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Testimony on the Crisis in the Great Lakes

 

 Written Testimony to the United States House of Representatives

U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Africa
Committee on International Relations

April 3, 2003


The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the Bishops' relief and development agency, thank Representative Royce and the Subcommittee for providing this opportunity to give written testimony on the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Africa.

This hearing is just the latest example of the leadership that has been provided by this subcommittee and its chairman. The USCCB and CRS have been actively involved with the Catholic Church in the DRC and share your deep commitment to the search for a just and lasting peace in the DRC; to the promotion of regional security; to reconciliation and healing of the deep wounds afflicting millions of people in the region of the Great Lakes; and to providing increased humanitarian and development assistance to those who have survived the cruel and dehumanizing horrors of war. Catholic Bishops from the USCCB and the CRS Board have made numerous visits to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the other nations in the Great Lakes region, including the November 2002 trip of the Bishops' Committee on Migration to Tanzania. Many Church leaders from these countries have come to the United States.

As one of the few major institutions still functioning throughout the DRC, the Catholic Church provides assistance to the poor, orphaned, homeless, displaced and ailing masses in the country suffering from the disastrous effects of a five year war. While various armed forces in the regions to the east and north have engaged in an effective manipulation of ethnic identity as a means to divide communities and weaken the resolve of the Congolese people, the Catholic Church seeks to invite all peoples to work together so as to respect and protect the dignity of each human person. While Congolese, Rwandans, Ugandans and others expropriate the vast resources of the country, the Catholic Church and other religious institutions, working in partnership with humanitarian relief organizations, provide avenues for the delivery of the few and precious humanitarian resources made available by the people of the United States and the international community. Financing and support for humanitarian and peace-building programs must be dramatically increased if lives are to be saved and a culture of justice and reconciliation fostered.

The crisis in the DRC takes on heightened urgency and relevance now because of the credible reports from the Church and others of the return of foreign forces to the DRC in violation of numerous agreements, and the ongoing battle for territory in the east, precisely at a time when the final arrangements are being made in Sun City and elsewhere for the creation of a government of transition and the inauguration of a durable peace.

The lack of genuine political will by all parties involved in the conflict, the occupation by foreign military forces, and the subversion and cooptation of otherwise legitimate groups of Congolese citizens seeking to defend family, region, and nation, have transformed vast zones of savannah, mountains, and forests into a battlefield where the first ‘World War' of Africa is being waged. Congo's extensive mineral and natural resources, expropriated illegally by all parties to the conflict, provide the fuel that perpetuates the stalemate and deepens the humanitarian crisis.

This war, which engulfs many African nations, is made more complex by a series of interrelated local, regional and global factors. Congolese politicians continue to divide the spoils of war, and the military and other forces subject the people to cruel and inhumane treatment. Neighboring countries are dealing with their own civil wars, the difficult process of democratization, and multiple challenges to political legitimacy. The United Nations' Mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) languishes without a clear mandate and lacks sufficient and appropriate resources to accomplish its mission. The United States, which is committed to the promotion of a just and lasting peace in the region of the Great Lakes, is itself confronted by the many faces of terrorism, and is now at war with Iraq.

Recommendations:

We urge that the following steps be taken to help bring an end to the conflict, restore regional security, and guarantee the rights and protections of all peoples living in the DRC and throughout the region. These recommendations are based on proposals of the Bishops of DRC and are supported by the Bishops of Rwanda and Burundi.

  1. All parties to the Inter-Congolese Dialogue must honor the Lusaka Protocol and agreements reached in Pretoria calling for a new political dispensation, power-sharing, a government of transition, and elections.

  2. The governments in Kinshasa and Kigali must respect and implement the conditions set forth in Pretoria calling for the withdrawal of all Rwandan military forces, and the implementation by the government in Kinshasa of an effective and verifiable program of demobilization and disarmament of ex-Force Armée Rwandaise (ex-FAR) and Interahamwe forces operating in the DRC.

  3. The territorial integrity of the DRC must be respected and supported by all parties to the conflict, and by the international community.

  4. The parties involved in the war must support the disarmament and demobilization of the proxy forces in eastern Congo, and all other armed groups on Congolese territory, and refrain, in the future, from establishing, training, and supplying armed groups.

  5. The international community should sanction those public and private entities involved in the illegal exploitation of resources in the DRC.

  6. The United Nations, with the full support of the United States and Great Britain, should move immediately to strengthen and actively implement the mandate of MONUC, providing the necessary and appropriate personnel and logistical support to protect the lives of innocent civilian populations, disarm the various combatants, and support and assist humanitarian efforts.

  7. The United States and the international community should continue to support the peace process in Burundi, encourage political change and deepen reconciliation in Rwanda and Uganda, and support the call for an international conference on the Great Lakes as part of a regional strategy to promote peace, security, and development.

  8. The United States should expand its aid for the promotion of reconciliation and democratization in the nations of the Great Lakes, and increase its assistance to address the urgent humanitarian crises confronting the peoples of the DRC, Rwanda, and Burundi.
We recognize that there are no easy answers to this complex war and that people of good will can differ on how best to bring it to an end. However, we believe that these recommendations could provide a useful framework as the United States gives this terrible conflict the attention that it so much needs and deserves.

The Bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo recently said that: "[t]he dramatic situation in the Congo should not be considered as inevitable. It calls us to take responsibility now so that we might hasten the coming of the rule of law" (February 15, 2003).

The people of the DRC and the region of the Great Lakes face a desperate situation. The historical relationship of the United States and the DRC serves as a permanent reminder of our responsibility to support the search for a just and sustainable peace, to work with the nations of the Great Lakes to promote regional security and integral human development, and to protect the lives and dignity of people who have suffered so much, for so long.

 

Gerard Powers
Director, Office of International Justice and Peace
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Ken Hackett
Executive Director
Catholic Relief Services



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