On March 8, Jeff Sagnip, director of public policy for New Jersey’s U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-Dist. 4), invited me, as trustee of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, to an important hearing in Washington on the ongoing mass atrocities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rep. Smith chairs the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health. This bipartisan subcommittee also includes New Jersey’s U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-Dist. 10). Testifying were such notables as actor Ben Affleck, founder of the East Congo Initiative, and Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and a founding member of and investor in ECI.
The testimonies were riveting and frightening. As chair of an ongoing Holocaust/genocide film education program and having worked with such people as human rights activist and author John Prendergast on genocide awareness in Darfur, I was struck by the fact that we need to continue to educate the public on the dire situations taking place under our watch. These lessons, while difficult, are our responsibility as global citizens but more importantly to ensure a safer world for our children.
Five million have been killed in this conflict since the 1990s and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped and sexually violated. In addition, this conflict threatens to destabilize the fragile stability of neighboring Rwanda, a country just recovering from its own horrific genocide just over a decade ago.
Other witnesses who gave testimony included Donald Y. Yamamoto, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs; Rajakumari Jandhyala, deputy assistant administrator, Bureau for Africa; Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, sexual and gender-based violence adviser at Catholic Relief Services; and Prendergast of The Enough Project.
Toby Shylit Mack
Chair, Community Relations Committee of Jewish Federation of Monmouth County