Getting Serious About Ending Conflict and Sexual Violence in Congo
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U.S.-led efforts in recent weeks to end the crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo—the epicenter of the deadliest war since World War II with 5.4 million dead and count ing—have yielded a ceasefire, but the conflict is not over. The international community must follow through on recent progress with a comprehensive peace strategy for eastern Congo.
While a recent ceasefire agreement is hailed as a diplomatic success, the continued suffering of Congolese civilians remains an international failure. Systematic and widespread crimes against human ity continue to haunt the region. According to the International Rescue Committee’s latest study of mortality in Congo, death rates there remain un changed since the end of the regional war that tore through Africa’s Great Lakes region from 1998 to 2004. By the end of this and every month, 45,000 more Congolese—half of them children—will die from hunger, preventable disease, and other con sequences of violence and displacement.
Congolese women and girls in particular bear the vicious brunt of this crisis. Indeed, eastern Congo right now is perhaps the worst place in the world to be a woman or a girl. The sexual violence and rape exists on a scale seen nowhere else in the world as it is part and parcel of the conflict. It mutilates and humiliates. Its nature is brutal and vicious; it defies both description and imagination. Often successful in its intent to destroy and exterminate, rape as a weapon of war is causing the near total destruction of women, their families, and their communities.
The international community has known about the extreme humanitarian crisis in the eastern Congo for years, and the sexual violence pandemic entered fully onto the international radar in 2002 after the release of Human Rights Watch’s harrowing report The War within the War. Since then, there have been several reports detailing gruesome sexual atrocities committed against women and young girls, including recent high-profile segments on CBS’ 60 Minutes and NBC’s The Today Show. This spotlight has failed, however, to generate effective action; efforts to protect women and girls in the Congo are failing spectacularly.
The policies needed to better protect women and girls in Congo are closely linked to peacemaking and conflict prevention.1 Because rape is used as a weapon of war in Congo, bringing one of the most complex conflicts in the world to an end will ease the suffering of women and girls and, if sufficient resources are made available, enable women and girls to participate in the healing and reconstruc tion of their families, communities, and country.
As ENOUGH has argued in a previous strategy pa per international efforts to end the crisis must con currently negotiate an end to the conflict in North Kivu province between the Congolese government and dissident Congolese General Laurent Nkunda, and remove the predatory Rwandan Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, from eastern Congo. A comprehensive peace strategy re quires vigorous pursuit of the 3Ps of crisis response: peacemaking, protection, and punishment:
Peacemaking: The international community—led by a quartet of guarantors that includes the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and the African Union—must consolidate a recent ceasefire and move forward with a “carrot and stick” approach to deal with the FDLR (the next ENOUGH strategy paper will focus specifically on the FDLR). Strong follow-through requires addi tional funding and personnel for programs to de mobilize ex-combatants and stabilize the region.
Protection: The United Nations Peacekeeping Mis sion in the Congo, known as MONUC, must lead protection efforts by increasing troop presence in the eastern Kivu provinces and deploying to areas where sexual violence is most prevalent. Donor na tions must increase support for humanitarian and development initiatives that deliver services aimed at reducing sexual violence and dealing with the health, psy chological, and socio-economic needs of individual women and girls affected by this decade-long crisis.
Punishment: International donors and the United Nations can help break the cycle of impunity by working with the Congolese government to build state capac ity to investigate, arrest, and try suspected criminals. Additionally, the International Criminal Court, or ICC, should open an investiga tion into the use of rape as a war crime in eastern Congo.
Read the full report (pdf)
Information About the Enough Project:
ENOUGH is a project of the Center for American Progress to end genocide and crimes against humanity. With an initial focus on the crises in Sudan, Chad, eastern Congo, and northern Uganda, ENOUGH’s strategy papers and briefings provide sharp field analysis and targeted policy recommendations based on a “3P” crisis response strategy: promoting durable peace, providing civilian protection, and punishing perpetrators of atrocities. ENOUGH works with concerned citizens, advocates, and policy makers to prevent, mitigate, and resolve these crises. To learn more about ENOUGH and what you can do to help, go to www.enoughproject.org.
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