U.S. Policy Towards Congo and the Great Lakes Region
Letter to member of Congress calling for an enlightended foreing policy towards Congo and the Great Lakes region that would end the conflict and proivde support to the Congolese people.
We are writing to you because you have spoken out in the past on important issues related to Africa. As American citizens who care deeply about how U.S. policy affects Africa, we respectfully call your attention to the crisis in Africa's Great Lakes Region that reflects a complete disregard for humanity. We are extremely concerned that the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been victims of war for more than a decade and that little has been done to stem the tide of violence in a war that the United Nations (UN) has proclaimed to be "The deadliest conflict in the world since World War II."
Since the invasion of the DRC by Rwanda and Uganda in 1996, an estimated 6 million innocent Congolese have died from mass killings, disease and starvation. Three million people have been displaced. And in a war that has become synonymous with rape, half a million women and girls have been raped as a tool of war intended to shame, cripple, and destroy entire communities.
A report (S/2008/773 of December 12, 2008), submitted by UN experts confirms that the Rwandan government is actively supporting the renegade National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). The CNDP, the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) -- a rebel group comprised of former genocidaires from Rwanda -- as well as members of the Congolese national army, have committed war crimes including systematic rape, extrajudicial executions, ethnic cleansing, looting, and recruiting child soldiers. Over the last decade, Congolese human rights groups, the UN, Human Rights Watch, and the International Rescue Committee have tediously documented these atrocities but to no avail. These reports have also detailed that the demand for Congo's mineral resources lies at the heart of cut-throat competition among multiple forces, both national and international, that claim a stake to the profitable trade with the aid of sophisticated weaponry from the West.
While the Congolese government clearly needs to take steps to respect human rights, the United States has been and will continue to be a major and influential player in the ongoing process to bring about sustained peace in Congo. So we are particularly alarmed about the U.S. policy toward Rwanda, which trains and equips Rwandan soldiers who are then sent to fight with CNDP in Congo. We are equally shocked that a country that earned the dishonorable classification of "Not Free in 2008 (Freedom House) and a ranking of 147 of 169 in press freedom in 2007 (Reporters Without Borders) is one of the largest recipients of U.S. humanitarian and military aid in Africa.
The current U.S. policy in the Great Lakes Region will not bring peace, justice, democratic freedoms, or economic development in Rwanda or the Congo. On the contrary, it perpetuates any existing tensions and injustices. U.S. support of democracy, reconciliation, a fair market for Congo's natural resources, and diplomacy, will provide a better norm for the Great Lakes region than unconditional support for President Kagame's government. The U.S. should follow the example of the Scandinavian countries that recently agreed to cease all financial aid to Rwanda until it can prove that President Kagame is no longer supporting armed groups in Congo.
Therefore, we urge the U.S. Government to:
1. Stop all financial aid, military training programs, and military equipment sales and transfers to Rwanda until the Rwandan government stops providing military equipment, training, and soldiers to the CNDP and other armed groups in Congo.
2. Urge the Rwandan government to implement an inter-Rwandan dialogue and a democratic process that provides political space for opposition parties, including members of the FDLR. This would be an incentive for the FDLR to leave Congo and return to Rwanda peacefully.
3. Pressure the Rwandan government to stop illegally exporting Congo's raw mineral ores. Passing and implementing the "Conflict Coltan and Cassiterite Act of 2008" (S. 3058) is one way the U.S. can dismantle the financial network of militias operating in the Congo.
4. Reintroduce the Extractive Industries Transparency Disclosure Act (H.R. 6066 and S. 3389) to promote policies and corporate responsibility in the fight against corruption and violence.
5. Support the International Violence against Women Act (IVAWA) (S.2279, HR.5927) which would systematically incorporate solutions for ending violence against women into U.S. foreign assistance programs.
6. Create a Congo Caucus and hold hearings on the crisis in Congo as soon as possible.
7. Support legislation that would strengthen an independent and effective legal infrastructure in Congo capable of restoring the rule of law and ending the culture of impunity.
Thank you for your interest in this very important issue. The people of Congo and the entire Great Lakes Region deserve a political environment that prioritizes development over military agendas. I will be following your work on the Congo crisis during the 111th Congressional session.
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