War Crimes Occurring in the Congo (Duh)

Yesterday MONUC head of mission Alan Doss accused both Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP and pro-government militias of war crimes in the eastern DRC town of Kiwanja. The accusations come on the heels of a report on Thursday by Human Rights Watch that a number of civilians were the victims of targeted killings, variously by Nkunda’s rebels and by the Mai Mai militias, following a battle between the two forces at Kiwanja earlier this week.

Other war crimes currently occurring include: forced recruitment of child soldiers. I bet Save the Children feels awfully silly for spending all that time and effort reintegrating these kids only to see them re-recruited the minute the aid workers’ backs were turned. Talk about embarrassing…

Francis Deng, special advisor on genocide to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, has warned the warring parties that if anyone were thinking about committing genocide, they’d best cut it out immediately. He added that “the intention to destroy an ethnic population group, in whole or in part, is a grave crime.” And the Pope’s gotten in on it too. Um, thanks dudes. Too bad you guys weren’t around to warn Hitler, huh?

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the ceasefire at Goma is, against all odds, still holding, but the Congolese army has pulled itself back together after last week’s spectacular meltdown and is attacking the rebels. Perhaps their morale has been boosted by the arrival of all those Angolan troops that MONUC denies are there.

The issue of the Schrödinger’s Angolan troops highlights the problems traditional news media has with getting accurate info out of war zones in a timely fashion. For instance, here’s a fancy map from the BBC that looks like someone spray-painted on the troop locations:

I’m not sure what that’s about. But compare with this map from Ushahidi, a service Amanda blogged about during the Kenya election crisis, that allows people to post updates via internet or SMS and provides credibility ratings. (They admit the difficulty with verification in a war zone, but are working with local NGOs to confirm reports.) Awesome, right?

Miss Landmine Survivor 2008

The BBC reports that Angola’s national de-mining commission will host a “Miss Landmine Survivor” beauty pageant next week. It is being held in conjunction with the UN’s International Mine Awareness Day.

Oddly, the article doesn’t mention that the pageant is at least partially a performance art piece, which originated as the brainchild of Norwegian theatre-guy Morten Traavik and is funded by the Arts Council of Norway. The project has been the target of a lot of criticism, most of it along the lines of “objectification and exploitation and bears, oh my!” and “omg, freak shows are SO last century!” Traavik’s response is that (1) this isn’t exactly pageantry (or, uh, “scholarship competition”) for pageantry’s sake; (2) it’s frankly kind of obnoxious to assume that the women involved haven’t made an informed decision to be part of the competition, and (3) they’re not freaks. (He’s also very big on the survivor vs. victim distinction.)

The contestants (whose profiles are both interesting and profoundly depressing) are paid for their time, outfitted in free American Apparel swimsuits and dresses, and are competing for a golden prosthetic leg made by “Norway’s leading manufacturer.” Traavik hopes to bring the competition to other super-landmine-y countries like Cambodia in the next year or so.

So, thoughts? Is there something to be creeped out by here? And if so, why is it more disturbing to see poor African women take the opportunity to make $200 and bring attention to their plight than it is to see white trailer trash jump at the chance for a tiara and a ticket out of Oklahoma?