Crisis in Congo sparks call for Canada to act

A former diplomat has accused the Canadian government of not caring about the humanitarian crisis taking place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“All we care about is Afghanistan there’s no other part of the world that craves our attention,” Stephen Lewis, a former United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, told a news conference at Toronto City Hall recently.

Lewis said that Canada should lead in the effort to stop the violence against women in the African country.

“The government of Canada should be using its political clout to press for change,” he said.

“There is a principle in the UN system called the responsibility to protect which was agreed upon by every country in the fall of 2005 and the architect of the principle were members of the Canadian mission. Therefore our voice should now be heard strongly and eloquently on behalf of the women and instead we’re silent and that makes us complicit,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he would tell prime minister Stephen Harper that as the architects of the solution Canada should move towards leading the way to getting more UN troops to the Congo.

Said Lewis, “I would say where’s your voice Mr. Prime Minister? Why aren’t you pressing?”

Lewis says his own foundation; the Stephen Lewis Foundation is in the Congo helping to give aid to hospitals and cities in the country.

“My foundation is already involved. We’ve given the Panzi Hospital and the city of Joy almost $650,000 just to keep things going on the ground because it’s so dramatically horrible,” Lewis said.

The Panzi Hospital is a non-profit hospital in the city of Bukavu , that helps to treat women who have been sexually assaulted and require surgery.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) is an African nation sandwiched between Republic of Congo to the west, Rwanda to east and Angola to the south. It has been plagued by violence for the past five years.

Louise Binder of the Canadian Treatment Action Council visited the Congo six month ago and came away with stories of the suffering. Binder says while she was in the war-ravaged country she met a lot of women who wanted her to tell their stories.

Binder says that a lot of the women in the country are raped and many contract HIV as a result.

“Many of them were infected by the men who raped them, it’s a form of warfare,” Binder said.

Binder recalls a woman she met while at a hospital in the Congo; the woman had been brutally raped by six men who had then severely damaged her eyes.

“The six men who raped her cut her eyes; she was infected with HIV,” Binder said.

Lewis described a situation in the Congo that requires some rape victims to have surgery. This is because they were raped so badly they have to have vaginal surgery to repair the damage

Currently the U.N. has about 17,000 peacekeepers in the DRC however Lewis believes 50,000 more troops are needed. Lewis also believes the current ceasefire in place hasn’t worked and that new peace plan should be worked out.

“You had a peace agreement that didn’t have any woman present at the table and that gave amnesty to the rapists,” he said.