John Prendergast Op-ed

Hope for an end to world's deadliest war
By John Prendergast , Special to CNN
updated 10:29 AM EST, Fri February 22, 2013
Editor's note: John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, a nonprofit organization that works to end genocide and crimes against humanity, and the Satellite Sentinel Project , a group that uses satellite imagery to monitor violence in Sudan, recently returned from a trip to eastern Congo.

(CNN) -- Early one eastern Congolese morning six months ago, Josephine was sleeping in her hut, dreaming about selling her crops. She heard people singing victory songs, thinking it was part of her dream, but gunshots jolted her awake. She could see in the light of dawn that the next village was on fire. She saw people fleeing toward her village, some being shot as they ran.

She quickly herded her four children into the tall grass, where others from her village were already hiding. They watched their village torched by the singing militia, known as Raia Mutumboki,  a branch of which is allied to the M23, the latest rebel group to plunge the Congo into full-scale war.

During their first day of hiding, Josephine sent her eldest son, Emmanuel, back to the village to get food from their storehouse. He was discovered and shot. The militia began to hunt the villagers in the tall grass, again singing victory songs, using hoes and machetes to kill whomever they caught. The survivors walked for days to a displaced persons camp, where Josephine's second son, Avarino, died of malaria.

"I can't understand how human beings can treat other human beings this way," Josephine said.

This story echoes what so many have suffered through during 16 years of eastern Congo's war, the deadliest since World War II, nearly 70 years ago, with about 6.9 million deaths, based on a New York Times estimate in 2010. On Sunday, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other African states are due to sign a framework agreement that aims to build a foundation for regional peace.

That so many African states -- along with the United Nations, African Union, European Union and United States -- are uniting in an effort to address the roots of conflict in Congo is an encouraging development. The signing of this framework deal doesn't end the war in Congo, but rather it provides a starting point for a global effort to try to end finally the world's deadliest conflict.

Four important changes are under way in Congo today, giving this initiative a better chance than its predecessors.

First, for decades all of the benefits of eastern Congo's vast mineral resource wealth have gone to those with the biggest guns   -- the Congolese army, local militias or neighboring countries. These minerals include, among others, gold, cobalt, copper, tin, industrial diamonds and coltan, used in cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices.

But U.S. and European consumer demands for a conflict-free minerals trade, congressional legislation, International Monetary Fund aid suspensions, U.N. experts' reports, responsible investors and other influential voices are making it harder to profit violently and illegally from mineral smuggling.

Second, regional support for armed groups inside eastern Congo has been a staple of the ongoing cycle of war there for years. For the first time, the international community is imposing meaningful consequences for evidence of cross-border weapons supply. Rwanda strenuously denies involvement, but some donors have suspended aid programs to that nation and will continue to do so until the evidence shifts toward solutions.

Third, until recently, accountability for war crimes wasn't part of the discussion despite some of the worst crimes against humanity being committed globally since World War II. But calls for international justice have intensified inside Congo and beyond, and accused war criminals are beginning to face sanctions.

Fourth, calls for the reform of a U.N. peacekeeping mission that costs more than $1 billion are increasing. Refocusing the mission on eradicating the worst armed groups, demobilizing rank-and-file combatants and helping to reform Congo's army would go much further than the present mandate. Africa has pledged 4,000 new combat troops to deal with the worst militias, and change can start with them.

When I asked Josephine why all this was happening, she replied, "The war is over the minerals, nothing else."

Although some would say that is oversimplified, it is undeniable that a major tipping point is approaching.

If the commercial incentives for the massively profitable minerals trade can be shifted from violent, illegal extraction to peaceful, legal development, Congo could enjoy a transition similar to those experienced by West African countries plagued by blood diamond wars a decade ago.

A soon-to-be-named U.N. "super envoy" should help construct a comprehensive peace process for Congo and its neighbors, building on the upcoming framework. With his history of concern over Congo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry could be helpful in this.

Two tracks seem necessary. One would involve an impartially facilitated national dialogue to address internal Congolese issues such as army and justice reform, decentralization, electoral frameworks, immigration, minority protections, land dispute adjudication, mining codes and other divisive issues. The other would be a regional process in which Congo and its neighbors could address shared security threats and negotiate cooperative investment and infrastructure arrangements that could ignite a real economic boom for Central Africa.

"People around the world should do all they can to stop those instigating war in my country," Josephine told me. "That is the only way we can be at peace. If I hear my village is at peace, I will drop everything and go home with my children."

Given the history of international looting of Congo's resources, we should help give Josephine -- and Congo -- that chance.


Drum Roll, please...

On Monday, we're announcing our first confirmed speaker for the National Mall installation.

Why do I tell you now?  


if you want to be out in front of things, if you want the news before everyone else, you can join the One Million Bones mobile community, and you’ll get the name of the speaker texted to your phone on Friday!

How amazing is that?

If you Text OMB to 50555* you’ll get the scoop — three days before everyone else finds out.  And that’s just the beginning.

How can you make this happen? It’s super easy. 

Text OMB to 50555*

Then, on Monday, check back here for a blog post with lots of information about the speaker...



*SMS subscription service. Up to 4msg/mo. Msg&Data Rates May Apply. Text STOP to 50555 to STOP. Full terms: Privacy Policy:



Nicole Moore is not your average high school English teacher, she is constantly seeking ways to bring the global community into her classroom; and her classroom to the global community. Nicole traveled to what is now South Sudan in 2010, to help create primary and secondary education curriculum for teachers in Marial Bai along with other volunteer teachers. This trip made Nicole reflect on the fact that not all Americans will get the opportunity to travel in conflict areas and what can she do, as an educator, to share these experiences?


Nicole was part of the last Carl Wilkens Fellowship class in 2011, a fellowship offered by the former Genocide Intervention Network, named in honor of Carl Wilkens, the only American to remain in Rwanda during the genocide. During that following summer she traveled with Carl Wilkens and a group for teachers to Rwanda to learn more about their past. One of the interviews she conducted was with Adele, (no, not the singer), who survived a massacre at a local church and the forgiveness she offered to the man who killed her husband, the man who murdered her son; who also tried to kill her, Louis. She accepted Louis into her home to care for him, facing scrutiny from her neighbors often saying she was a “crazy person”. To this day, Louis often visits her with his wife and children. To view the full interview, which you know you want to, click here.


I asked Nicole about her experiences of doing the One Million Bones project as an educator and this is what she said:

“The work of One Million Bones and Students Rebuild is incredibly important, and fits so well into the work my students engage in and the mission of the school I work at. So often, while students study events such as the Holocaust or the Armenian genocide, they ask if genocides have happened since, and many teachers are not equipped with the time or knowledge to fully answer that question. The One Million Bones Project gives students this information, as well as the critical aspect of an action item, with which to grapple with the concepts of contemporary genocide and US foreign policy. Abstract concepts are given tangible shape through this project, and students have a concrete experience to anchor their understanding of large and potentially scary events. I'm grateful for my relationship with OMB and SR because their work directly expands my work as a teacher, and thus directly impacts the lives of students.”


This is Nicole’s second year at Notre Dame High School in San Jose, California and the second year making bones with her students. I asked her how her school has reacted to the implementation of the project there and beamed about how supportive they’ve been. The entire school, not just Nicole’s students have taken the project on, creating a model that she has been able to offer other educators, many of who have successfully implemented! Nicole is worked closely with the Museum of the Africa Diaspora for a community wide event that was held yesterday, February 23, 2013, below are some pictures:


If you’re in the bay area and have an interest in making bones with Nicole, email her!




2 stories about Congo

Congo always seems to me to have two faces:

brave, beautiful and hopeful

desperation and violence

I'd like to share an update on the Congo Peace Agreement as a hopeful Friday story.  The latest I've found is this story at AllAfrica. And this blog , at Raise Hope for Congo, provides good background, if you have time.  

The other piece of news is about a film, War Witch, that looks remarkable.  You can see a trailer and read more about it here.

I know what I'm hoping for this weekend.  A signed peace agreement that brings the hopeful face of Congo forward for good and all.


Art Works Studio School in Mt. Rainier, MD


As part of our team has recently moved to the Washington D.C. area to prepare for the installation in June, we've spent the last few weeks meeting with many like-minded organizations, leaders of faith, and local youth to find a base of support over the next several months. It's been so energizing to meet with such enthusiastic and passionate people!

We were lucky enough to be invited to attend an open studio event last Sunday, February 10, at Art Works Studio School just outside of the District of Columbia. Art Works is a community art space that is committed to offering affordable arts education and an opportunity for emerging artists to showcase their talent. Our D.C. Coordinators Kate and Rochelle have been working with Art Works for some time and we were so excited to finally meet everyone there!

The event on Sunday was truly more than we could have ever imagined. Around 100 community members and neighbors stopped by to make bones and learn more about the project, and our total bone count was 1,023 at the day's end!  Art Works Studio School founder Barabara Johnson graciously hosted the event and shared with us the history and mission of the organization and was certainly our biggest cheerleader! Also in attendence was Margaret Boozer of nearby Red Dirt Studio, who generously agreed to fire the bones made. oAbout mid-day, we were surprised by a visit from the Northwestern High School Choir, who graced us with some beautiful a cappella songs. The group of students are working to fundraise for a trip to the Ihlombe South Africa Choral Festival in July and we are sure that they would knock the socks off anyone who gets the chance to take a listen! The students were so supportive of the project and they all stuck around after their performance to contribute to Art Works' goal of 10,000 bones.

We can't wait to continue working with Art Works and Red Dirt during our time in D.C. It's relationships like these that become some of our favorite memories along the way...small, but passionate communities coming together to champion the project and create their own unique experience in the process.

Many thanks to Barbara Johnson and Art Works Studio School for sharing these photos of the event: