New trouble in Congo

Congolese rebels have put the national army to flight in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and displaced thousands of civilians, reports correspondent Max Delany from the city of Bunagana. The group, M23, says it fights to get the government to respect a peace treaty that it signed three years ago. But some observers say that it has received support from Rwanda, which has backed a series of proxy militias in Congo, a charge that Rwanda and the rebels deny. From human welfare to the metals in your cellphone to the gas in your car, Congo is more connected to your life than you might think, and its stability matters. Here are four major reasons.

James Akena/Reuters
M23 rebel fighters rest at their defense position in Karambi, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in north Kivu province, near the border with Uganda, July 12.

1. It's a hotbed of human rights violations

Rich Clabaugh/Staff
Map of Democratic Republic of Congo

During Congo's nearly two decades of war, observers have witnessed some of the most horrific war crimes in modern memory, including the use of rape as a tool of war. The practice goes far beyond the rape-and-pillage practices of old, and in fact is used by the commanders of militias and even the Congolese Army itself to both punish far-flung communities and to intimidate them into compliance.

According to Human Rights Watch, 15,000 cases of sexual violence were reported in 2009, and 7,685 cases were reported in the first six months of 2010. Prosecution of perpetrators, including militia and political commanders, has begun at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, but some ICC-indicted suspects remain at large, including Congolese Army Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, who continues to carry out joint exercises in eastern Congo, apparently without fear of arrest by United Nations peacekeepers.

(On another front, prosecution has been successful. With his 14-year prison sentence for the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Congo, announced July 10, rebel com-mander Thomas Lubanga became the first person in history to be sentenced by the ICC.)

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