Women back protest over Congo atrocities


A Progressive rabbi was among the participants in a high-profile event to call for an end to the atrocities in the one of the world’s worst conflict zones, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rabbi Rebecca Qassim Birk of Westminster Synagogue joined a multi-faith rally last Thursday at London’s Albert Hall to highlight the rape and torture of women and girls in the eastern part of the country, in particular.

The event marked 100 years since the Great Congo Demonstration, held at the same venue, to protest against murder and slavery at that time.

More recently, as many as five million are thought to have perished in the Congo during 12 years of warfare.

Lynne Franks, the PR guru and chair of the V-Day UK committee which organised the rally, said: “With an estimated 200,000 women and girls raped since the conflict began, we here in the UK must not be silent.”

V-Day was launched by another Jewish woman, the playwright Eve Ensler — best-known as the author of The Vagina Monologues — to raise awareness of violence against women.

Rabbi Qassim Birk said: “It was an extraordinary event and I hope Eve Ensler is going to do a cross-communal Jewish women’s event to raise awareness.

“When the atrocities in Rwanda happened, so few of us knew until afterwards. But this is happening now and there is an opportunity to do something.”

She said that she had been invited by one of her congregants, Lynne Franks’s daughter.

“Eve came over from New York for Women of the Year in 2008 and got us emotionally involved in the situation of the Congo,” said Ms Franks.

The Jewish human rights group, RenéCassin, has also been active in efforts to draw attention to the plight of the Congolese by encouraging Jewish leaders to sign a protest letter to be sent to world leaders by the Save the Congo campaign.

Sarah Kaiser, director of RenéCassin, said: “This is inspired by E D Morel, a Jewish campaigner based in Liverpool, who famously sent a letter of protest to The Times about the human rights violations taking place in the Congo.”

Edmund Morel attended the original Albert Hall demonstration 100 years ago, along with Sherlock Holmes’s creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

“We hope that world leaders will take this opportunity to come together and bring a peaceful resolution to the conflict that has claimed so many lives,” Ms Kaiser said. “These levels of violence cannot be permitted to continue for another 100 years.”

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