A century ago almost to the day, a rag tag collection of human rights activists, concerned citizens, and politicians were able to cause enough of a commotion internationally that they forced a greedy Belgian king to give up his personal ownership of an entire country in Africa. The country was the Congo, and King Leopold's slave-raiding depredations had cut Congo's population in half - nearly 10 million people - in his quest to extract rubber, ivory and other valuable minerals from the country.
100 years later, the world is at it again. Our computers, soup cans, cell phones, diamond earrings, gold rings and dozens of other everyday products can be traced to mines in the Congo, where precious minerals are extracted in one of the most violent places on the face of the earth to satisfy our consumer demands.
And just like a century ago, people of conscience all over the world must raise their voices against the horrors being perpetrated in the Congo to feed the electronics, jewelry and other markets.
To that end, the Enough Project is launching the RAISE Hope for Congo campaign, which aims to protect and empower Congolese women. Why? Because in a truly tragic turn, Congolese women have become the principal targets in the continuing conflict in eastern Congo. With the highest rates of violence against women globally, eastern Congo has become the most dangerous place to be a woman on the face of the earth.
As an actor and an activist, we are joining forces to become part of what hopefully will become a movement to protect and empower the women of the Congo. Anyone can join. We need people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, in order to bring the necessary influence to bear on our elected officials to actually make a commitment to end these terrible crimes against humanity.
As part of the campaign, the Enough Project is kicking off a speakers' tour on college campuses across the country, and working with Eve Ensler's V-Day and STAND to help students conduct their own Congo Teach Ins on campus. From engaging in letter writing campaigns and petition drives to hosting house screenings of films about the Congo or blogging about the conflict, there will be many ways to get involved. You can start by signing the petition to the president at www.raisehopeforcongo.org and then send it to your friends and family members. Post it on your Facebook or MySpace page. If we can make enough noise, we will get the attention of the new president of the United States. And we will ask for a commitment from him to help lead a global effort to end the violence against women in the Congo.
Rape as a tool of war has been used before in other conflicts. But never like this. It is being perfected as a tool, without repercussions for the perpetrators. If we let it happen in the Congo, where next? We must take a stand for the women of the Congo, and for the future of our common humanity.
Emmanuelle Chriqui is an actress and John Prendergast is a human rights activist with the Enough Project.