A priest from the Democratic Republic of the Congo has called on the Congolese government to stop the illegal exploitation of the country’s mineral resources which are being used to help fuel instability and fund militant groups in the region.
Fr. Justin Nkunzi, justice and peace commission director of the Archdiocese of Bukavu, said that the illegal trade in minerals, including gold, has lead to increased fears about the rise of rebel attacks.
Speaking to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) during a visit to the UK, he called on industry leaders to improve the transparency of supply chains to allow buyers to trace the source of their gold.
"If you buy diamonds and gold from rebel held areas. It helps the rebels – they can buy weapons and guns and continue the war," he told ACN.
He suggested the UK government could assist Congolese authorities in combating the illegal mineral exploitation, saying such action would help build peace.
Rebel action funded by the mineral trade has caused serious problems in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Conflict has increased sexual violence and the numbers of child soldiers and refugees.
"Rebel groups have so many child soldiers. We must give support to these children, help them to leave militia camps in the forest and bring them back to the village."
Reintroducing child soldiers into their community is problematic, Fr. Nkunzi said, because they have training in weapons but nothing else and must be taught useful skills.
Militia groups have also used the terrifying rape of women as a way to demoralize the local people.
"For us it’s a kind of new terrorism. It is a strategy for destroying the family. It destroys everyone. It is a kind of ‘killing.’
"Sexual violence causes a big degree of trauma – individual trauma, communal trauma. The perpetrators know that the most effective ways of humiliating a man is to rape his wife," he told ACN.
U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs John Holmes has called the sexual violence in the Congo "the worst in the world."
"The sheer numbers, the wholesale brutality, the culture of impunity — it’s appalling," he said in 2007.
"In our country many people suffer," Fr Nkunzi told ACN, explaining that the rule of the dictator Mobutu from 1965 to 1997 had led to many years of war. "The Church must be wherever someone asks us for our help."
"Everyone must do the best they can to bring peace, first within your heart, second in the family, then in all the community."
"The Church must work to bring our people together and say that another way is possible," he advocated, saying unpunished violence must be rebuked.
Explaining the work of the justice and peace commission he directs, he said the commission aims to help communities come together after being "torn apart" and to support them in bringing change.
"It is a ministry as Jesus said to bring peace and reconciliation everywhere," Fr. Nkunzi said.
"Our work wouldn’t be possible without the prayers and the peace that comes from Jesus and God. It is possible because Jesus is beginning the new way and we are following the new way in our country, many persons need to meet him in our country."
"We are all brothers in Africa. We must hear Jesus; we must try to build our region because God has given us a good country," he continued.
Fr. Nkunzi praised ACN’s efforts to help in the Congo, concluding his interview by asking God to bless those who help ACN help those in the Congo.