Unwatchable: the war in DR Congo just got much closer to home

The brutal rape and murder of a white, upper-middle class family deep in the English countryside just brought the war in DR Congo much closer to home.

Shock-tactics: creating perspective
George Grant
On 29 September 2011 10:21

It isn’t often that I support shock-tactics for the purpose of raising awareness about serious issues. 

Unwatchable, a highly graphic short film that seeks to highlight the shocking prevalence of rape as a weapon of war in the DR Congo, is a notable exception to that rule.

In just over six minutes, the film charts, in brutal and uncensored detail, the rape and murder of an innocent family in their own home.

In an effort to strike a chord with Western audiences seemingly desensitised to the realities of one of the world’s most brutal and protracted conflicts, which has claimed the lives of 5.4 million since 1998 alone, the victims of this film are not black however, and nor is the setting the malarial jungles of the Congolese republic.

Rather Unwatchable is set in a million-pound mansion deep in the English countryside, with the soon-to-be murdered family every bit as respectable and upper-middle class as they are far removed from the realities of what the film portrays.

I will not pretend that the film is easy viewing, but then it isn’t meant to be.

Its message, moreover, extends beyond just the plight of the hundreds of thousands of brutalised and murdered victims of this forgotten war, highlighting further that for which they die every single day.

As in so many African conflicts, competition for control of mineral resources rests at the heart of DR Congo’s problems. The rapes and killings happen – and continue to happen right now - for control of minerals subsequently used in UK mobile phones, used every day by the likes of you and I.

The film’s message is clear: indirectly perhaps, but mobile phone manufacturers in the UK are complicit in the bloodshed, and by extension, dear customer, so are you.

In 2003, prompted in large part by the horrendous conflict for control of diamond fields in Sierra Leone, the world initiated the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), with the aim of making the international trade in diamonds ‘conflict free’. Four years on, and the KPCS is beset by problems that stretch its credibility to the limit.

In spite of its many flaws, however, the central principle that underlies the KPCS is absolutely right, and there is no question that it has been significant in helping reduce, though not eliminate, the problem of conflict diamonds.

Harder though it would be to achieve, similar processes are urgently needed to regulate the trade in other conflict minerals, a central message put forward in Unwatchable, and something that has been advocated by various sections of the international humanitarian community for quite some time.

The key to beginning such processes is almost always heightened awareness, which leads to pressure on policymakers to act. To that end, at least, I hope that Unwatchable is a great, and terrible, success.

You can watch the video (but be warned it contains graphic scenes of sexual violence) and sign an accompanying petition here: http://www.unwatchable.cc/

George Grant is the Director for Global Security at the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think tank in London, UK

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