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Panel discusses Congo violence

Increased awareness and a boycott of companies with ties to the Congo may help stem violence against women in the area, a panel concluded last night in MacMillan 117.

Four experts on the Congo came together to discuss the current crisis in Central Africa and what students can do to help.

Jimmie Briggs, a journalist and human rights lecturer, Colin Thomas Jensen, a policy advisor for the anti-genocide group Enough, Dr. Roger Luhiriri, a women's rights activist, and Sarina Virk, Congo campaign assistant for Enough, talked about the bloodshed currently taking place in the Congo - the aftermath of a devastating five-year civil war that ended in 2003.

The event - sponsored by the Darfur Action Network, the Brown chapter of the national organization Students Taking Action Now: Darfur - focused on violence against women in the Congo.

"East Congo today is perhaps the worst place on Earth to be a woman," said a narrating voice in an informational film played at the event. About 500,000 women and girls have been raped during the recent Congo conflict, often in public, in front of their husbands, children and neighbors, Luhiriri said.

But, Briggs added, "what happens in the Congo is more than just numbers." Briggs shared a story about an interview he conducted with a 22-year-old Congolese woman who was gang-raped by five soldiers in the morning and again by a different group of soldiers that night. The second group of men became annoyed by her children's cries and, as the mother watched, shot and killed all of them. It was the worst day of the woman's life, Briggs said, and she wanted him to give her suffering meaning by telling the story to others so other women could avoid that pain.

"We cannot save the Congolese. ... We can bear witness, listen to the stories and pass them on," Briggs said. Despite this, he added, we have a duty to do what we can. "If you know what's going on and don't do anything about it, you're culpable," he said.

Virk said students can help with their own unique skills. She cited Lisa Shannon, a runner from Oregon who was motivated to start a run for Congo after watching an Oprah segment on Central Africa. Though there has not yet been as large a popular support movement for the Congo as for Darfur, Virk said, "you guys can figure out a way to build this movement with us."

One significant way that students as consumers can work to stop the violence in Congo, said Jensen, is boycotting companies that use the tin, tungsten and other minerals that come from the region. These corporations include the cell phone companies Nokia and Erickson, as well as the technology giant Apple, he said.

The U.S. government could also help the situation, Jensen added, by sending "a high-level envoy with the support of the president" to engage in rigorous diplomacy with the area.


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