News / Africa

    DRC Army Education Enters New Phase

    A colonel in the Congolese army lectures officers on the rules of war and respecting human rights, Bunia, eastern Congo, June 2012  (Nick Long/VOA).
    A colonel in the Congolese army lectures officers on the rules of war and respecting human rights, Bunia, eastern Congo, June 2012 (Nick Long/VOA).
    Nick Long
    KINSHASA — The Democratic Republic of Congo’s army has a new slogan - Lobi Mokolo Ya Sika - Tomorrow Is a New Day. It's also the name for a new education program to educate soldiers on the basics of human rights, the rules of war, and how to improve civilian relations.

    While donors have been funding human rights training for the Congolese army over the past five years, Lobi Mokolo Ya Sika is being conducted by the military with help from Search for Common Ground (SFCG), a U.S.-based non-governmental organization.

    "The government has come a long way and we assisted them with the training," says Dirk Van Koch, the NGO's Congo director. "Are we done yet? No. That’s why we’re continuing with the training, and especially what we see is that there are continuous new groups being absorbed into the army, new recruits often straight from the bush without any education. That’s what we will be focusing on.”

    Some of the former militiamen - often boys who were recruited at a young age by armed groups of eastern Congo - have provided Van Koch's organization with recorded accounts of their personal experiences. In one testimony filmed by SFCG, for example, the subject describes how his group collected human organs and even cut off women’s breasts to use as fetishes to ward off enemies.

    Teaching codes of conduct

    Seven-hundred miles away in the eastern town of Bunia, a Congolese army colonel lectures officers who will be sent back to their units with instructions about how to raise awareness of human rights.

    "Remember, you’re going to be talking to soldiers, even officers, who’ve never heard about human rights or the rules of war," he says.

    Even addressing such an experienced group of officers, the colonel finds it necessary to mention that mutilation of corpses violates rules of warfare.

    But looting of civilian communities, a common military offense, requires its own dramatization.

    “Hey, get down, all the men on the floor!" the colonel shouts, demonstrating how such threats can terrorize civilians. “You people are criminals, you’re going to give us a goat or we’ll cut off your heads.”

    In another session, the group watches a video about a girl who was so badly injured in a violent gang rape that she's incontinent and unable to have children. After the video, officers are asked to imagine how they would feel if they were the girl’s husband or father.

    Although the two days of training are designed cover a broad spectrum of conduct-related issues, stopping sexual violence by armed groups in the Congo is one of the program's primary objectives. The army has been implicated in the country’s alarmingly high rape statistics, prompting President Joseph Kabila to announce a zero-tolerance policy for military sex offenders.

    But according to Van Koch, it's critical that army officers are trained to monitor and report offenses by fellow soldiers, so SFCG has helped set up and train committees dedicated to addressing internal offenses.

    “We train them in detecting when their own troops commit abuses, and that they don’t actually try to hide those, which used to be the practice in the past, but that they denounce them in front of the military tribunals," he says, adding that the NGO plans to add civilians to the committees in order to make them more responsive.

    According to statistics by MONUSCO, the United Nations Mission in the Congo, 224 members of the DRC military or police were convicted for serious human rights abuses from July of 2010 to 2011, and about half of the cases involved sexual violence.

    Although it’s not clear that military convicts actually serve the entire duration of their sentences, the increased convictions indicate that the new approach to human rights awareness is beginning to pay off.

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora