in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Background to Conflict:
The war in the Great Lakes of Africa, and more precisely in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. More than 3.5 million people have died since 1996 and 1,000 people continue to die each day as a direct or indirect result of violence and instability.
The roots of the conflict in the DRC can be traced to the former regime of President Mobutu Sese Seko, a history of ethnic violence, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the 26-year civil war in Angola that ended in 2002. Armies from nine countries were drawn into the conflict which officially ended with the signing of peace accords and the creation of a government of transition in 2003. Despite these agreements, and the deployment of more than 16,000 United Nations peacekeeping troops armed with a robust mandate to protect innocent civilians and disarm belligerents, the situation in eastern DRC remains very unstable.
In recent weeks, the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) operating in eastern Congo announced their intention to voluntary disarm and declared their willingness to return to Rwanda. Despite these positive developments, the Rwandan government has done little to encourage these efforts. Efforts to create a just and lasting peace in the DRC continue to be undermined by several factors. First, proxy armies and militias, supported by the neighboring states of Rwanda and Uganda, and by the various warlords who now compose the transitional government in Kinshasa, frequently attack villages in an effort to create a quasi-permanent state of insecurity throughout the region. Death, sexual violence and the forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of people are left in the wake of these attacks.
Second, the governments of Rwanda and Uganda have sent troops into eastern Congo under the pretext of protecting ethnic minorities from their respective countries who live in the region. At different moments, these same troops have fought against one another in the DRC over the issue of control of the vital diamond sector. In addition, Rwanda continues to assert its right to send forces and to support proxy groups in eastern Congo because of the presence of ethnic Hutu groups (former Rwandan military forces, politicians and civilians who participated in the 1994 genocide) and armed opposition groups (who did not participate in the genocide) who pose an ongoing security threat.
A third factor troubling the DRC is the stalled political transition process in Kinshasa. According to the protocols signed in Sun City, South Africa that brought an end to the war and established a transitional government in Kinshasa, President Joseph Kabila would remain in power for a period of two years during which time the transitional government would: a) reorganize the military chain of command and integrate the various military forces into a new national army; b) create a new national police force; c) disarm and demobilize armed militias; d) cooperate with Rwanda in the arrest and return of those known to have participated in the 1994 genocide; and e) prepare for elections. The Sun City agreements also provided for the creation of four vice-presidents, one from each of the three main armed groups (the government, the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy, or RDC, and the Ugandan-backed Movement for the Liberation of the Congo, or MLC) and a representative from civil society. Recent reports indicate that the transitional government has failed to achieve many of its objectives and that elections scheduled for June 30, 2005 will not take place. The Sun City protocols provide for two extensions of up to six months each for the conducting of elections. A delay in the election schedule could undermine the fragile peace the DRC now enjoys.
The Catholic Church in the DRC continues to call upon the governments of Rwanda and Uganda to end all aggression towards the Congo, withdraw support for their proxy militias, halt all illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the DRC, cooperate with the U.N. and the Congolese government in carrying out security and monitoring arrangements and enforce the U.N. arms embargo. The Church also urges the government in Kinshasa to complete its work and prepare the Congolese people so that they can participate in free and fair elections. Throughout the period of the transition, the Church has been involved through diocesan justice and peace offices working in the 47 dioceses of the Congo in promoting peace and reconciliation and in preparing the people for participation in the election process.
What Can We Do?
Letters could be addressed to the president, the secretary of state, members of Congress and the general secretary of the United Nations urging that the following actions be undertaken:
Urge the U.S. Administration to:
- Give greater attention to the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where 1,000 people are dying each day as a result of ongoing violence;
- Increase diplomatic pressure on the countries of Rwanda and Uganda, but especially Rwanda, to respect the territorial integrity of the DRC, halt all acts of aggression and withdraw its support of proxy militias operating in eastern Congo;
- Increase diplomatic pressure on the transitional government in Kinshasa to complete its work and move forward with free and fair elections; and
- Make greater resources available to address the humanitarian catastrophe in the DRC where more than 3.5 million people have died in the past five years.
Urge the United Nations to:
- Enact recommendations to restructure the U.N. peacekeeping mission to the DRC (MONUC) to protect innocent civilians in eastern Congo and disarm and demobilize armed groups responsible for atrocities and crimes against humanity ;
- Bring an end to the sexual exploitation of women and girls in eastern Congo by U.N. personnel and initiative measures to ensure that no further abuse will take place; and
- Strengthen joint security arrangements among the governments of the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda to help end violence, monitor the arms embargo and promote peace and stability in the Great Lakes region.