Conference on the atrocities in the D.R. Congo features prominent speakers

A survey conducted last year by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) puts the death toll in the Democratic Republic of Congo at 5.4 million since 1998, with some 45,000 people still dying every month as a consequence of ongoing strife and disease. "How Much do you Know about the D.R. Congo?" is a one-day conference hosted by York’s Founders and McLaughlin Colleges on Thursday, March 13, featuring several prominent speakers who will address the current situation in the African country.

The conference takes place from 2 to 8:30pm, at Founders Assembly Hall, 152 Founders College, Keele campus.

An international lobbyist, president of the Union des Patriotes Resistants and chairman of the Freedom Flag Foundation, an NGO based in Norway, Reverend Professor Julien Ciakudia (left) has worked toward the liberation of the D.R. Congo for over two decades. He will speak about the troubling situation in this African country in his talk, titled "Understanding the D.R. Congo Crisis: The Patriotic Resistance and the Action of the International Community".

The state of the D.R. Congo may be worse than the Rwandan tragedy, yet the world in large measure is ignoring this humanitarian crisis. The IRC, a global network of humanitarian relief workers, healthcare providers, educators, community leaders, activists and volunteers, pegs the strife in the D.R. Congo as the world’s most deadly crisis since the Second World War.

Now living in London, England, Ciakudia, a renowned humanitarian leader, has spent much of his life promoting justice and understanding for the D.R. Congo .

The conference is in part organized by his children, Barbro Ciakudia, an international studies student at Glendon, Nancy-Josée Ciakudia, a sociology student at York and Jerry Ciakudia, who works for Security Services at Glendon. The Ciakudia children believe Canadians know too little about Africa and hope this conference will change that.

"Many people will see the suffering surrounding them and think that nothing can be done to change the negative conditions in this world to the better," says Nancy-Josée.

But Barbro says that’s not the case. "This is not true because together, as a nation united as one, we can change the world to the better."

Both Nancy-Josée and Jerry were born in Montréal, while Barbro was born in Norway, where the family lived for 16 years as refugees from the D.R. Congo.

"This event is to be a step towards positive change in the D.R. Congo," says Jerry.

Left: Barbro (left), Jerry and Nancy Ciakudia

Ciakudia is also speaking as part of the McLaughlin College lunch series at noon on Thursday about "How Students and Academics can Save Eduation in D.R. Congo through a Cooperation Agreement Between York University and University of Mbuji-Mayi". This talk is at 140 McLaughlin College, Keele campus.

Four other speakers will also talk at the conference about the political, social and economic conditions in the D.R. Congo. At 2:45pm, Carrie Crawford, Chair and a founder of Friends of the Congo in Washington, DC, will speak. Crawford has over 15 years of experience in legal representation and has advocated in all aspects of immigration law as well as human rights issues regarding the law and conflict resolution.

Selwyn McSween (right), interim ombudsperson and director of the Centre for Human Rights at York, will speak at 4:40pm. McSween has extensive experience in negotiation and conflict resolution. He helped develop the province’s anti-racism policy and created leadership development programs for at-risk youth.

Gerry Caplan (left), a scholar of African history at the University of Toronto who has done extensive research into the Rwanda genocide and an authority on genocide prevention, will speak at 4:55pm. In 2000, he wrote a report on the subject, titled "Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide", for the Organization of African Unity’s International Panel of Eminent Personalities. Caplan was a research associate and Visiting Scholar on the Economic Commission for Africa at York’s Centre for Refugee Studies in 2000.

The final speaker at 6:10pm, Marie-Therese Nlandu (right), a human rights lawyer and 2006 D.R. Congo presidential candidate, was thrown in a Congolese prison in Nov. 2006 charged with inciting insurrection and possessing illegal firearms. Charges were dropped some five months later following an outcry from various organizations, including Amnesty International which says the charges were trumped-up and politically motivated. Nlandu has since returned to England where she lived before going to the D.R. Congo to run in the presidential election.

Throughout the day, there will be performances by York’s East African Dance, the New Covenant Assembly Choir, the York Ghanaian Students Association, CAFRIC and the African Dance Troupe. In addition to music and dance, there will be poetry, film and art displays.

More than 58 million people call the D.R. Congo home. There are over 200 different ethnic groups – about 70 per cent are Christian, 10 per cent Muslim and 20 per cent adhere to indigenous beliefs. French is the official language, but dozens of African languages and dialects are spoken.

The event is sponsored by York’s African Studies Program, the Council of College Masters, McLaughlin College, Founders College, Founders College Student Council, the Office of the Ombudsperson & the Centre for Human Rights and Save the Children@York.

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