October 6, 2005
UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM ONLINE CONGO EXHIBITION HIGHLIGHTS ANGELINA JOLIE AND JOHN PRENDERGAST’S TRIP TO COUNTRY
More Than 3.5 Million Dead From Ongoing Conflict Precipitated by 1994 Rwandan Genocide
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience, in cooperation with Angelina Jolie and the International Crisis Group, launched an online exhibition, Ripples of Genocide: Journey Through Eastern Congo, chronicling the devastation unfolding in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The site, www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/online/congojournal, includes a teachers guide to aid educators in developing lessons on the country’s situation.
The site features a travel log narrated by Angelina Jolie, who visited the region in September 2003 with John Prendergast, Senior Advisor, International Crisis Group. Jolie, reading from her travel log, delivers commentary on the country’s dire situation and details her meetings with affected populations: child soldiers, rape victims and civilian refugees. Observations are accompanied by extensive photographs of the trip and of the region. Prendergast provides historical context to the complex conflict engulfing the region.
“Despite the horrors that continue to be perpetrated in the Congo, Angelina and I returned from our trip with the overwhelming sense that the Congolese people still hope and work for a better future,” stated Prendergast. “There are solutions, but they require more international engagement. This can only happen if citizens in the U.S. and around the world tell their governments it is unacceptable to allow 1,000 Congolese to die every day.”
The conflict’s causes are multifaceted, with a bewildering array of foreign armies, militias, criminals, and others with disparate loyalties fighting over ethnic divisions and for economic dominance. Caught between these warring factions are Congolese civilians and some refugees. They have been targeted, often along ethnic lines, for murder, rape, torture and other human rights abuses on a colossal scale.
“Since 1998, more than 3.5 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” states Jerry Fowler, Director of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience. “More people have died in this conflict than in any other since World War II, but it has received scant attention in the U.S., and few Americans are aware of its massive scope.”
The destruction began following the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front overthrew the Hutu government that orchestrated the Rwandan genocide. The genocidaires fled into eastern DRC (then known as Zaire) along with more than one million Hutu civilians, who feared Tutsi reprisals. The presence of the genocidaires, who used eastern Congo/Zaire as a base to attack Rwanda, ultimately precipitated the present conflict. At one point, more than a half-dozen African nations had military forces in Congo. Numerous militias and rebel groups also formed, often along ethnic lines.
An internationally backed accord, signed in 1999, called for the formation of a unity government that incorporates the major rebel groups from the East and for foreign forces to leave the country. While some aspects of the accords have been fulfilled, they have not been successful in rebuilding communities in the East, which remain vulnerable to militias and ethnically based violence.
In addition to the conflict’s military and political aspects, governments, militias, corporations, and individuals are exploiting the chaos to loot Congolese resources. Everything of value—from mineral resources to food and medical supplies—is being pillaged as the civilian population increasingly suffers and is targeted for attacks.
In June 2003, Luis Moreno Ocampo, the International Criminal Court prosecutor, announced that the Court’s first-ever investigation would probe crimes committed throughout the DRC. The investigation was requested by the Congolese transitional government. However, the violence continues, and many more lives are at risk.
Situated among our national monuments to freedom, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is both a memorial to the past and a living reminder of the moral obligations of individuals and societies. The Museum fulfills its mission through a public/private partnership in which federal support guarantees the institution’s permanence and hundreds of thousands of donors nationwide make possible its educational activities and global outreach. More than 22 million people – including more than 7 million schoolchildren – have visited the Museum since it opened in 1993, and through its Web site, traveling exhibitions and educational programs, the Museum reaches millions more every year. The Committee on Conscience guides the Museum’s efforts to educate about, prevent and respond to contemporary genocide and related crimes against humanity. For more information, visit www.committeeonconscience.org.
The International Crisis Group is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering over 50 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict. For more information, visit www.crisisgroup.org.