Africa Lifelines: Two U.S. Senators Want Their Country to Get More Involved to Help End a War That Has Killed 4 Million

Another 1,000 die daily

Goma, Congo – Militiamen from neighboring Rwanda barged into her
mud-brick hut at night. They stabbed and sliced Farijika Nzigire’s
husband to death. Then five men raped her. They burned the hut and
left her beaten and bloody.

Now, a year later, a baby girl, Ajibu, tugs at Nzigire’s tattered
shirt. “I don’t know who her father is,” she said looking down,
trying to coax milk from her depleted body here at a hospital in
eastern Congo.

Nzigire, 22, is part of a forgotten exodus, thousands of ragged
gang-raped women and other victims staggering from forests where
atrocities happen every day.

Nearly 4 million people have died in a war that began around 1998.
U.S. officials estimate 1,000 more die each day across a
Europe-sized area.

Such is the suffering that two U.S. senators who visited Goma this
month – Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill. – want the
United States to get more involved. Brownback said he’s working on
legislation, with help from Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., that would
send $200 million to $300 million a year to Congo for basic needs
such as access to safe water.

Brownback said his visit also has inspired a broader initiative to
overhaul U.S. Africa policy. He proposed designating an “Africa
aid czar” in the State Department as part of an overhaul that
would shore up scattershot aid efforts, aligning projects more
closely with African self-help efforts.

“We’re the most powerful nation on Earth, and yet we’ve got this
number of deaths taking place daily that are preventable,”
Brownback said. “We have a responsibility to do what we can to

West pushes for elections

U.S. and European government officials say they’ve been trying to
help stabilize Congo – Africa’s third-most-populous country with 60
million people, a fourth the size of the United States – by
encouraging elections.

But no U.S. or European troops participate in United Nations
peacekeeping work. A U.N. Security Council deadline for disarming
militias passed at the end of September – and the killing

“The tragedy is certainly apparent to everyone,” said Christopher
Davis, spokesman at the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital.
“Our feeling is the U.N., with the 17,000 contingent it has in
Congo, is quite capable of helping the Congolese army do what it
needs to do to bring these militias under control.”

Most urgently for Nzigire, she leaks urine because the rapes
ruptured her vagina. Congolese doctors at the hospital planned to
perform reconstructive surgery.

Despicable war tactic

Gang rapes have become a war tactic. Tens of thousands of women
suffer from the ruptures known as fistula – once a rare injury
associated with traumatic births but common now in Congo.

A private U.S.-based group, Doctors On Call for Service, has funded
more than 150 fistula-repair surgeries in Goma, a former Belgian
colonial town that Denver Post journalists visited in September.

“I don’t feel like a normal person,” Nzigire said. “I feel my
heart beating hard, fast. I try to sleep. …The war is still

In 1998, Congo became the battleground for six nations in a war
that killed 50,000 people, and 4 million more died from
conflict-induced hunger and disease – the most deaths from a
conflict since World War II.

A peace deal in 2003 recognized warring factions and scheduled
elections. U.N. peacekeepers deployed to towns. But violence in
Congo’s hinterlands – mostly roadless, lacking electricity and
phone lines – repeatedly has prevented those elections.

Violence also blocks international aid crews from reaching forests
where thousands of women and children are stranded, said Carla
Martinez, operations chief for Doctors Without Borders’ 35-member
team, inside a fortified compound.Much of the killing and raping is
done by rebels from Rwanda who fled after the genocide in 1994 when
Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, seized power. The rebels
re-organized inside Congo at French-run U.N. refugee camps.

Parliamentarians from Uganda, Congo and Rwanda met recently,
calling for expulsion of the Rwandan rebels. Kagame has refused to
take them back. The United States backs Kagame’s authoritarian

U.S. diplomats say they help organize meetings in the region
without taking part. The United States currently gives no bilateral
aid to Congo, but contributes about $100 million a year to
international relief operations.

Businesses buy security

Amid the killing, foreign-financed mining companies still extract
gold, diamonds and coltan, an ore used in cellphones and laptop
computers, because the companies can afford private security forces
to hold off armed factions and “mai-mai” bandits. A U.S. company,
Phoenix-based Phelps Dodge Corp., last month began a copper and
cobalt mining project in southern Congo.

Meanwhile, warlords target subsistence-farming villagers like
Nzigire and her husband.

U.N. reports this year referred to atrocities nobody has been able
to investigate fully, including an incident in which militiamen
allegedly grilled bodies on a spit and boiled two girls alive as
their mother watched.

Here behind blue metal gates, Dr. Flory Cirimwami, 29, a surgeon,
described incidents he’d learned of through patients south of Goma
near Bukavu. Militiamen buried a girl up to her neck after raping
her, tortured an 80-year-old woman, and sexually assaulted two
women with knives, boots and sticks after raping them, Cirimwami

“The misery of people here is unbelievable, unimaginable. … I
always feel the cry of helpless people here as a heavy burden for

Global policy experts increasingly raise concerns about instability
in Africa as terrorism spreads and African oil production grows. A
recent report from the Council on Foreign Relations think tank
calls for new U.S. efforts to integrate Africa into the world
economy by removing trade barriers.

“The United States cannot afford to let another decade go by
without effective solutions,” the CFR task force said, “and
Africa deserves better.”

Hiring Rules Enforcement Nonexistant

In Denver, it’s been three years since any fine was imposed for failure to verify workers’ immigration status.

While Congress wrestles with new legislation to crack down on
employers who hire illegal-immigrant workers, enforcement of an
existing prohibition has all but ceased.

Not a single employer in the Denver area has been fined for three
years, records show, and federal authorities have targeted only a
handful of employers nationwide.

This week, experts on all sides of the intensifying national
immigration debate agreed: Work- site enforcement will be crucial
in efforts to deal effectively with growing numbers of illegal
foreign-born workers.

“If I could do one thing in the area of immigration reform, it
would be to stop employers from providing the magnet. Then we’d
have much of this problem solved,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo,
R-Colo., leader of the House Immigration Reform Caucus.

A 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border that Tancredo and a
majority of fellow lawmakers demand, costing hundreds of millions
of dollars, “is a symbol as much as it is a practical obstacle
…,” Tancredo said. “I certainly believe we should have that
symbol, but the real key is work-site enforcement.”

Longtime federal immigration chief Doris Meisner, now a senior
fellow at the Migration Policy Institute think tank in Washington,
called current work-site enforcement “a charade,” a
“wink-and-nod system” vulnerable to fraud and fakery.

The 1986 law that makes hiring illegal workers a crime “is an
unworkable law because of the verification issue. There’s no way
for employers to know whether the documents they see are valid,”
she said.

“And they don’t have a requirement to verify those documents. That
has to be fixed,” said Meisner, who ran the Immigration and
Naturalization Service under President Clinton.

“You have to have a way that’s straightforward” – similar to
credit-card verification using photo identification and Social
Security numbers – to check workers, she said.

Establishing penalties and a database for screening workers “is an
important step in developing a credible immigration system,” said
Marshall Fitz, advocacy director for the American Immigration
Lawyers Association.

That group and Meisner contend work-site enforcement must be
combined with bringing in more temporary workers to ensure U.S.
economic competitiveness.

Even business advocates at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce favor
required work-site screening “as long as it is fast, reliable and
accurate,” chamber vice president Randy Johnson said. “We
recognize that improved employer verification has to be part of

Senate lawmakers now are expected to offer “guest worker”
proposals. House lawmakers have passed broad enforcement-

oriented legislation that would require employers to verify workers
are legal and impose fines of $25,000 per violation.

Today, federal enforcers let companies police themselves. Under a
nationwide pilot program, only 4,830 employers nationwide (131 in
Colorado, 31 in Denver) voluntarily checked Social Security numbers
against a federal database last year.

Federal enforcers also have failed for nearly a decade to issue
guidelines on which identification documents employers should
review, a Government Accountability Office investigation found.

Wide use of fake documents and identities complicates enforcement.

Government statistics show that workplace arrests of illegal
workers nationwide decreased from 17,554 in 1997 to 159 in 2004.

Notices of intent to fine employers decreased from 865 in 1997 to
three in 2004.

In Denver, no employer has been fined for three years for hiring
illegal workers, said Carl Rusnok, regional Homeland Security
spokesman for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Immigration officials blame their lagging enforcement of the
current work-site law on post-

9/11 security priorities. Field agents focus on sensitive work
sites: nuclear power plants, military bases and airports.

Now Homeland Security chiefs are beginning to “look at giving
employers better tools to determine the legality of their
workforce. Some of these things are going to be unveiled pretty soon,” said Dean Boyd, national Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman in Washington.

“If employers don’t take those steps,” he said, “we are looking at what sanctions are available.”

Immigrants Fret Calls Home Aren’t Private

He came from Sudan. He found a job and saw a more prosperous

But Arif Mobasher, 43, still questions America’s promise of true
freedom, especially amid reports that President Bush ordered the
National Security Agency to eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mails
between U.S. residents and people in other countries without court
approval in an effort to track al-Qaeda.

Even longtime U.S. residents – from those in shiny glass
headquarters for international business to the U.S. Capitol – were
asking questions Friday.

Mobasher dials Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, every week to speak with
his father, mother and brother.

“I’m not talking about anything political,” he said.

But his safest course now, he said, is to assume U.S. spies always
listen and to give up notions of privacy.

“I feel like: Let the government know about everything, so they
can know I’m on a straight line,” he said.

Mobasher was one among several who, finishing Friday prayers at the
Colorado Muslim Society’s southeast Denver mosque, mulled the
implications if the eavesdropping of international communications
without warrants, as reported Friday in The New York Times, is

Like him, many come from what the U.S. government calls “countries
of concern.” All make regular phone calls home.

“When I came here, I came for the freedom,” said Miloud Haddou,
33, of Morocco, who heard radio reports at dawn and realized he
could be affected.

Today, in the name of fighting terrorism, the U.S. government “can
do anything to you – get into your business, into your privacy. …
I’m not angry. I never could be angry. But this is kind of
disappointing,” said Haddou, who arrived in the U.S. five years

Now, in his twice-a-week phone calls to Casablanca, he’ll have to
skirt subjects such as “the situation in Morocco,” he said.
“You’ll kind of worry more about the conversation.”

The question is whether this is legal, said Jim Reis, president of
the World Trade Center Denver, which helps Colorado companies doing
business abroad.

Increased surveillance to stop terrorism “is very unfortunate,”
he said. “… It’s become part of our lives. But it’s got to be done
within the (laws) that govern our country.”

Any eavesdropping “should be stopped until it has court
approval,” Reis said. Computer technology “creates a lot of
opportunities for government to do monitoring. At the same time, it
really begins to infringe on individual rights.”

In Washington, the reports may have influenced U.S. senators who
blocked a vote Friday to extend the USA Patriot Act, the
anti-terrorism law giving law enforcement groups new power.

The NSA surveillance inside the country without warrants is
“deeply troubling,” said U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.

“If we needed a wake-up call about the need for adequate
civil-liberties protections to be written into our laws, this is

He stopped short of calling for stopping the practice, however,
saying, “We need more information.”

Some in the Senate have called for oversight hearings.

At the Denver mosque – as merchants sold fruit, cloth and couscous
– some said phone and e-mail snooping may be needed.

“The way the world is going, let them do it. It’s for everybody’s
safety,” said Camran Naimi, 31, who arrived with his mother from
Afghanistan in 1990.

Another person from Sudan, part-time law student Abubakr El-Noor,
31, said he really wants privacy when he calls his girlfriend and
would prefer that U.S. spies “go through the courts” because
“sometimes there’s a good reason … (but) not all the time,” for

But he also figured that “sometimes, to control your security, you
need to do something illegal.”

Grilling chicken in her couscous trailer, Sally Ben, 42, of Morocco
shook her head. When she read the news, “I couldn’t believe it,”
she said.

“I thought: It can’t be. This is the United States.”