Violence and insecurity, past and present

Panzi Foundation

“Homo homini lupus est” is a Latin proverb that means “man is a wolf to man”. In the past, human beings behaved like wolves towards their fellow creatures, and this behaviour continues to this day. The violence and insecurity that are spreading around the world are a case in point.

What is violence?

In its 2002 report on violence and health, the WHO defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force, threats against others or oneself, against a group or community, that results in or has a high risk of resulting in trauma, psychological harm, developmental problems or death”.

“The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.” (Pg. 5, Krug E, Dahlberg L, Mercy J.et al.  World report on violence and health. Geneva : World Health Organization, 2002)

Types of violence

When one person attacks another to cause harm, it is called aggression. When a person kills another, even for legally justifiable reasons, it is called homicide. Robbery, pillage, rape and the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults are other types of violence. Violence can also be psychological, verbal and passive. There is also structural violence. According to Galtung, this “violence is ‘structured’ and is characterised by inequality in the exercise of power, and consequently leads to unequal opportunities”. Nepotism – a political, social, cultural or ethnic grouping that oppresses or excludes others – is part of structural violence.

Violence and insecurity

The prevalence of violence creates fear to the point that people feel unsafe; this is known as insecurity. We could, therefore, deduce that insecurity is a consequence of violence. There are many causes of insecurity: people are said to be socially insecure when their environment is dangerous and threatening. For example, Goma (in the province of North Kivu, D.R. Congo) is an insecure city where, around 9 pm, there are few pedestrians or vehicles on the road. A worker whose job is precarious would be living in a situation of insecurity. The uncertainty of a confrere’s next appointment may cause insecurity. We note that the underlying cause in the province mentioned above is the economic war that has been going on for over two decades.

Violence and insecurity have a negative impact on individuals and their communities. They lead to mass displacement, isolate people from each other and cause trauma, depression and eventually death.

Can violence be prevented?

It is possible to put in place measures to prevent violence, such as promoting people’s rights and duties and measures against harmful alcohol consumption and drug use, especially among young people. Reducing access to firearms and knives, promoting gender equality, and preventing greed, pillage, and illicit extraction of natural resources by the mafia and multinational systems would all help to create non-violent communities and a non-violent world.

Where do we place non-violence and empathy?

If, in simple terms, empathy is the ability to identify with the feelings of others, and non-violence is the abstention from and exclusion of all violence, then both concepts have a role to play in situations of violence and insecurity. Thus, refusing all cooperation, complicity and participation in violent actions, denouncing violent words and actions, and promoting interculturality and peace can encourage non-violence. Putting yourself in other persons’ shoes, trying to understand them without judging them, getting close to them, helping them to express their feelings, and listening with concern are some of the behaviours that are empathetic towards the victims of violence and insecurity.

Which programmes are needed to combat violence and insecurity?

Societies torn apart by violence and insecurity often have NGOs and United Nations agencies trying to find solutions to these scourges. In our environment and elsewhere, these organisations are sometimes accused of ‘creating’ wars and claiming to end them through their programmes. In the provinces of North and South Kivu, programmes to combat gender-based violence (GBV) have been set up to provide health, moral and psychological care and to integrate victims into society. Doctors Without Borders, for example, offers medical care for war casualties. MONUSCO (United Nations Organisation Mission for the Stabilisation of the Congo), FAO, UNICEF, WHO, UNHCR, UNDP, etc. have set up programmes to support stabilisation and conflict prevention, gender equality and the empowerment of women, assistance for children and refugees, development, etc. At the national level, there are also projects such as the PRVBG (Projet de Prévention et de Réponse Basées sur le Genre – Gender-based Prevention and Response Project) and the Children’s Parliament to assist child victims of violence and abuse and to bring their perpetrators to justice

At the local level, there is the Panzi Foundation, set up by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Denis Mukwege, which deals with maternal health and genital mutilation of women who have been raped. There are also Christian self-help networks and counselling centres such as the diocesan Caritas and the Nyota centre in Bukavu (where our confrere, Father Bernard Ugeux, is involved), which takes in illiterate young girls who have been raped and abandoned children to help them regain their self-esteem. Night patrols by the police and military and street lighting in the neighbourhoods and avenues of the city and its surroundings are all part of the programme to combat violence and insecurity.   

Peace is possible

Violence and insecurity are realities that remain with us and in us. They have been and still are the cause of many ills in society. But they can be avoided and eradicated. Peace is possible; a lasting peace would be a solution to violence and insecurity.

By: Jean-Paul Cirhakarhula, M.Afr.

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