WASHINGTON — As President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) meets with President Bush today, international aid agency Oxfam called upon both parties to affirm their commitment to securing a swift end to the fresh wave of brutal conflict that is sweeping across North Kivu in eastern DRC.
“The Bush Administration must do all that it can to support President Kabila in his efforts to address the longstanding conflict which is once again threatening the lives and safety of hundreds of thousands of civilians,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.
“The Administration must continue its crucial mediation role to ensure that the legitimate concerns of Congolese citizens are addressed. Both Presidents must make it clear that they will not allow the progress made over the past few years to be jeopardized by renewed fighting,” said Offenheiser.
The election of President Kabila in 2006 brought hopes of peace and stability after decades of misrule and a civil war which claimed the lives of approximately four million civilians and led to the displacement of over one million people. Despite the success of the elections, the continued fighting in the east between rebel groups and government forces is a threat to the tenuous peace in the DRC—one of the world’s poorest countries. The DRC ranks 141st out of 174 countries in the United Nation’s human development ranking.
Since last December, the intense fighting has forced over 370,000 people to leave their homes in the eastern region of North Kivu, the largest surge of internal displacement since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. Unlike displacements in the past, the scale of the latest influx is too great for the displaced to be accommodated by local families.
Meanwhile, increased fighting and insecurity have also severely limited the ability of humanitarian agencies like Oxfam to deliver vital aid to civilians in need.
As the conflict intensifies, growing numbers of civilians are placed in imminent physical danger and serious violations of international humanitarian law continue. These include the recruitment of children by rebel forces, the reported use of forced labor by the national army, and an epidemic of violence against women that is among the worst in the world. A 2004 survey found mortality rates in some parts of the country to be close to 3 times the sub-Saharan average, partly from ongoing conflict but also due to disease, malnutrition, and lack of very basic social services.
In the face of the worsening security and humanitarian situation in DRC, Oxfam also called on the US government to maintain its support for a robust UN military presence while increasing its funding and technical assistance to the reform of Congo’s military forces. Tasked with the mandate to protect civilians, the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUC), receives one third of its operating budget from the US government. With the mission’s funding up for renewal in December, it is crucial that President Bush pledges to continue his administration’s support.
“Without a substantial and effective MONUC presence, the DRC’s fragile peace could quickly unravel completely, further threatening not only the Congolese people but also the wider region. Until the DRC’s police, military, and judiciary are able to effectively enforce the law and protect civilians, US support for both the mandate and operations of the UN peacekeeping mission there is absolutely vital,” said Offenheiser.