The Human Impact

Ms Kalashnikovs: Meet Congo’s fearless women fighters

Copyright and all photographs taken by Francesca Tosarelli.

Brutalised. Repeatedly raped. The first to gather the children and flee attack. Weak, poor and uneducated.

Women in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are so often cast as voiceless, nameless victims of a conflict that has raged for decades in the region’s lush jungles and hilltops that it is almost impossible to imagine them as fearless warriors.

But that’s exactly what Italian photographer Francesca Tosarelli found when she travelled to Congo’s North Kivu province early last year – driven by a curiosity to explore how gender identity shifts in times of conflict.

Over four months, she met and photographed a number of Congolese women, many of them mothers, who had taken up arms to fight alongside their male comrades in a messy conflict that has spawned dozens of armed groups vying for power and control of the region’s rich mineral deposits.

The result is “Ms Kalashnikov”, a stunning photo series that captures the unseen face of conflict in eastern Congo, dismantling Western stereotypes of the African militia fighter.

The dangers of oversimplifying the Central African Republic conflict

Here’s a story I haven’t heard before: when violence spiralled in Central African Republic’s capital last December, the country’s most senior Muslim cleric sought shelter with the Catholic archbishop of Bangui.

And that month no one was attacked in Lakounga, one of the oldest parts of the capital, where Christian and Muslim leaders worked together to protect the community. Posters were plastered on every street corner with the message: “Christians and Muslims, the same blood, the same life, the same country”.

“Their message is that we are one and we have been living together … for many decades,” Nyeko Caesar Poblicks, East and Central Africa projects manager at the London-based NGOConciliation Resources, and a frequent visitor to CAR, told me in a recent interview.

Roots of South Sudan’s violence must be addressed now – experts

 

South Sudan’s conflict has devastated communities and polarised society and, unless the root causes of the conflict are addressed now, the world’s youngest country may find itself once more in crisis, experts said during a recent debate organised by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The government and rebels signed a ceasefire on Jan. 23 to end more than five weeks of fighting that brought the country to the brink of civil war. More than half a million people have been displaced and thousands killed in the conflict between government troops and rebels backing former vice president Riek Machar.

One of the most damaging aspects of the conflict is the impact it has had on the country’s ability to build lasting peace, David Deng, research director of the South Sudan Law Society in Juba, said.

A devastating fire displaces an already displaced population

In early March, I visited two refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border to report on the challenges facing refugee women and girls and was struck by the enthusiasm of students I met in Ban Mae Surin, a camp set in a remote but picturesque setting along the Mae Surin river.

The students were part of the Karenni Further Studies Programme and were rehearsing a group dance for International Women’s Day celebrations on March 8.

On that day, they learnt the dance moves for a song that calls for the elimination of violence against women and girls. Despite the sweltering afternoon heat, the four dozen or so students – and some alumni – practised non-stop.

India’s growing global humanitarian role: Is it enough?

India is increasingly seen as an important player when it comes to supporting nations hit by disasters or conflict, as well as for development, but given its size and influence, is it really doing enough to help resolve global crises?

Many, like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), think not, especially when it comes to addressing humanitarian issues at an international level.

“I am of the very strong opinion that India – which has an enormous influence due to its population, economic growth and history – will have to play a more assertive role in the world,” Yves Daccord, ICRC director general, told AlertNet recently.

Malala: An icon for millions of girls who want to learn

When it happened two months ago, it shocked the world. Masked Taliban gunmen stopped a school bus filled with children in northwestern Pakistan, boarded it and shot 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the head and neck as she sat in the bus with her friends.

Her crime? She was a campaigner for the right of girls to go to school — an act strictly forbidden by Taliban militants who are still active in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

This was her punishment for defying their edicts, the Taliban had said.

Fortunately, Malala survived and her story — as well as her determination to continue to fight for girls to go to school despite the threat of death — has captivated the world and made her into an international icon for girls’ education.

Mission head says MSF doctors need better access to Syria conflict

The growing number of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war into Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey as the humanitarian situation worsens, is putting increasing pressure on aid agencies trying to provide assistance.

More than 300,000 refugees have already fled during the 18-month conflict, and that number could grow to 710,000 by the end of this year, UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, says.

The number of registered Syrian refugees and those awaiting registration in Lebanon is now more than 80,800 and is expected to grow to 120,000 by the end of 2012, UNHCR reports.

VIDEO INTERVIEW: ‘Desperate’ Syrian civilians taking up arms

PERPIGNAN, France (AlertNet) – When the uprising in Syria spiralled into bloody conflict last year, French photojournalist Mani felt the urge to document what was happening, even though wars weren’t his usual subject.

Mani became a professional freelance photographer three years ago, having ditched a career as a primary school teacher. He spent time covering Sufism and transgender communities in South Asia, but always had a soft spot for Syria where he studied Arabic during his university years.

Through friends and contacts in Syria, he was able to get into the violence-torn city of Homs last October.

Rage in India a spotlight on Sri Lanka’s war victims

Almost four years since Sri Lanka’s war ended, rage over the lack of rehabilitation for thousands of survivors of the bloody 25-year-long civil conflict has surfaced – not on the war-torn Indian Ocean island itself, but in neighbouring India.

India’s Tamil Nadu state — where the majority Tamil ethnic group have a close association with Tamils living across the Palk Straits in Sri Lanka – have long felt their brothers have been discriminated against by the Sinhalese-ruled government.

The war, pitting separatist Tamil Tigers against President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Sri Lankan Armed Forces, saw tens of thousands of mainly Tamil civilians in the north and east of the island killed or injured, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

Are Colombians willing to give ex-fighters a second chance?

Over the past decade, a stepped-up government military offensive against Colombia’s two main rebel groups – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) – has prompted growing numbers of guerrilla fighters to desert and lay down their arms.

On average, 10 fighters demobilise every day in Colombia.

Since 2003, nearly 55,000 combatants from illegal armed groups have given up their weapons, including some 30,000 fighters from right-wing paramilitary groups, who disarmed during a peace process with the previous government.

The Colombian government says helping former fighters to return to civilian life is a top priority.

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