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Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010 02:59 pm

Congolese march shines light on genocide

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Illinoisans from the Democratic Republic of Congo demonstrated in Springfield Sept. 17 to call attention to a United Nations report that blames mass killings on soldiers from neighboring Rwanda.
PHOTO BY GINNY LEE

Some 30 former citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo now living in Illinois cities walked quietly through downtown Springfield on Friday, Sept. 17, to call attention to the genocide and mass rape happening in their former country.

“Our country is known today as the World Capital of Rape,” Pappy Bakungola of Springfield said. Tens of thousands have been killed in refugee camps and villages, much of the violence instigated by the President Paul Kagame of neighboring Rwanda, according to individuals demonstrating last week. Former Congolese living in Champaign, Bloomington, Beardstown, Chicago and Springfield participated.

Soldiers from the Rwandan Patriotic Front sent by President Kagame into Congo since 1994 have been charged with atrocities in a United Nations report that has been circulating recently. Rwandan forces and Congolese militias targeted Hutu refugees and native Congolese Hutus.

The U.N. report, “Democratic Republic of Congo, 1993-2003,” will be officially released on Oct. 1. It was leaked to the French newspaper Le Monde in August. Most believe that it was leaked so that the word “genocide” was made public, in case the report was later watered down in the final version.   

Kagame has called the report “outrageous” and is reportedly pressuring the U.N. to remove the word “genocide” from the report. He is also threatening to withdraw peacekeeping forces from the Sudan as the United Nations begins its fall session.

Rwanda President Paul Kagame
The Congolese group walked to the office of U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin to encourage him to continue his support for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo and to speak out on how the situation is handled at the United Nations this fall.

Durbin was a cosponsor to Senate Bill 109-456, the “Democratic Republic of Congo Relief, Security and Democracy Promotion Act,” which was introduced by then-Senator Barack Obama, and signed into law in 2006 by President George W. Bush.

The group also met with representatives from Sen. Roland Burris’s office in Springfield.

“This report is a very, very powerful tool which will bring the truth to the public,” Bakangola said. “It gives specific information of crimes in specific villages. For the first time the international community is bringing to light what we’ve been saying all along.”

The report documents 600 events of murder, torture, and rape in DRC between 1993 and 2003. It was compiled from some 1,000 documents and 1,000 eyewitness accounts. Most of the victims were children, women and elderly and sick people.

“More people have been killed in Congo than in Darfur,” Bakangola said. “We had to stand up and let our voices be heard. We are average people — students and people working in restaurants. The rapes and killings continue today, and people committing these crimes go free.”

Contact Ginny Lee at berginger81@hotmail.com.

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