FEW people paid any attention to evidence given in the International Criminal Court in the Hague earlier this year at the trial for crimes against humanity of Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of one of the rebel militias involved in atrocities in Congo in 2003 and 2004 -- and still engaged in the same activities. The evidence may be too upsetting for civilised people to contemplate.
During the worst of the conflict word began to emerge that Bemba's Congolese Liberation Movement, with food difficult to find, were eating children.
Eddy Isango, a highly regarded Associated Press journalist who writes for the London Independent, the Guardian and the Scotsman, reported in March 2005 that a witness from a pygmy tribe told UN investigators that Bemba's men "grilled bodies on a spit and boiled two girls alive as their mother watched". It was one of many such reports. The witness, Zainabo Alfani, told the war crime investigators that she was forced to watch rebels kill and eat two of her children in June 2003.
The report said: "In one corner, there was already cooked flesh from bodies and two bodies being grilled on a barbecue; and at the same time, they prepared her two little girls, putting them alive into two big pots filled with boiling water and oil."
A security source in the region who spoke to the Sunday Independent recently said that these practices are still going on. "They go into a village and kill most the adults. They rape the women before they kill them. They take the children with them. When they get hungry they cook them."
The West pays, no attention to events in the worst war-torn parts of Africa. The cannibalism stories were reported at the time. Wyger Wentholt, a doctor with the French aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres was quoted in a report in the Guardian in January 2003 as saying: "We are hearing reports of untold horrors in Lturi (in north west Congo)" where the rebels were routinely eating members of the pygmy tribes in the region.
No one knows how many met their deaths in Congo during this period but estimates are as high as 2.5 million, far outstripping the genocide in Darfur.
It would seem that few in the West actually care. The biggest "atrocity" story about the rebels in the Western media was when park rangers across the border in Senegal said that rebels had killed and eaten two mountain gorillas in January 2007.
The case against Bemba is unlikely to succeed, as he has established that he was not directly involved and not in Congo at the time. The evidence, supported by witness accounts, of what his troops did, and are still doing, is truly horrific.
The court heard the rebels used the rape of women and children as well as murder and cannibalism as a means of destroying and traumatising the people in the Bangui, Boy-Rabe and Mongoumba areas who supported rivals of the Congolese Liberation Movement. There is no talk of central Africa or Darfur or Sudan or Somalia among the 'No' campaigners who are again raising the scare tactic of a "militarised" Europe. The reality is that it is easier for European governments to do nothing about Africa. It took an enormous effort to get the EU intervention force of only 5,000 soldiers, including 400 Irish, into eastern Chad to bring some stability to the region and protect the hundreds of thousands of refugees who survived the genocide in Darfur. Despite its enormous resources, the EU barely mustered a dozen helicopters to support the military action.
The mission involved considerable hardship for the troops. The Irish Ranger Wing troops, who led the vanguard for the setting up of the military camps around the town of Abeche, lived on dry rations for months as no other food was available.
Although it was not publicised at the time, about 80 per cent of the Rangers contracted mysterious, debilitating illnesses, possibly including cholera. They still held on and provided security as the military bases were set up.
With the closure of the year-long EU mission and the handing over to a much less effective UN force, the Irish battalion has had to stay on to provide some kind of protection for the refugees who again face a bleak future.
The unofficial government of south Sudan and the government in the north are preparing for the possibility of war next year when the South holds a referendum on independence. This will entail a renewal of the genocide in what remains of the Darfur region, and again the West will again look on in horror but will probably do nothing to prevent it.
Chad was the first expedition into Africa by the EU's much-vaunted Rapid Reaction Force. If the No campaigners were to have their way, it could well be the last that Irish troops will be involved in. It was, while it lasted, a successful example of what a small, well-ordered Western force can achieve in a region torn apart by warring militias. The murderous militias across Africa are not capable of facing professional soldiers who can provide the security needed for charities and UN officials to supply humanitarian need.
The best example of how a small but highly professional military force can bring about a rapid end to genocide was in Sierra Leone in May 2002. At the time rebel groups, particularly the militia known as the West Side Niggaz (as they named themselves and not the "West Side Boys" as they were wrongly termed in politically correct Western news reports) were cutting people's arms off during a campaign of terror to stop elections -- if people have no hands, they reckoned, they cannot vote.
The British Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, was horrified by the images and reports emerging from the country and acted unilaterally by sending a parachute regiment force from the carrier HMS Ocean.
Within days the paratroopers had driven the rebel group from the capital, Freetown, and brought peace and security to the city which had been on the verge of being overrun and its citizens slaughtered. The intervention allowed the UN, supported by private security firms, to first restore order in the capital and later in the rest of the country. Irish troops were later deployed to neighbouring Liberia where there had also been rebel atrocities. The Lisbon Treaty actually has the effect of pushing the highly reticent EU member states to do more about places like these, proposing that EU states improve their military capability and engage in tasks such as "joint disarmament operations...military advice and assistance tasks ... tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking and post conflict stabilization".
The treaty also states that all actions, as the intervention in Chad was, will be under United Nations mandate. The No campaigners, led by Sinn Fein which has spent thousands of euro plastering posters of a tank and "no to militarisation" across the country, equate the proposals on military intervention to prevent genocide in third world countries to some kind of huge multi-national EU force bent on re-colonising the region.
The only "militarisation" being put forward is the type that would end the eating of children and the other horrific acts of genocides.