Letter to the U.S. Department of State on the Congo, October 28, 1997

Related Region
  • Africa
Year Published
  • 2018
  • English

October 28, 1997

The Honorable Susan Rice
Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of African Affairs
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Dr. Rice:

I am writing in my capacity as chair of the U.S. Catholic bishops' International Policy Committee, to share with you our concerns over the U.S. government's handling of the ongoing crisis in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa.

In 1994 as violence raged in Rwanda, the former chair of the U.S. bishops' International Policy Committee, Bishop Daniel P. Reilly asked, and we ask today, ". . . how many more must die before the United States and the rest of the world are willing to act?" Despite many significant efforts, the international community has thus far failed in its obligation to help prevent the spread of deadly violence throughout the region, as we now have reports that violence has been directed against unarmed refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). We urge the U.S. government to assist the governments of the region, particularly Rwanda and the DRC, in breaking the cycle of impunity by encouraging dialogue and negotiation as well as finding and prosecuting those responsible for these egregious violations of human rights.

Steps must be taken to increase the level of respect for human rights in the region to ensure that genocidal violence stops and that those responsible for past and present killings of civilians are tried with full respect for due process. We therefore ask that our government look into the possibility of establishing an international tribunal to investigate and try cases of genocide and other crimes against humanity that occurred and may still be occurring in the entire Great Lakes region. We believe that the limited scope of the current International Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda is a necessary but insufficient response to the crisis.

We appreciate the delicate balance that our government must maintain between the governments of the region, and we do not dispute the difficulty of the task the international community will face in the coming months as the reconstruction of civil society in the Great Lakes begins. We hope, however, that our government would, in all cases, react in an impartial and transparent manner that is consistent with our role as the leader of the free world.

Our concerns for human rights, combined with a realization of the urgent humanitarian needs of the Congo, have led us to support multilateral efforts which would cause the least amount of damage to the civilian population, and at the same time send an important message to those who violate international humanitarian law. We therefore ask that our government not directly link vital humanitarian assistance to cooperation of the DRC with the UN probe. We fear that the immediate effect of such a policy will be the worsening of conditions for the most vulnerable segments of Congolese society. We support, instead, focused U.S. efforts to promote dialogue and negotiations. In this regard we applaud the current U.S. efforts to end the impasse between the DRC and the United Nations with the appointment of Ambassador Bill Richardson as U.S. Special Envoy to the DRC, and the progress that he has made thus far in getting President Kabila to agree to the terms of the UN probe.

In 1994 when it became clear to many that genocide was occurring in Rwanda, the international community did nothing as close to one million ethnic Tutsis were brutally massacred over a 100-day period. Today the international community has credible reports from sources "on-the-ground" which suggest that the unconscionable is occurring yet again, as thousands of innocent civilians are indiscriminately killed in the Congo and Rwanda. The inadequate measures enacted thus far have served only to weaken the international community's credibility in the Great Lakes.

The problem is one which we view as important not only because of the tragic loss of innocent lives in the Great Lakes region, but also because of the common humanity that we share with our sisters and brothers in Africa. As pastors, we join in prayer with the Holy Father, who in his 1996 Message to Rwanda, prayed that our God of Peace and Mercy will awaken in the hearts and minds of all in the region an intense desire for sustained peace and reconciliation.

With every good wish, I am

Sincerely yours,

Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick
Archbishop of Newark
International Policy Committee