In 1996, I was sitting with twenty thousand grieving women in a stadium in Tuzla, Bosnia. The women were holding photographs of husbands, fathers, brothers, sons and boyfriends who had been disappeared a year earlier in a place called Srebrenica, a UN enclave where Bosnian refugees had turned over their protection to UN peacekeepers who stood passively as ten thousand of their men were marched off to be slaughtered. I will never forget the wailing of the women in that stadium as they cried out, demanding the international community explain how they could have allowed this horror to take place. It is now thirteen years later and I am in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, where, this time, UN peacekeepers (MONUC) are not passively standing by and watching the massacres, but are actually supporting the perpetrators. For nearly 12 years an invisible war has ravaged this beloved, beleaguered country. Over five million dead, hundreds of thousands of women and girls raped and sexually tortured in the most unimaginable ways, 800 internally displaced since January 2009 and close to 350,000 forced to flee to neighboring countries. This violence is fueled by the world's need for minerals most recently due to the economic crisis it is Gold. Congo, the sixth most mineral rich country in Africa, has become the stage for a regional war fueled by economic interests.
In January, military operations were launched in North Kivu. The so-called goal of this military plan was to arrest the rebel leader Laurent Nkunda and neutralize his troops, the CNDP, the former Rwandan Hutu militia, the FDLR, as well as other armed militias. Even though public spin on this operation touted its success (UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon famously celebrated it in a February speech in Goma), the statistics bare another horrific story. Since the operation began, a thousand women and children have been raped each month in North Kivu, massacres have ravaged villages, displacing entire communities, and new, even more horrific tortures of women have surfaced (including the lighting of fuel in women's vaginas). There has been no accountability for these horrific crimes, no justice, hardly a mention in the world press. Hospitals like Heal Africa in Goma are overflowing with the raped children and women.
Now on the heels of catastrophe, rather than learning something, the UN has joined with the FARDC (the Congolese army) to create an even more disastrous plan: Kimya II. This operation reads like a chapter from some psychotic science fiction novel. The plan is to bring together former enemy militias -- FARDC, PARECO (Mai Mai), and CNDP -- without reason, without training, without investigation into former war crimes, without stepping back and considering what steps must be taken to integrate former enemy militias into one unified body. In essence, the war criminals who were responsible for raping, destroying and terrorizing Bukavu in 2004 are now being charged with protecting it -- not unlike, say, hiring the Nazis to protect Warsaw after World War II. The most terrifying aspect of this most recent operation is that MONUC is officially facilitating it by offering logistical support. What this means is that the international community is supporting this operation. A high-ranking MONUC official told me off the record that when the Security Council was in Goma a month ago he asked them "Are you saying you support Kimya II? Does this mean you are supporting war criminals and rapists as commanders of this operation?" When one of the members of the council balked, he produced a black list of war criminals with their charges and evidence of their crimes. Security Council members gave the list to President Kabila, but none of the commanders were removed and the operation moved forward. As this rag-tag group of starving soldiers spread out into the forests and villages of South Kivu in preparation for Operation Kimya II the massacres have already begun. The FDLR as usual is revenge-raping women in the forests, villages are being set on fire. At least 463 cases of reported rape in the last 3 months, more than half the number in 2008. A three-year-old girl was raped so brutally recently that she died on her way to the Panzi Hospital. All of her sisters, aged 12, 14 and 17, have also been raped. Imagine what it will be like when Operation Kimya II actually begins in South Kivu? When these hungry soldiers, thrown together from various militias, and led by war criminals and rapists are unleashed on the civilian population in the forests, where no one is watching, and where there is no means of protection. The mind boggles. No one I have spoken to anywhere in the Congo believes this operation will be anything but catastrophic, and this includes foot soldiers in MONUC who are meant to implement the operation, on up to high-ranking officials in the organization. Yet not a single world leader or Congolese leader or international government, or member of the Security Council is stopping it or offering a viable alternative that protects the civilian population rather than destroying it. As five Episcopal Bishops from Bukavu recently wrote in a joint statement: "Elected Deputies and Senators seem like they don't care. They can't agree on anything and so they endlessly discuss rather than taking action. The dysfunctional judiciary encourages criminality and "popular" justice. All this is done in front of parliamentarians who do nothing. We have one important question. Do the authorities take time to evaluate the operation before starting it? The Kimya II operation seems like it will give birth to a much more devastating and all encompassing war. " Despite these cries, the war continues because the Western world is hungry for Congo's minerals. They push for a military "solution," knowing well that they are doomed in the Congo. Despite a powerful, emerging women's movement, despite the work of brave doctors giving their lives to perform day-long operations on the raped bodies of women, despite local activists and survivors of rape working with their hearts to change the situation and wake up the world to a war that has destroyed their country, the Congo still doesn't register in our consciousness. It turns out that Kimya means "sssh," quiet, invisible in Swahili. Ironic.
Will we as humanity raise our voices before it's too late and prevent the next round of massacres in the Congo?
Eve Ensler is a writer and activist. She is the founder of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls.