried to save the baby but was restrained by two policeman who told her, ‘Don’t move, you can’t save it, it’s too late.’  An older woman explained the rationale to the writer saying, “It’s a girl baby, and we can’t keep it.  Around these parts, you can’t get by without a son.  Girl babies don’t count.'”

This is an outrage, but you can do something about it.  You can help these women break free by asking your US Senator and US Representative to support IVAWA in an e-mail.  Writing personal letters are extremely effective.  One state politician revealed that they pay attention to an issue if they receive five letters on the same topic.  This is an achievable goal.

IVAWA would lend support to non-government organizations that would develop a strategy unique to the area as they work their way towards preventing violence against women.  It could be as simple as funding the education for girls or providing a micro-finance loan that would allow women to be economic independent.   Amnesty International’s website offers a range of actions that you can take to support this bill.

During the panel discussion, Ashley Judd talked about finding your outrage.  Once you found your outrage, your passion will rise up and empower you to make a difference.  My outrage is human trafficking,  a problem which has touched my own city, Quincy, where a Chinese brothel was recently discovered.

Activist and historian Howard Zinn, who passed away earlier this year, wrote, “We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change.  Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

Change starts with you.  Be the change.

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Last week, I was able to attend a panel with a Kennedy School professor, a member of Physicians for Human Rights, and a photojournalist who worked in the Darfur region.  Here are some of the things that I picked up at the event.

Photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale was in the region from in the region from 2003 until 2008. He traveled there about 12 times in that period to Chad, Darfur and Central African Republic.  He documented the plight of villagers as they tried to escape the janjaweed for refugee camps within Darfur and in Chad. He was kind enough to allow me to post a few of his pictures from that time on this blog.

He mentioned how at the sound of airfare or helicopters, entire villages would cluster around huge trees so that it would shield them from the bombs.  This was happening to hundreds of villages in Darfur while they were moving from their homes to the camps. It is hard to fathom until you see some of the pictures he has taken.

Sudanese displaced take refuge under a tree in Disa, Northern Darfur out of the heat of the day and out of view of the Antanov responsible for the bombing, there are estimated to be 2,000,000 displaced in Darfur who are trapped on the east, west and south by government troops and in the north by the desert wasteland which will certainly claim the lives of their livestock and weaker members of their family.  Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

Sudanese displaced take refuge under a tree in Disa, Northern Darfur out of the heat of the day and out of view of the Antanov responsible for the bombing, there are estimated to be 2,000,000 displaced in Darfur who are trapped on the east, west and south by government troops and in the north by the desert wasteland which will certainly claim the lives of their livestock and weaker members of their family. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

There is reason for them to hide as the Sudanese army/ janjaweed was throwing phosphorous bombs from the back of helicopters and planes.  The results are horrific, and I’ll let Marcus’s photo do the talking.

Abakar Tidjani 17 years old lies in bed in Abeche suffering from 3rd degree burns to 80% of his body. He was playing with a grenade when it exploded. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

Abakar Tidjani 17 years old lies in bed in Abeche suffering from 3rd degree burns to 80% of his body. He was playing with a grenade when it exploded. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

What seemed to outrage Marcus the most is that the refugees could live in make shift shelters waiting months for assistance outside the camps without any hope of assistance.  He asks, “how can the international community allow this to happen?” No human should have to feel like animals stripped of dignity.

Sudanese Refugees in Eastern Chad wait to register in the Tulum refugee camp. Supplies of food and water are sporadic and moving into the rainy season the supply route will get worse.  Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

Sudanese Refugees in Eastern Chad wait to register in the Tulum refugee camp. Supplies of food and water are sporadic and moving into the rainy season the supply route will get worse. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale

There are currently 3 million internally displaced people (IDP’s) in the region.  At the camps, families make the conscious decision to send the women to fetch for firewood even though they are raped by militia/ janjaweed, and even men from the camps during their journey because the alternative would be death for the men.

It is nearly impossible to prosecute any man of rape under current Sudanese law.  For a successful prosecution, the victim would need 4 male eyewitnesses to support your claim or 8 female eyewitnesses.  There is tremendous stigma associated with rape, so the women do not talk about it.  They fear that they will be accused of adultery or so defiled that they are not worth marrying.

Even though the Bush administration declared Darfur a genocide, the government was slow to act because Sudan was helping with US intelligence in the Middle East.  The Obama administration has been preoccupied with other issues like health care, the economy, and Afghanistan/ Pakistan.

Thirteen international non-government organizations were kicked out, and 3 Sudanese aid groups were shut down after the International Criminal Court issued its arrest warrant for president Omar Bashir.  This has left a tremendous void for the people.

The only way forward is to put pressure on China to cancel their contracts for  Sudanese oil and for Chinese weapons that Omar Bashir is providing the janjaweed.  This would be economically difficult for America to ask of China.

Ideally, the international community would force China’s hand using the ICC’s decision as its basis.  Money talks, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) could put pressure on China by forcing it to pay tax on key exports for dealing with a criminal.  China has an unfair economic advantage because other countries are not willing to deal with a human rights violator for its oil.

China should pay the consequences for its economic activity because their business is abetting a genocide.  Unfortunately, this will continue as it has made deals with the Guinean dictator despite soldiers involved in mass rape and killings during a protest earlier this year.

This can only be stopped if China is punished.  The question is, “Does the international community have the political will to make this happen?”  Unfortunately, we may already know that answer.

Special Thanks to Marcus Bleasdale for his work and for allowing me to post some of his pictures on our blog.  I encourage you to check out his website and take 10 minutes to watch a piece he did on the conflict in the Congo.

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