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Breaking “The Greatest Silence”

“The Greatest Silence” explores the decade-old epidemic of kidnapping, rape, and torture of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Activists and viewers gathered across the country earlier this spring to watch the HBO premier of “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo.” The documentary is a shocking exposé of a decade-old epidemic of kidnapping, rape, and torture of women and girls in the civil war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, and many were able to discuss it in home screening groups organized by the ENOUGH Project and its partners.

“The Greatest Silence” documents filmmaker Lisa F. Jackson’s journeys to the war zones of Eastern Congo to find survivors willing to bear witness to their experiences and break the silence that has, in part, enabled this “war within the war” to continue unabated for 10 years. It is a film at once political and profoundly personal for Jackson, who was herself gang-raped by three men in Washington, D.C. at age 25. She shares her experience with the women she interviews, and they ask her, “Was there a war in your country?” As evidence of her commitment to the film and the stories of these women, Jackson traveled alone to the DRC and performed all production functions (producer, director, DP, sound) while there.

Jackson challenges audiences to wonder what dark forces are at work in a world that has allowed thousands of women and girls to suffer such atrocities without offering them solace or justice. Economic greed seems to be one factor: Criminal groups appear to be fanning the flames of civil war in order to perpetuate chaos and instability in the region while they plunder Eastern Congo’s natural riches of diamonds, gold, and coltan—a metal used in cell phones and laptops—for personal profit.

U.S.-led efforts in recent months to end the crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo—the epicenter of the deadliest war since World War II with 5.4 million dead and counting—have yielded a ceasefire, but the conflict is not over. The ceasefire agreement is hailed as a diplomatic success, while the continued suffering of Congolese civilians remains an international failure. What’s more, the prevalence of sexual violence received no mention in the lengthy ceasefire agreement, and women were mentioned only once.

Congolese women and girls in particular bear the vicious brunt of this crisis. Eastern Congo is right now perhaps the worst place in the world to be a woman or a girl. The sexual violence and rape exists on a scale seen nowhere else in the world as it is part and parcel of the conflict. Women and girls are being raped by combatants of all armed groups and soldiers of the Congolese army, as well as by civilians. Over 2,200 cases of rape were registered in June 2008 in the province of North Kivu. One community in Rutshuru reported over 150 cases of rape in April alone.

To learn more about the conflict and how you can help break the silence and bring lasting peace to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, please visit ENOUGH’s website at http://www.enoughproject.org/conflicts/congo.

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