In his opening statement at Tuesday’s “Devestating Crisis in Eastern Congo” Congressional hearing, Representative Christopher Smith cited a letter addressed to President Barack Obama and signed by 15 organizations, including United to End Genocide, accusing the administration of failed policy over Rwanda’s support of the M23 rebel group.
The letter also echoes calls for the United States to impose sanctions and suspend non-humanitarian aid. Congressional attention to this issue is essential to keep Congo high on the administration’s foreign policy agenda and will increase regional impetus to find long-term solution to repeated cycles of conflict that have plagued Congo in over a decade.
The groups are critical of the U.S. response to the crisis and calls for a significant policy shift. “U.S. efforts to prioritize quiet diplomacy to address Rwandan involvement in eastern Congo have failed to deter Rwanda’s continued incursions and use of proxy armed groups in the east,” it states. Rights groups also pointed to DRC government failure to bring security in the east, “largely as a consequence of its failure to undertake necessary security sector and governance reforms.”
The immediate next step for the administration should consist of appointing a Presidential Envoy to lead a coordinated U.S. response to the crisis, to support the appointment of a U.N. Envoy to the Great Lakes, to support the imposition of sanctions against violators of the United Nations arms embargo on DRC, and, finally, cut all military assistance and suspend other non-humanitarian aid to the government of Rwanda for its support of the M23 insurgency.
Beyond meetings of U.S. officials with regional presidents, the State Department suspended Foreign Military Financing funds—$200,000—to Rwanda in July and recently imposed sanctions on the M23 leadership. Rep. Thomas Marino (R-PA) insisted that the amount was a “drop in the bucket”, compared to significant non-military aid the U.S. invests in Rwanda.
The witness panel also included Steve Hege, the Former Coordinator of the United Nations Group of Experts, John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project; Mvemba Dizolele, Visiting Fellow at Hoover Institution and Standford University.
Despite the lull in fighting that has allowed humanitarian workers to respond to needs of vulnerable populations, the protection of civilians remains a major concern. Recent clashes between Congolese troops and M23 fighters displaced 140,000 people in and around Goma, and sent another 47,000 fleeing to neighboring South Kivu province, adding to the 2.4 million internally displaced persons. The insecurity has contributed to serious human rights abuses by armed groups, including the M23. The severity of the situation suggests the time has come for policymakers to prioritize peace in the Congo.