Dear Secretary Clinton:
We, the undersigned organizations, write to urge you and the United States government to take steps to bolster and better coordinate US diplomacy and assistance in the Democratic Republic of Congo to help avert a further deterioration of the situation there. In particular, we urge you to appoint a new US Special Envoy tasked with developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy for the African Great Lakes region. This is especially important given that Congo's challenges have considerable regional significance and that effective coordination among international partners, the Congolese government, and neighboring countries is strongly needed.
We have welcomed your calls for concerted action on behalf of victims of conflict in Congo, but believe that the Great Lakes region requires dedicated US engagement beyond the standard diplomatic representation.
A US Special Envoy to the region, reporting directly to you, would be invaluable to help address a number of key cross-border concerns, including the significant military, economic, and political role of Rwanda in eastern Congo; the presence of members of Burundian armed opposition groups in Congo's South Kivu province; the deployment of Ugandan army troops to pursue the rebel Lord's Resistance Army in northern Congo; and the continuing humanitarian and political challenges posed by tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons who have fled across the Great Lakes countries.
Any official tasked with developing and carrying out a Great Lakes strategy should have the mandate to coordinate initiatives across the US government, with sufficient and experienced staff. Understanding that a Special Envoy for the Great Lakes will undoubtedly face numerous competing priorities, we urge the United States government to focus its efforts on the following areas:
1. Insist on Free, Fair, and Credible Elections
Free, fair, and credible presidential and parliamentary elections - currently slated for November 2011 - will be crucial for stability in Congo. Yet we have already received reports of voter registration irregularities and of government security forces targeting opposition members, journalists, and civil society activists, effectively stifling free speech and assembly from Kinshasa to the Kivus. The US government, in coordination with other foreign partners, should speak out without delay to denounce impediments to peaceful demonstrations or restrictions on the right to freedom of expression in the pre-election period, as well as any apparent election irregularities.
We urge the US government to lead international efforts to provide financial and practical support for Congolese and international civil society election observers and to enable such observers to be deployed well in advance of the elections and to remain as long as necessary afterwards. In addition, the United States should work to ensure that the United Nations mission in Congo, MONUSCO, fulfills its mandate to assist with logistics, monitoring, and other electoral issues, including a program to train police to prevent pre-electoral and electoral violence and safeguard polling stations, similar to efforts made during the 2006 polls.
2. Coordinate and Condition US and Multilateral Financial Assistance to Congolese Government
As part of a revitalized strategy led by the Special Envoy and in concert with other foreign partners, the US government should make it clear to the Congolese government, both publicly and privately, that the US government will condition political support and direct, non-humanitarian assistance to the Congolese government on its progress toward meeting specific targets and outcomes established and agreed in advance. These should include measures related to security sector reform, respect for human rights, good governance, and effective service provision. US support for assistance from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to the Congolese government should also be coordinated with other donor countries, and similarly conditioned.
3. Intensify Efforts to Protect Civilians, Particularly in Eastern and Northern Congo
A new study published this month in the American Journal of Public Health estimates that over 400,000 women and girls were victims of sexual violence in Congo during a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007 - a yearly statistic far higher than previously estimated. Today, more than 1.7 million people remain displaced as a result of insecurity in eastern Congo. Despite a March 2009 peace accord involving 23 parties to the conflict in the country's east, military operations continue between the Congolese army and foreign and Congolese armed groups; all sides, including the regular army and recently integrated rebel forces, are responsible for frequent and grave human rights abuses. The largely Rwandan Hutu rebel group the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) remains responsible for many abuses against the civilian population in the east, as are a number of other armed groups.
More robust US diplomatic engagement with Congolese authorities and neighboring governments, as well as intensified support for effective demobilization and reintegration programs of Congolese and foreign armed groups, are needed to help build a lasting peace and protect civilians at risk of attack in Congo's eastern provinces.
In northern Congo, the Ugandan rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) continues its horrific abuses against civilians. We urge you to use the United States' diplomatic influence to insist on a greater and more effective international peacekeeping presence in LRA-affected areas and to support the deployment of specialized units capable of arresting the LRA's top leaders wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
More broadly, we urge the United States to use its influence at the United Nations Security Council to insist on proactive UN mission engagement to protect Congolese civilians, including increased peacekeeper patrols, more interpreters, additional helicopters and essential military resources, a more assertive and flexible interpretation of the rules of engagement consistent with international law, regular human rights investigations followed by public reporting, and greater efforts to support arrests and judicial proceedings against high-profile human rights violators.
4. Increase Support for Justice and Security Sector Reform
Violence in Congo over the last 15 years is partly the result of entrenched impunity and a dearth of effective efforts to reform and improve the conduct of the Congolese security forces. The US government should lead in the creation of a common donor policy focused on obtaining agreements with all Congolese security and judicial institutions for a government-led reform program. This policy should require clear, measurable benchmarks related to accountability, transparency, independence, and effective administration of these institutions. The UN mission should only justifiably contemplate withdrawal when the Congolese state is able to fulfill its most basic functions, including establishing a fair and effective judicial system and protecting civilians through competent and adequately paid police and military personnel.
The Congolese government has routinely promoted army officers with a well-documented record of serious human rights abuses. These include Col. Innocent Zimurinda, who was put on the UN sanctions list just before being promoted last December, and Bosco Ntaganda, the former warlord turned army general who is sought on an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court and continues to commit abuses.
The US government should exert leadership in pressing the Congolese government to arrest and bring to justice alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses. In particular, we urge the US to work with the Congolese government to develop a strategy for Ntaganda's arrest and, in view of Rwanda's support for Ntaganda and the close relationship between the US and Rwandan governments, to also engage with the Rwandan government on this issue. The United States should strongly support the creation of vetting mechanisms to remove soldiers and police officers with records of serious human rights abuses and screen new recruits. The United States should also closely monitor Congolese army units for alleged abuses, and apply the Leahy law to suspend assistance to units involved in serious abuses.
We greatly value the important efforts that US War Crimes Ambassador Stephen Rapp has made to support the establishment of a specialized mixed court, with Congolese and international personnel, to try war crimes committed in Congo since 1990. We urge the US government to continue working closely with Congolese authorities, civil society, and other donor countries to ensure the court's independence, credibility, and effectiveness.
5. Encourage Demilitarization of Congolese Mining Sector and Vigorously Enforce Dodd-Frank Provisions on Congo's Conflict Minerals
Building on the State Department's strategy for conflict minerals submitted to Congress, the US government should invest in mineral traceability and supply chain due diligence to shift the commercial incentives in the region away from conflict and toward peaceful development. The United States should also support Congolese efforts to prosecute illegal military involvement in mining. The US government should develop an implementation plan that includes independent monitoring and enforceable penalties for Congolese and foreign government officials and corporations that circumvent regulations. Oversight should be performed by multiple stakeholders, including civil society representatives.
The United States has a critical role to play in supporting a true and lasting peace in the region and moving Congo from a culture of impunity to one of accountability. We hope you will help lead in these efforts by appointing a Special Envoy to the Great Lakes, tasked with focusing on the priorities outlined above.
American and International Organizations:
A Thousand Sisters; ActionAid International - DRC; Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN); Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI); Enough Project; Falling Whistles; Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect; Global Witness; Human Rights Watch; ICCO; Invisible Children; Jewish World Watch; MDF Afrique Centrale, Training and Consultancy (MDF-AC); Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA); Resolve; Responsible Sourcing Network; V-Day; War Child Canada/USA; War Child Holland; War Child UK; Women of Africa - RDC
Action de Promotion et d'Assistance pour l'Amélioration du Niveau de Vie des Populations (APANIVIP); Action des Chrétiens Activistes des Droits de l'Homme à Shabunda (ACADHOSHA); Action des Chrétiens pour l'Abolition de la Torture au Nord-Kivu (ACAT/NK); Action Globale pour la promotion Sociale et la paix (AGPSP); Action Humanitaire pour le Développement Intégral (AHDI); Action Pour Enfants Oubliés (APEO); Action pour la Promotion et la Défense des Droits des Personnes Défavorisées (APRODEPED); Action Sociale pour la Paix et le Développement (ASPD); Actions pour la Promotion Socio-Économique des Ménages (APROSEM); Appui aux Femmes Démunies et Enfants Marginalisés (AFEDEM); Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l'Homme (ASADHO); Association des Femmes Ménagères pour le Développement (AFEMED); Association des Femmes Paysannes du Nord-Kivu (AFEPANOKI); Association des Jeunes Engagés pour le Développement et la Santé (AJDS); Association Groupe Féminin Nyamulisa; Bénévolat pour l'Enfance au Congo (Benenfance Congo); Blessed Aid; Campagne Pour la Paix (CPP); Centre d'Etudes et de Formation Populaire pour les Droits de l'Homme (CEFOP/DH); Centre de Recherche sur l'Environnement, la Démocratie et les Droits de l'Homme (CREDDHO); Centre d'Observation des Droits de l'Homme et d'Assistance Sociale (CODHAS); Centre pour la Justice et la Réconciliation (CJR); Coalition Congolaise pour la Justice Transitionnelle (CCJT); Collectif des Organisations Solidaires du Congo-Kinshasa (COJESKI); Défense et Assistance aux Femmes et Enfants Vulnérables en Afrique (DAFEVA); Encadrement des Femmes Indigènes et des Ménages Vulnérables (EFIM); Équipe de Soutien au Développement Intégral Humanitaire et de la Biodiversité (ESDIHB); Fondation Points de Vues des Jeunes Africains pour le Développement (FPJAD); Groupe d'Associations de Défense des Droits de l'Homme et de la Paix (GADHOP); Groupe Justice et Libération (GJL); Groupe Lotus; Heal Africa; Initiation Femme Debout pour la Justice (IFDJ); Initiative Congolaise pour la Justice et la Paix (ICJP); Justice Plus; Ligue des Jeunes des Grands Lacs (LJGL); Ligue pour la Défense et la Vulgarisation des Droits de l'Homme (LDVDH); Maniema Libertés (MALI); Observatoire Congolais des Droits Humains (OCDH); Observatoire Congolais des Prisons (OCP); Organisation pour la Défense des Droits de l'Enfant (ODDE - DRC); Pax Christi - Goma; Pax Christi - Kikwit; Programme d'Appui à la Lutte Contre la Misère (PAMI); Promotion et Appui aux Initiatives Féminines (PAIF); Réseau Provincial des Organisations Non Gouvernementales de Droits de l'Homme au Congo (REPRODHOC); Solidarité des Volontaires pour l'Humanité (SVH); Solidarité Féminine pour la Paix et le Développement Intégral (SOFEPADI); Solidarité pour la Promotion Sociale et Paix (SOPROP); Synergie des Femmes pour les Victimes des Violences Sexuelles (SFVS); Synergie pour l'Assistance Judiciaire aux Victimes de Violations des Droits Humains au Nord-Kivu (SAJ); Union d'Action pour les Initiatives de Développement (UAID); Union de Familles pour la Recherche de la Paix (UFAREP); Union Paysanne pour le Développement Rural Intégré (UPADERI); Union pour l'Émancipation de la Femme Autochtone (UEFA); Unité des Volontaires pour le Développement Social (UVDS)