The forgotten terror of Eastern Congo

L'Empire du Silence (Empire of Silence) is currently being screened in cinemas. This film by Belgian director Thierry Michel shows unflinchingly the horror and complexity of the lingering conflict in Eastern Congo. The Belgian Development Cooperation co-financed it.

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Masses of people on the run

The inhabitants of eastern Congo are regularly forced to flee. © Les films de la Passerelle

Belgian director Thierry Michel has made nearly 15 films about DR Congo in 30 years. His penultimate exploit in 2013 was L'Homme qui répare les femmes (The Man Who Mends Women). In it, he shows how the indefatigable Dr Mukwege is “mending” women who were victims of horrific sexual violence in Eastern Congo.

Dr Mukwege received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018. At the presentation, he made a powerful speech. The international community must finally work to resolve the bloody conflict in Eastern Congo, he believed. Dr Mukwege also convinced Thierry Michel to make one more film, this time not about the victims, but about the ‘executioners’ in the conflict. This became L'Empire du Silence, currently being shown in the Brussels and Walloon cinemas, later on also in Flanders.

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Doctor Denis Mukwege

The tireless Dr Mukwege. © Les films de la Passerelle

Jewellery store

For 25 years, a bloody war has been raging in Eastern Congo that has already left hundreds of thousands, if not millions, dead. Yet one barely hears about it, especially compared to the conflict in Syria or Iraq. The terror there takes place, as it were, in a ‘Empire of Silence’.

An intricate tangle of players are competing for power and wealth there. And wealth abounds: the area is overflowing with just about every mineral the world so desperately needs.

As Dr Mukwege so evocatively puts it: ‘Congo is like a jewellery store with no doors or windows that everyone is plundering. Warlords are sowing terror, wealth is leaving the country by clandestine means, and the population is left in misery.’

Palais du Peuple

L'Empire du Silence offers a disconcerting and unflinching picture of what is happening in the Congo. No-one is spared: neither the Congolese leaders nor the neighbouring countries, nor even the international institutions. The film shows the untold misery without losing sight of how incredibly beautiful the Congolese landscapes are at the same time.

Can a film change the world? Thierry Michel is cautiously hopeful. He was already surprised that he was able to present his film at the ‘Palais du Peuple’ (People's Palace) in Kinshasa, the seat of the Parliament and Senate, with the blessing of several Congolese authorities.

Belgium is providing support

Belgium co-financed the film, via the Belgian Development Cooperation. After all, films are a powerful medium for raising awareness among the general public. They spark awareness and help viewers think more deeply about what is happening in the world.

Besides that, Belgium is urging the Congolese authorities and international forums to finally set up a mechanism for ‘transitional justice’ that could contribute to reconciliation and the battle against impunity. In that regard, our country donated 1.5 million euros to the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) for DR Congo. Goal: To support activities in the area of transitional justice and the battle against impunity. The film L'Empire du Silence could potentially speed up the process.

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L'empire du silence

L'Empire du Silence

L'Empire du Silence is currently only showing in Brussels and Walloon cinemas. In Flanders the film will be shown at several festivals: DOCVILLE (23-31 March 2022), MOOOV (19 April-2 May 2022) and Afrika Filmfestival (22 April-7 May 2022). There will also be special screenings in Ghent and Antwerp.