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A Look at Violence in Eastern Congo

Aired March 22, 2010 - 15:04:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, how can people help rebuild one of the most war-ravaged places on Earth?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program.

It is one of the great humanitarian tragedies of our time, the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has left an estimated 5 million people dead. It's been seven years since a peace deal was signed and rebel militias began disarming, and it's nearly four years since landmark elections made Joseph Kabila the first freely elected president in decades.

And yet, literally millions of people in Eastern Congo are still brutalized by the conflict. Rape persists as a weapon of war. The U.N. estimated 160 women are raped every week by armed groups, and especially by the Congolese army itself.

And the fighting goes on for most part out of sight and out of mind. It often takes high-profile people to remind us of a massive injustice. And today, the film star, Ben Affleck, launches the Eastern Congo Initiative to raise money and awareness and also to lobby governments for help. He has just returned from there, and he joins us now from Los Angeles.

Ben Affleck, thanks for joining us.

BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR AND ACTIVIST: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

AMANPOUR: What made you take up this cause? Why Congo?

AFFLECK: Well, as you explained, obviously, it's a tremendous humanitarian crisis. And, you know, I began -- I had heard about it briefly. I was shocked that I didn't know more about it. And I started traveling there to learn about it, because, while I wanted to take up the cause, I was really insecure about being a kind celebrity dilettante getting involved. And this was about three or four years ago.

And the more I traveled, the more I was struck about it, the more I fell in love with the people, the more I was horrified by what was happening. And I just, you know, started to want to learn about what was happening there. And the more I did, I started to develop this idea of partnering with the Congolese people and wanting to empower community-based organizations there that were doing extraordinary work.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me get to that in a minute, because that's your Eastern Congo Initiative. So briefly tell me, what does that mean, community-based partnerships? Precisely how?

AFFLECK: Well, you know, what oftentimes we don't see and the pictures in the media are -- is the fact that there are so many of these organizations throughout Africa, but particularly as I've seen in Eastern Congo that, despite this extraordinary crisis, are doing immeasurable good and overcoming extraordinary odds in Eastern Congo.

There are folks who are working to protect those who are suffering from gender-based violence, who help child soldiers to, you know, advance the educational needs of the citizens there. There are people who live in the communities, who are from there, who understand the relationships there, and who are really, you know, Africans finding solutions to African problems.

And when I was there, what I saw was that those were, in my view, the most effective folks at meeting those goals.

AMANPOUR: I want to play some video that you shot, your people shot there, and you've sent it to us. And it's you going to a prison and what happens in the prison. And I want to -- I want you to describe it a little bit. You're going in and I think you're talking to the prisoners and then a scuffle breaks out?

AFFLECK: Yes, this is the Goma prison, which is, you know, I think not a place you want to find yourself in prison. It's in Eastern Congo. It's the only main prison there in the city. It's madly overcrowded and quite miserable.


I was there looking at causes of gender-based violence interviewing some rapists, in fact, and then, you know, this is one of several incidents that took place there, and, you know, it just -- it wasn't really dealt with. It just seemed like just, you know, quite common, in fact, and--

AMANPOUR: Wait. When you say you were interviewing them, what was -- what was the purpose of that? Obviously, rape is one of the most terrible consequences of even still now -- even though there's meant to have been a peace accord, democratic elections, it's really a terrible, terrible problem. The U.N. has appalling statistics about what goes on there. What were you trying to get out of those prisoners there?

AFFLECK: I was trying to find out a couple of things. One, you know, because impunity is such an issue there, I was trying to find out who, if anyone, was, in fact, convicted? And, two, trying to get to the bottom of this sort of culture.

Everybody asks, well, what's going on? Why is this happening? Why are so -- why has this become such a prevalent cultural norm? And no one could provide any answers to that, and so I, in partnership with some other of these local organizations there, kind of set out to find some answers about that.

AMANPOUR: And we also have a picture of Laba Kamana. Tell me about her woman -- sorry, her story about this woman.

AFFLECK: This is a woman who worked with one of the organizations that we ECI want to partner with. And this is emblematic of exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. It's not aid in the traditional sense. We want to set up a partnership with this group, LAV, which is a French acronym for Let Africa Live. These folks have helped this woman.

She was taken prisoner by the FDLR, which is the former -- it's a bit of a long story, but the former group that caused the genocide in Rwanda. They're now the principal militia in Congo. They took her prisoner three years ago. They, in her words, treated her like an animal and a slave. She was a bush wife to six men who raped her. She became pregnant. She eventually escaped by asking basically permission to take a bath and making a mad run for it.

She barely escaped with her life. She walked for a week and made it back to the city. She was homeless, pregnant, destitute in the city. She was discovered by folks from this organization. They took her in. They brought her into this community.

They teach basically trade -- they teach you a trade, like, you know, carpentry and auto mechanics and sewing and that kind of thing. But even more, they sort of bring you into a community and sort of bring folks back, former child soldiers and the like. She is now -- when she spoke to us, she was going to law school. She wanted to teach -- she wanted to practice law, to protect women's rights. She's an extraordinary woman, and that was the kind of group that we want to partner with and support so that we can broaden their capacity to do more.

AMANPOUR: Right, so that she can go and try to, I guess, make more women aware of their rights and try to end this culture of impunity. When you look at all the issues that you studied and you confronted there, what do you think is the most important for you to want to focus on, in terms of really trying to effect change?

AFFLECK: Well, I think -- the reason why we established this initiative the way we did, I really see that you -- it's important to kind of do top down and bottom up. That's why we want to do grassroots grant- making as well as a sort of top-down advocacy, so that you can do kind of cause and effect, because if you're just putting Band-Aids on something, it has the potential to go on forever, and you're just catching water at the bottom of a waterfall.

So we want to do policymaking both at the United States level and at the international level and through local African countries' level. You know, the United States really needs to develop a comprehensive policy towards Congo as a whole, much in the same way it did toward Sudan in late 2009, which it doesn't have toward Eastern Congo, despite what a sort of mess the place is.


And I think that's really the smartest approach.

AMANPOUR: Right. And you've spoken to others about using -- you talked about being a celebrity during this, but you've spoken to others about the currency of--

AFFLECK: I don't have any audio.

AMANPOUR: Have I lost you, Ben? Can you still hear me? Do you know what? We're going to go to a break, and we'll come back with Ben Affleck afterwards. And next, we will be back, as I said, with Ben Affleck to look at what the world is doing and not doing to stop the war in Eastern Congo.

But one glimmer of hope are the extraordinary efforts to rehabilitate child soldiers. Check out our Web site,, where we have a special look at these efforts and the group, Search for Common Ground. They use music and theater to help these children find their way back to a civilian life.




AMANPOUR (voice-over): The Congolese government either could not or would not maintain discipline over its troops here. People here say that soldiers roamed freely through the camp, abusing the population. In the first six months since the camp was established, more than 100 women reported being raped by government troops.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There are many problems: cases of rape of our daughters, cases of rape of our mothers, cases of rape of our wives. This is what happens here.

AMANPOUR: The soldiers of the Congolese army's sixth brigade did not want to be filmed, but one did respond to the rape charges and talked about their mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We came here and through combat re-took the territory. Some of the population was together with the militia. There is no problem of rape here. We are calm. You can ask the chief here. We are doing our mission of guarding the population.


AMANPOUR: And that was a report shot by our producer, George Lerner. For more on the challenges of rebuilding Eastern Congo, we continue with actor Ben Affleck in Los Angeles.


From Washington, we welcome Sylvie Maunga Mbanga, a Congolese human rights lawyer. And here in the studio, we are joined by Jason Stearns, who's worked in Eastern Congo's war zones with the International Crisis Group and the United Nations.

Let me first -- I just want to continue with you, Ben, because I was asking you when the -- when your ear piece went down, you have talked about using celebrities' currency to do something. Just explain that so that we can take that as a jumping off point.

AFFLECK: First of all, I want to say hi to Jason, who is one of the people who I hounded until finally he gave me a few minutes of his time and taught me and was very generous, so I appreciate that, learned a great deal from him. He's a tremendous expert and had a tremendously positive impact on the region.

I think as a celebrity, you know, you have to be very judicious, because, you know, you do have an opportunity to get on camera, and so it's really important to make sure that you do learn a lot and spend a lot of time learning and be humble and learn from folks like Jason and also, perhaps even more importantly, you know, the Congolese, if you're going to work in Congo.

And then, you know -- you know, you have to -- I think in general, one has an obligation to do something important with one voice and so choose what that is, dedicate yourself to it, and then, you know, follow through.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, we're going to take these issues right now. And since you mentioned Jason and you're sitting right next to me, let's me ask you -- and we have this map there. Number one, is this the kind of help you need to raise the profile of what's happening in Congo? And show us where the desperate emergency is right now.

JASON STEARNS, COORDINATOR OF THE UNITED NATIONS GROUP OF EXPERTS ON THE CONGO: Well, it's really difficult to isolate the worst areas. The area where the worst violence has been over the last several months has been this sort of axis around here. But, really, all across this area that you see here, about the size of California, there is ongoing violence.

I think the response to your question about what Ben is doing, I think, is great. I think, however -- I can only applaud what he's doing -- I think the key challenge in the Congo is actually to try to reform the state and state institutions.

And so while what he's doing with local NGOs is wonderful, I think that we're not going to have a solution to the problem and to the rapes, for that matter, until we have a Congolese state and army that serves the people, rather than preys on the people.

AMANPOUR: So can you -- how do you do that?

STEARNS: Well, it's a very good question. It's something the United States is trying to do in Afghanistan, if not with, you know, hundreds of thousands of troops. And in the Congo, we have 20,000 peacekeepers who are now supposed to leave, because President Kabila has asked them to leave.

So it's very difficult, especially if a state is unwilling. But $4 billion is currently the amount the international community gives to the Congo for various things, and yet -- and they've done a great job in emergency stuff, in feeding displaced people, but, really, a very poor job in reforming the state institutions that would prevent such a crisis in the future.

AMANPOUR: So let me turn to Sylvie in Washington. You are a lawyer. You're dealing with the victims of rape and other such sexual violence. In terms of -- I guess not just on the individual level, but on the big level, can you -- can you make a difference here? Is there some way of bringing accountability for these crimes?

SYLVIE MBANGA MAUNGA, CONGOLESE LAWYER AND HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Yes, like my colleague talked about, the justice and the responsibility of the state, I think the problem -- the policy at the national level, even if the victim had -- they are ready to go to talk about the issue, but the problem is the government should make sure that the justice will be there to do a great job about to get the justice to the victims.


They think it's the corruption -- even if we have lots of cases -- when I used to work with the victim in the case of the Congo, their problem is not we are -- we have many testimony, but to prove, to have an affidavit, to prove the (inaudible) that is the (inaudible) is what is very difficult, and--

AMANPOUR: So what you're saying, Sylvie, is that you need all the legal weapons at your disposal to be able to go to court and to actually -- to actually prosecute these crimes.

Let me just put up a quote that comes from the International Crisis Group, for instance, about rape. It says, "Rape is not just a byproduct of the conflict in Congo. It is a combat strategy, systematically used to terrorize and humiliate, and it cannot be tolerated to achieve a larger military goal." That's from Sarah Spencer (ph), who's the director of the IRC's program.

And in this regard, given what you've both been saying about taking this to a government level, Ben Affleck, let me ask you, because you did talk to the president of Congo, to Joseph Kabila. You sat with the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. You had an opportunity to speak truth to power and use your high profile. What did you -- what did you say to them? What did they say to you?

AFFLECK: I mostly take the opportunity that I get when I'm talking to anybody in a position of power and influence or expertise to learn at this point, you know? And one of the things that I learned from those gentlemen is that -- which is interesting -- is that they really have a genuine commitment to a stable Eastern Congo, that there's a point now which I don't think there used to be where they now both feel like they have a pretty -- at least according to them -- at least in terms of what they said to me -- an investment in -- you know, they would like Eastern Congo to be stable and secure for their own political agendas.

And in terms of the rape as a weapon of war, you know, I think that's true, and I think that that's happening. And I also think what's happening is something in tandem with that, which is that, while rape gets used as a weapon of war, it also creates a culture where it sort of becomes permissive.

And so you also have that happening around -- rape happening around that, where it becomes sort of kind of the thing to do, frankly, and becomes allowed. You know, and so you have both.

AMANPOUR: This constant culture of impunity. Jason, stability. Is there any hope that at any time soon there's going to be stability? Or is -- or are the factors that are creating this war still hot and boiling?

STEARNS: Well, we've come an awful long way from the peak of the war in, I would say, 2000, 2001, where you had nine African countries involved, where the whole country was really engulfed in war. Now you have a small area of the country that's engulfed and terrible violence, but it's much better than it used to be, so we've come a long way.

But I would say that the key factors that initially brought the war about in 1996, the collapse of the Congolese state and the overflow of the genocide in Rwanda, those factors are still prevalent today. And I think that we have not yet done enough to really root out those causes and to prevent further conflict in the future.

AMANPOUR: Let me play this bit of an announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she was in Goma a few months ago, Goma, which is in the Congo. Listen.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Today, I'm announcing that we will provide more than $17 million in new funding to prevent and respond to gender and sexual violence in the DRC.


AMANPOUR: So, Sylvie, Secretary of State Clinton, on behalf of the United States government, is talking about $17 million to prevent gender- based violence. Is that going to help? Will that make a difference? And how?

MAUNGA: Yes, I think it's a good initiative, but the problem is how they're going to use this money. That I say that the government should make sure that it's addressing the need of the population, Congolese population.


And the first, like others said, is the justice, we need to punish the perpetrators of the sexual violence against women. And the other side, the policy which the government is supposed to do should make to address -- to make the sexual violence against women like the priority of the government, but in the way we are -- we are seeing like it's not the priority of the government. We need to address this one.

And the other thing, the other side is that we need to -- the big fact of the sexual violence in the Congo and locally, the poverty of the youth, we see how the youth are using by the Congolese army to rape women. If they have kind of activity maybe, they can--


MAUNGA: -- they (inaudible)

AMANPOUR: This is a war crime. Rape, Jason, as a tool of war is a war crime. It's not just a crime. It's a war crime, and it's been enshrined as that at the war crime tribunal.

Is there -- do you know of any progress or developments on any of the investigations into the war crimes, any of the U.N. investigations? Are there going to be any announcements?

STEARNS: Well, let me, if I may, Christiane, come back to what you were talking about with Hillary Clinton. I think this is very important. She said $17 million, primarily giving money to hospitals. This is great. We are giving $4 billion to the Congo.

AMANPOUR: To who in the Congo?

STEARNS: We're giving $4 billion to the World Bank, to the IMF, to the U.N. peacekeeping mission--

AMANPOUR: But to the government?

STEARNS: In part to the government. This is everything together, humanitarian aid, but a large chunk of that goes to the government. Despite the fact that we're giving $4 billion to this wide array of different causes, but much of it's the government. We have failed to reforming state institutions.

Seventeen million -- for me, this is propaganda. I mean, there's nothing else, in terms of the U.S. government. I'm a -- I was a big supporter of President Obama. He mentioned numerous points in his campaign that he would address Darfur and the Congo, but you cannot -- I mean, it's almost -- $17 million? This is -- this is nothing.

AMANPOUR: Ben, you know, you have this role now. You've taken it on. You have access to the halls of power and to -- and to people like President Obama, presumably. Is this a message that you want to convey? Do you feel this is your work now, to make this visible and unavoidable?

AFFLECK: Well, I wouldn't overstate my access to President Obama, but I would -- I would definitely -- I tend to agree with Jason in some respects. I think the -- I think the important thing -- what happens is that we have a very sort of scattershot approach here.

You've got, you know, USAID over here, Defense over here. You have all -- this very scattershot approach to our policy with DRC. And so what happens is that, when we spend money, it's very ineffective. And so, you know, adding more money in various ways sometimes, you know, doesn't work.

What we need to do is have this comprehensive policy where we sort of understand what we're doing collectively. That means diplomatically. That means how we spend our money. And that means taking a very strong leadership role in the United States.


AFFLECK: We're not necessarily all the way popular, but if we do that, I think you can make a real and profound difference, and we won't need to spend more money, necessarily, but what -- I think we can make a real difference in how we affect what's going on there in DRC.

AMANPOUR: OK. That's the challenge, and I thank you all for joining me. Ben Affleck, Sylvie and Jason, thank you so much for being here in the studio.

And next, we have our "Post-Script." The indelible mark made by one unforgettable woman whose bravery in war allowed us all to see what war really looks like.




AMANPOUR (voice-over): It's hard to believe beauty can abide so comfortably alongside such brutality. From the air, even this refugee camp looks orderly, so neat and tidy. But get down between the rows of tents and you'll find nothing nice here. These are the victims, or, rather, these are the lucky ones who have kept one step ahead of the grave.


AMANPOUR: That was a clip shot during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, next door to Congo, by the renowned CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth. So in our "Post-Script" tonight, we want to remember her, a colleague and a friend who devoted her life to documenting war.

Margaret started her CNN career as a camerawoman during the First Gulf War. Our first of many assignments together was covering the siege of Sarajevo in 1992, until a sniper shot her in the face, shattering her jaw. It was a terrible wound, but brilliant surgeons patched her up, and she returned to her life's work in the combat zones we've just seen, Rwanda, Sarajevo, the Middle East, Pakistan, and so many other places.


MARGARET MOTH, CNN JOURNALIST: (inaudible) hit somewhere in between. And I guess I just (inaudible)


AMANPOUR: Margaret was modest, because she was never in between. She was courageous from the beginning right to the end. And on Sunday, Margaret died after a long battle with cancer.

Her legacy rests in the pictures that she captured and with all of us who've been inspired by her example and shaped by her commitment and her courage. She was fearless right to the last moment, and may she now forever rest in peace.

To see the entire documentary, "Fearless," which looks at the life of our friend, Margaret Moth, log on to And that's it for now. Thank you for watching. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.