This week, The New York Times ran a piece by Jeffrey Gettleman describing a mass episode of gang rape that erupted in a village in Congo this summer, where at least 200 women were assaulted in a matter of days. Gettleman, the paper's East Africa bureau chief, emphasized the ineffectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping forces in Congo, and others have echoed his criticisms in the days since the piece was published.
How It Happened In Gettleman's accounting, the village in question, Luvungi, is a place "where so many of Congo's intractable problems converged: the scramble for minerals; the fragmentation of rebel groups; the perverse incentives among armed groups to commit atrocities to bolster their negotiating strength; the poverty that keeps villages cut off and incommunicado; and the disturbing fact that in Congo's wars, the battleground is often women's bodies." Gettleman notes that Congo is sometimes called "the African equivalent of Afghanistan," due to the scale and systemic nature of its violence, and that "United Nations officials call the sexual violence in Congo the worst in the world."
UN Inefficacy Is Inexcusable The New Republic's Martin Peretz doesn't mince words; he sees this as a story of UN forces "standing by while unspeakable and rapacious violence was being done to the vulnerable and undefended." It's part of a larger problem, he says, in which "the truth is that one doesn't know whether U.N. troops are an asset or a liability in war-torn Africa."
May Not Even Be the Most Damning Example of UN ineptness, says Armin Rosen at Reason. "Unfortunately," he writes, "there are a few more candidates for the title of 'costliest, most mismanaged U.N. initiative'"--including the World Food Program in Afghanistan, the UNRWA relief agency for Palestinian refugees, and the response to the Haiti earthquake. Gettleman's piece, says Rosen, "is a reminder that the consequences of not reforming the U.N. are far more serious than just the occasional wasted billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars."
We Can't Overlook the Role of Minerals In All This Days before the Times story appeared, the actress Ashley Judd and the activist John Prendergast filed a story for CNN from Congo, drawing a connection between the violence in that country and the minerals mined there--including "tin, tungsten and tantalum... [which] power our cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices." Judd and Prendergast contend that "change in the first instance won't come from the gun or the courtroom. It will come when it no longer pays off to violently and illegally extract minerals from the Congo."