…The vicious war that claimed the lives of more than 5 million people in Congo’s eastern flank might be officially over but the violence continues, particularly when it comes to women. During the worst years of the conflict, armed groups used sexual violence as a weapon but now rape perpetrated by civilians accounts for a large percentage of cases. Doctors and NGOs fear it has almost settled into something approaching a norm in a society ravaged by war.
A study published last year in the American Journal of Public Health concluded that 1,152 women are raped every day in Congo, a rate equal to 48 per hour. That rate is 26 times more than the previous estimate of 16,000 rapes reported in one year by the UN.
The highest frequency of rape was found in North Kivu, Fazili’s home province and the area most affected by the conflict, where 67 women per 1,000 had been raped at least once.
“The message is important and clear: rape in (Congo) has metastasised amid a climate of impunity, and has emerged as one of the great human crises of our time,” said Michael VanRooyen, director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.
There are no precise figures relating to the number of children born from these rapes, but they are thought to number in the thousands. Abortion is illegal in Congo, so the women have little choice but to carry the pregnancy to full term.
Posts tagged war.
A relic of the Iran-Iraq war, this oil tanker was scuttled near the Kuwait-Iraq border on Saddam Hussein’s orders, to block access by sea to southern Iraq. Kuwaiti authorities are reluctant to remove the vessel for fear of damaging the wetlands of nearby Bubiyan Island, an important fish nursery and seabird breeding ground. Photo: Thomas P. Peschalk
As Myanmar emerges from a half-century of isolation under a dictatorship, President Thein Sein’s new civilian government has launched a series of reforms. At the top of the list is the eradication of widespread opium poppy farming. Myanmar produced an estimated 610 tons of opium in 2011, making it the world’s second-biggest supplier after Afghanistan, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In an unusually open gesture, Myanmar officials allowed a Reuters reporter and photographer to visit former conflict areas, hoping they will examine the campaign and help shed Myanmar’s image as one of the world’s top drug producers. But the eradication process threatens the livelihoods of poor farmers who depend upon opium as a cash crop. With those concerns in mind, and with recent ceasefires ending years of conflict between the government and ethnic insurgents, Myanmar police and United Nations officials are traveling through the countryside to ask farmers what assistance they need. (via The Atlantic)
“She killed her husband by giving him six daughters. In the land of warriors, drug lords and brutal highlanders – he wanted a son. And then he just died disappointed, Moe Mohm said, leaving her to grow opium and raise girls.
By the fireplace, obviously the central point of a household high in the mountains of the Shan state, Moe sits and talks to us in a frantic combination of laughter and tears. She is an ethnic Pa-O and wears a towel above her pretty face with teeth ruined by betel nut. Only a glance at her hands reveals real age and hard work in fields. The house seems to be okay – humble but well kept and clean.
I take a few pictures just to get her accustomed to the camera. There will be a turn in her story as she talks through her life to the first journalists she has ever met and I want to capture the moment when it comes. It might take a while, but I know how to wait.
How do you feel, I ask my colleague who sits next to me as we interview Moe Mohm, knowing the moment will come if we ask the right questions?
He has no answer, I have no answer. Easy way out: we should not be giving answers; we are journalists who only ask and report the answer. So not true.
“Things were okay until now” she said and starts crying. Police had destroyed her poppy field, the main crop in the village and she watched silently. They just came with sticks and in no time her life turned into the unknown. “Now I don’t know what to do, how to feed my children”.
I film it on video, her statement and the cry. Is it real? Very. It is called the interview, to hell with it.
What we witness is a new policy by the government in the region. They’ve been trying or “trying” for years to halt or minimize opium production. It didn’t work – the fields soon flourish again or the local militia would fire weapons at police as they approach opium-producing villages.
Now, there is a cease-fire. In a country torn apart by ethnic and every other kind of division, the cease-fire is a must if you want to move from zero, from the dark ages into the promising new Myanmar that optimists see on the horizon. Very simply – the militias are funding their struggle by producing and selling opium and if you want to stop it you have to offer something good enough.
Peace? Not enough. If villagers do not produce opium or work in opium fields (where they are paid three or four times more than for work in a potato field) they don’t have money to buy food. You need to subsidize it and not to punish people without giving them a chance for something else. It is crime, we all know that, but we have to, just like always and everywhere, look at the wider context.
Here is a very simple situation – farmers grow garlic. It goes well, they produce a lot. But, the reality of doing business in such remote places is brutal – it turns out that the transportation cost for their garlic to the nearest market is higher that the value of the crop itself. They let it rot in the field; it is not even worth the effort.
Their only chance is to grow opium. The market comes to you – a Chinese-speaking buyer on a motorcycle pays cash on the spot. No need to worry about bad roads, the danger, or the transportation costs. Just keep it coming and all six daughters will have food and school and the widow will even have enough to offer to Gods for protection.
We came to the fields – armed with cameras, recorders and not-so-high expectations – following a UNODC delegation to help solve the equation with more unknown variables than available options on the ground. They are experienced; they’ve been to Afghanistan and elsewhere and they know how to do it. The UN will work with the government to help people survive after sticks and those noisy weed-whackers (the new weapon of war!) bring the poppy fields down. Good luck.
Besides all the knowledge, all the experience and the aid available from donors, it all looks so complicated that they will need a bit of luck too. The government – even officials are calling it the new government, distancing themselves from years of iron rule by junta – seem very determined and push the destruction beyond expectations.
In only the last three months they have destroyed four times more opium fields than in 2011 and have no plans to stop.
They know that the road to peace and a new Myanmar goes through the poppy fields.
What do the villagers say? Here we are now, at the Buddhist temple in a distant village controlled by the local militia that signed the cease-fire only two weeks ago – they are happy to pose for pictures and I have to remember what they are called as I had never heard of them before. Villagers gather to listen to policemen and UN officials announcing the new policy and promising aid once the poppies are gone. Monks sit aside – a bit like a jury. Outside the temple, government forces secure the area; novice Buddhist monks chase something potato-shaped that is suppose to be a football.
It is difficult to read faces, as they show almost no emotions. Tough highlanders are not easy to figure out no mater how good my camera and photography is. They listen first and will decide their moves later.
I had no high expectations for this trip – it is going to be controlled and I won’t be able to do what I want. I just follow the UN and police, as many times before and react to what is offered. But, very soon the trip goes well beyond the expectations – we go to places never visited by foreign, and probably any other, press before. We witness history being made, deals being offered.
I take pictures of people as they were told growing opium – what was their history, culture and way of living – is not going to be possible any more. The concept of legal and illegal is a very strange concept here in the mountains of Shan. They know only to have or not to have enough to survive. And they know the force. One of those two things will make them change.
The opium is their main cash crop; it is also the only medicine they have. It’s not going to cure, but it helps with pain.
I shoot a lot and I like what I see, if I can distance myself from the problem and focus on reporting only. It happened before that I have many (for agency standards possibly too many) photos of people looking straight into my camera but I don’t mind. I’m a part of the story, not a fly on the wall, and they see me just as one of the alien people who came to change their lives, to offer something else.
There is nothing wrong with that gaze, it is real and it can make a viewer uncomfortable. It should. The whole take I have here could be a nice National Geographic style reportage from just another distant place if those eyes don’t ask questions and for understanding.
I try to make pictures as simple as possible on this trip – no aggressive composition, no funky angles of blurred, moody shots. I feel responsibility, and I’m glad I can still feel it, to report straight forward from the place or event never seen before. The style is important, the signature is recognizable but I have problems insisting on the something if it’s not appropriate for the given story. Ethics? Possibly. I’ll keep it simple on this one, try to capture the reality without interfering much. I step back, I shoot straight and wide, let the subjects speak for themselves.
If I overproduce images, will people believe? Yes, the poetry can beat history, Aristotle would say, but for that we need to have information first, the foundation for the art, the basics before upgrade.
What do we really know about Moe Mohm and her problems? A widow who struggles to raise kids and cries when asked about the future – we see that everywhere, unfortunately. Will my pictures help to understand the wider context on this one? Probably not but at least I’ll make them look simpler and more real instead of painting on something we know very little about.” [Read]
1. Poppy plants lie on the ground after policemen destroyed a field above the village of Tar-Pu, on January 27, 2012.
2. An ethnic Akha child wearing traditional clothes is seen as villagers meet with UN representatives at the village of Kor Miang Pin, on January 29, 2012.
3. Policemen and local villagers destroy a poppy field above the village of Tar-Pu, Myanmar, on January 27, 2012.
4.An ethnic Akha woman prepares food as villagers meet with UN representatives in the village of Kor Miang Pin, on January 29, 2012.
5. Novice monks play as a policeman secures a Buddhist temple where local villagers meet UN representatives and Myanmar police in the village of Kyauk Ka Char, on January 26, 2012.
6. In the mountains of Shan State, children gather in a school in the village of Tar-Pu, on January 27, 2012.
7. Novice Buddhist monks share a meal in a temple in the village of Kyauk Ka Char, in mountains of Shan State, on January 26, 2012.
8. An ethnic Pa-O woman smiles after a meeting with Myanmar and UN representatives in the village of War Taw, Myanmar, on January 27, 2012.
9. Ethnic Akha women, gathered to meet with UN representatives in the village of Kor Miang Pin, on January 29, 2012.
[Credit : Damir Sagolj/Reuters]
A woman holds her daughter on the balcony of her building damaged by Syrian Army bombings in central Idlib, Feb. 27, 2012. More than 7,600 people have been killed in violence across Syria since anti-regime protests erupted in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
[Credit : Rodrigo Abd / AP]
Syrian security inspect the site of an explosion in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo February 10, 2012, in this handout photograph released by Syria’s national news agency SANA. Twin bomb blasts hit Syrian military and security buildings in Aleppo on Friday, killing 25 people in the worst violence to hit the country’s commercial hub in the 11-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. REUTERS/SANA/Handout
This is a pretty unbelievable picture.
A man worked on a wall of a bullet-pocked apartment building in Tripoli, Lebanon, Monday, Feb. 13. Sunni Muslims hostile to President Bashar al-Assad clashed with members of the Alawite sect who support the regime.
Conflict, poverty, drought, soaring food prices and collapsing state services have created a daily struggle for survival for millions of people in Yemen. In a new powerful photo exhibition featured on the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs web site, the crisis is given a human face.
Photo exhibition: “Facing Crisis: Yemen’s Deepening Humanitarian Challenges”