Listen to the Congolese women in Minembwe: Provide protection and humanitarian aid!

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Right now in our heartland of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, women are protesting in the plateaus of Minembwe, a remote and isolated mountain area. A war that had ravaged the region for more than 20 years was reignited over the past months, when Mai Mai militias in Eastern Congo launched unprecedented, systemic attacks against our community, the Banyamulenge people, now living in displacement. In a region where women have it worse, they are now rising up in protest and calling for protection and safety. Following the removal of one local police chief who had stood up for them and ensured their security, they have been left unprotected. Meanwhile, the UN base camps are failing to fulfill their mission of protecting, sheltering, and aiding the people in the DRC.

We stand with our sisters in Minembwe, and demand the UN and the Congolese authorities to offer them unconditional protection and support in channeling the humanitarian aid they so urgently need. 

A coalition of Mai Mai militias (Red Tabara, Forebu, and FNL), have burned hundreds of Banyamulenge villages to the ground; they have stolen thousands of cows; they have killed hundreds of people; they have raped women with total impunity. The situation has driven tens of thousands of people into near starvation, desperation, and displacement. The community is huddled outside UN base camps without food, shelter, or any other support, while being surrounded by these militia groups. And government soldiers, who have been flocking to the area, have stood by idly and, in many cases, are a major part of the problem: abusing their power to steal from the displaced people, and taking captive women in their military bases and sexually assaulting them. 

In the middle of this conflict, the local police commander in the Minembwe region bravely stood up for the right thing: to protect civilians, especially women, against attacks. He fought hard for their security, patrolling the streets at night and forcefully confronting anyone intending to harm the Banyamulenge community. He did not hesitate to hold accountable those who terrorized civilians and assaulted women in this area. But the Congolese government has just announced that they are replacing him with someone from the outside, unfamiliar with the issues of the area. And women are standing up and saying NO. 

On February 19, 2020, hundreds of women in Minembwe took to the streets to protest the police commander’s removal. They fear being left not only unprotected from sexual assaults and attacks against the community, but from starvation or a massacre of the Banyamulenge people. Their cries are a plea for safety, security, and protection. 

Meanwhile, despite having specific humanitarian missions in the region, the UN is doing nothing to help. Every Banyamulenge has been forced to flee their homeland in the area, and now live outside two MONUSCO (UN’s Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC) bases in the High Plains of eastern Congo. This is because the protection the UN has offered is conditional to the community living in the bush outside their camps during this rainy season. 

The Congolese diaspora in the US has arranged thousands of dollars in supplies to help, but MONUSCO has refused to channel and transport the supplies up the mountain to the displaced living outside their camps. The Banyamulenge are starving and in extreme danger, while lacking protection and aid from those whose mandate is to protect and aid. It is an outrage. 

This is happening in a very isolated region of our country, but because of technology we are able to amplify these isolated women’s voices and actions for their right to peace and security. So we, Adele, as leader of the Banyamulenge Congolese community in the US; and Neema, international advocate and activist championing women in DRC, decided to unite to stand by our sisters in our homeland.

We call upon the UN and the Congolese authorities to listen to the will of the communities they have sworn to protect, and offer unconditional protection and channel humanitarian aid to the people of Haut Plateau in Eastern Congo. 

Stand with us by signing and sharing this petition!

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Read our stories in the online community World Pulse: Adele’s & Neema’s.

If you are a woman from the DRC, we invite you to share your story too; you can do it here. Tell us about how you see the conflict through your lived experience as a Congolese woman. We want to amplify as many voices as we can!