The Congo and Voices of Refugees

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I want to post a quick update on some ongoing research concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well our feature on Voices of Refugees. This coming Monday I will post a fascinating interview featuring the Executive Director of the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, Susan Johnson. We will explore the issues the Congo is facing, such as the extreme violence against women and current health issues, along with what the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation is doing to alleviate some of the suffering.

Recently, I have had the privilege of meeting a number of female refugees from the Congo. I have quickly realized that they are in no state to make any type of comments on their experience in their beautiful, yet tragic, home country. One social worker close to the ladies informed me that they have just recently arrived, and are just now at the point where they have stopped simply sitting on the floor and staring at the wall. They have lived a life of terror. It will take much more than a sympathetic ear to begin to heal their wounds. The children adjust quicker than the adults, but the struggles they face upon entering a Western school and lifestyle is overwhelming. It is humbling to witness their quiet strength. I look forward to getting to know these families more and witnessing their metamorphosis as they heal and grow in Peace.  


The edge of the marginalized

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The edge of the marginalized

When a conflict or natural disaster creates refugees or IDP’s there is usually an outpouring of support from people, governments and NGO’s. What happens to the people when support for their displacement has dried up but the problem that caused them to be displaced persists? With limited resources, governments, NGO’s and individuals cannot maintain support for everyone who is displaced for the duration of some conflicts or natural disasters.

Haiti is a situation that garnered the attention and outpouring of support from around the world. But recently more and more reports are coming out that show the aid and support for Haiti’s IDP population has been ineffective and many IDPs are beginning to feel despondent.[i]

Haiti has had a long and violent past[ii], which lead to a very unstable country, prior to the earthquake on January 12 2010. A large group of desperate IDP in Haiti could create conflicts both internally and across their border with the Dominican Republic.

In the past Haitians crossing the border to work in the Dominican Republic have frequently faced a denial of human rights.[iii] With a large number of Haitians living in IDP camps looking for jobs many could cross the border in to the Dominican Republic, straining the local economies. This strain could cause a violent backlash against the Haitian people and create an internal conflict in the Dominican Republic and a border conflict between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

This impending conflict can be avoided if all sides put forth an effort to resettle or alleviate the great deal of stress and want that the IDP in Haiti face.

[i] This blog is too short to include all the insightful reports and articles on this issue, below are the links to the reports.$File/full_report.pdf




Refugees and IDP voices

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Refugee and IDP Voices:
Conflicts create refugees and internally displaced people (IDP) and these are some of the least listen to voices in a clash. True conflict resolution must take in to account the voices and opinions of the people it has misplaced.
Facts and Figures
A Refugee is:
"A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” [i]
In 2009 there were roughly 15.4 million refugees in the world. 45% of the refugee population is believed to be under the age of 18. Afghanistan, Iraq, Somali and Sudan are the largest refugee producing countries.[ii] [iii]
An Internally Displaced Person is:
“Internally displaced persons are persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border.” [iv]
There are between 26 and 27 million IDP in 55 countries in the world. Colombia, Iraq, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have the largest concentration of IDP populations. Colombia and Sudan both contain roughly 5 million IDP the largest two concentrations of IDP on the planet.[v]



Update on Gang-Rapes in the Congo

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Update on Gang-Rapes in the Congo
by Crystal
September 8th, 2010
The situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire, is worse than previously suspected, although it is hard to fathom anything much worse. The numbers of women systematically gang-raped has increased from an estimate of around 240 to now closer to 500, all during the same two week time period of July 30th through somewhere around August 14th. The growing number represents small villages in the North and South Kivu provinces that were attacked during the same period of time.
Numerous complaints have been made in online forums concerning the idea that the world does not care what happens in the Congo because there is nothing to gain materially from them. This assumption is wrong. In terms of natural resources, out of all the African countries, the Congo has the most to offer. Interestingly, many of the villages targeted were along the route that is used to traffic illegally extracted minerals. Margot Wallstrom, a UN special envoy on sexual violence in armed conflict, cited horrific accounts from women attacked around Kibua, a village in North Kivu. She reported that “militiamen shoved their hands inside women’s sexual organs to look for hidden gold and that the village was surrounded so that no one could run away.”[1]
Much has been done in the Congo and other African nations to bring the illegal trade of so-called blood diamonds, also called conflict diamonds (diamond that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments[2]) under control and stop the violence, but not enough[3].
All crime has its motivation. The issue of illegal trade serves to understand the motivation behind these heinous acts a little bit more, at least, more so than rape and torture for the sake of rape and torture. There must have been a unifying goal to get so many different militia groups working as one, over such a broad sweep of land, and such a short period of time. Four years ago I worked in a refugee camp in Europe. I recall meeting a group of young girls with beautiful eyes and energetic spirits. When I asked them where they were from, they replied in unison and with great pride, “The Congo!” They were there alone, having escaped to Angola on the back of a pick-up truck with a group of orphans. The war in the Congo has been going on since it first became independent, over forty years ago now. My hope is that as time goes on, the motivation will become known, and a solution found.


Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

September 7, 2010

by Crystal Huskey

Although Sakineh Ashtiani's case is being widely reported this week, I wanted to analyze the situation myself, even if for no other reason than to understand it more personally.

From the news reports, her story is summed up in a few facts:
Sakineh was sentenced to death for the crime of adultery and murder. The files containing the evidence on her husband's murder are missing. She was originally accused of an "illicit relationship" with two men (which occurred after her husband's death) and sentenced to 99 lashes. It wasn't until one of the men previously mentioned was linked to her husband's murder that she was accused of adultery while married and involvement in the murder. Her two children successfully voiced her story to the world and are lobbying to have her released, or at least not stoned.

None of the details of the murder case are available. She confessed under extreme duress and torture. It is not the crimes themselves (or lack thereof) that are at the center of the controversy, but the method of execution. According to
"In stoning to death, the victims's hands are tied behind their backs and their bodies are put in a cloth sack. Then, this human "package" is buried in a hole, with only the victims heads showing above the ground. If its a woman, she is buried upto her shoulders. This is to give her an seemingly equal (but nonetheless impossible) chance to escape recognizing her lesser physical strength. After the hapless individual has been secured in the hole, people start chanting "Allah hu Akbar" (meaning, God is great), and throw palm sized stones at the head of the victim from a certain distance (a circle is drawn). The stones are thrown until the person dies or until he/she escapes out of the hole and crosses the circle. Escaping is impossible, given that the individual's hands are tied behind their backs and they are buried in a hole upto their necks or shoulders (in the case of males and females respectively). Naturally, the procedure is extremely barbaric and bloody."

The events that have taken place this week have particularly astounded me. The Times of London published a picture of what was presumably Ashtiani without the traditional head dress. The Iranian regime declared that it was indecent for her to expose herself in that way, and subjected her to another 99 lashes. The Times claimed that they received the picture from her former lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, who in turn claimed to have received it from Ashtiani's son. There are many questions unanswered here, but I'm sure there is a lot going on behind the scenes that the public does not know about. Mostafaei was reunited with his family in Norway this past Thursday, after being separated from them since fleeing the country. They were previously held as political prisoners in order to place pressure on Mostafaei
Many countries and groups have loudly declared their opposition to what is happening to Sakineh, including France, Brazil, and the Vatican. It is not simply a cry against one woman’s inhumane treatment, involving torture, threats, and ultimately a slow and painful death, but the lack of basic human rights being given to prisoners, whether political or criminal. Hopefully this can become a rallying point that will change the ways of the Iranian government and the future of its citizens.

For more information and ways to help Sakineh, visit or
For Amnesty International’s view on stoning in Iran, visit


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