Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Bearing Witness

For six long years, the region of Darfur has been a bloodbath and we, the world, have had a front row seat to this debacle that has clamed the lives of over 400,000 Darfurians and has uprooted over 2.5 million. But now, all that could change when the International Criminal Court will decide whether or not to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir whom is said to be directly responsible for the genocide taking place in Darfur. If the warrant is issued, al-Bashir would be the third head of state to be charged with crimes against humanity following Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic and Liberia's Charles Taylor.
Darfur of course, isn’t the only place where people are being killed and oppressed. For over a century, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has seen the darkest and brutal oppression by Belgian colonists killing and working to death millions of Congolese during the 1900’s. Now, as the conflict between the government and the rebels intensify, thousands of civilians are being uprooted and thousands more are dying from a lack of food, poor health, and violence. One of the most tragic aspects of the crisis in the DRC, are the thousands of women who are a target of sexual assaults by both rebels, the government soldiers, and even the U.N. peacekeepers who are supposed to protect them in the first place.
When I first started my activism for Darfur in 2006, I was sometimes overwhelmed with the magnitude of the violence in Darfur. But from I learned about past genocides like Rwanda, a deep-seeded anger bubbled up and I was determined that I would not be passive or ignorant while a genocide or any injustice was taking place. Last year was a very busy year with organizing and hosting a photo exhibition about Darfur, giving numerous presentations, and being able to go to Washington, D.C. (My second trip was for winning the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s essay contest) and meeting various individuals who are becoming the change they want to see in the world. What I have come to learn is that once a person become’s involved with a worthy cause, they can move mountains.
With a new President dedicated to change, this is a moment of truth not only for this nation, but the world over. Increasing pressure to those in power to use their influence and bring about peace in both the DRC and Darfur is absolutely vital. It is also important to support the work of the ICC to bring those responsible of crimes against humanity to justice. This would insure that if any rouge leader should think twice about committing genocide and war.
For the millions of people whom are suffering during never ending violence all over, we, the activist, have becoming a beacon for hope. Our efforts for peace and justice are very strong, since every human in this planet is equal. For those in power who talk the talk, it’s time to start walking the walk. Until that happens, ordinary people will, as Gandhi once said “be the change you want to see in the world.”

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Are You Ready for the Congo Challenge?

Imagine: Your life being measured by days, not years.

Imagine: The luxuries you once knew like clean water to bathe in, food to eat, and security are taken away.

Imagine: Every where you go, you witness poverty, hunger, and death.

Imagine: You are attacked just because you are a female.

For hundreds of thousands of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this isn't imagination. This is real life. Since 1996, a deadly civil war has taken place against the government troops and rebels, which has lead to the deaths of over 5 million people from lack of food, diseases, and safety. This makes it the most deadly war since World War II. Although a peace agreement has been signed (elections were held in 2006) and the U.N. has sent the largest amount of peacekeepers, violence, disease, and, hunger are calming thousands of lives each month. There is another weapon that is used against civilians, mainly the women and girls: rape. This cruel and often deadly weapon, not only destroys lives but communities and even the country itself. The cases of rape by both government and rebel troops (and even U.N. peacekeepers) are in the hundreds of thousands. For most of us it's heartbreaking to learn about the daily tragedy befalling on the women of the DRC, and want to find a way to help. But the issue is so unbelievably horrifying and complicated (the DRC has experienced deadly conflicts for over a century) you might start to doubt if you can actually have an impact on the lives of the Congolese? Think about this: If any like-minded person starts by signing an online petition, attending a rally, writes letters to their leaders in the Congress and Senate and thousands of people are doing the something, then those actions become a strong voice against the crisis and THEN our elected Congressmen and Senators have to respond to our call. Like any movement, teamwork is one of the most vital tools available to make the cause gain more awareness. Here are a few tips that can help you out:

* Learn about the issue at hand. Books, magazines, newspapers, online websites are some of the best ways to get info.

* Tell your friends. Most likely they will become part of the cause.

* Plan a way to raise awareness and money by either hosting a movie night, car wash, or bake sale. Be creative!

* Write letters to your local newspaper on why the issue is important to you. While you’re at it, write to your Congressional leaders asking them to take action.

This upcoming March, Raise Hope for Congo is starting a new campaign called ''Are You Ready for the Congo Challenge?'' Go to http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org to sign up and receive a list of things you can do to raise awareness, raising your voice, and raising the public profile. If we all take little actions like this, then just imagine how much of a difference we all can make to put an end to the misery for the millions of lives hanging by a thread in the DRC.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Alison Des Forges, Human Rights advocate, dies on a plane crash

This is a very sad day for both Rwanda and the world over. This past Thursday, Alison Des Forges, one of the world's leading experts on the Rwandan genocide was killed in a plane crash near Buffalo, New York among 50 other passengers. Ms. Des Forges had spent more than twenty years studying the history and culture of Central Africa and was a Senior Advisor for Human Rights Watch, which monitors human rights abuses worldwide. She was one of the few people to sound the alarm on Rwanda during the genocide in 1994 and pleaded with the State Department to block the radio signals, which was used by the Hutu extremist to urge listeners to kill the Tutsis. But her pleas fell on deaf ears. After the genocide, she returned to Rwanda and investigated what had happened which resulted in her book ''Leave None to Tell the Story'' outline the events during the genocide and how and why it happened. She wrote:

"This genocide resulted from the deliberate choice of a modern elite to foster hatred and fear to keep itself in power."

She was a key expert witness in several tribunals in Africa, Europe, and, Canada and has helped convit many top officials responsible in one of the bloodest mass killing in recent times. Ms. Des Forges devoted her life fighting for justice for those whom were silenced. But of course despite the tragedy, our work for a better and just world continues.