12 Sep 2010
September 12, 2010

Foreign Policy and Gender-based Violence


UNHCR flikrIn late July and early August, 500 Congolese women and children were systematically raped, mainly in a village called Luvungi. The reports mainly miss out the name of the group who orchestrated this latest in a long line of seemingly never-ending atrocities.  They’re called the FDLR and so far the international community has been completely ineffective in stopping their repeated murders and mass rapes in the eastern Congo. And while there are many bandits and killers hanging around making life hell for ordinary people in the Congo, often targeting women and children, the FDLR is different.  Their leadership lives in Europe. Germany is  now sitting up and taking notice and two men are presently in custody.  Yet the attacks continue.  They happen daily and they are often staggering in their savagery.

When we think of foreign policy in the UK right now, we think of Afghanistan because it’s ‘strategically significant’.   I’ve said before, and will no doubt say again, that the Labour Party in opposition has a long way to go in fashioning a coherent foreign and defence policy.  As we do, we need to see places like Luvungi as central to our policies and not simply a marginal aspect of international development policy.  It is possible to work towards solutions to the issues of the moment: Afghanistan; Trident; big procurement projects, while placing our ability to help those people in the most need in ways which can change their lives forever. I don’t think that’s too idealistic.   Surely to God it isn’t.

Right now, the UN is seized of the need to do something about the FDLR but it’s crucial that momentum is retained and last months outrage doesn’t just become another forgotten statistic. If you get a chance, Google the group a bit and keep them in your mind, talk about them, ask your MP to join the All Party Group on the African Great Lakes Region, which I chair, or go to this brilliant organisation, V-Day, and help put pressure on government and opposition parties alike to redouble our efforts to help the women and children of Luvungi and many places like it.  Right now, we can create a step-change for folk in a benighted place who have almost given up hope.  For them, there really isn’t a minute to lose.