The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is among the world's poorest countries, and eastern DRC is the site of one of the world's worst ongoing humanitarian crises. Despite a comprehensive peace agreement signed in 2002 that officially ended a four-year war involving seven neighboring nations, successful elections in 2006, and the presence of the world's largest and most expensive United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operation (also known as "MONUC"), violent conflict with a strong regional dynamic never actually ceased in eastern DRC.
Learn More About...
- CRS' work in the DRC.
- The situation in the DRC and what the Catholic Church and CRS are doing to respond to the crisis by watching the Caritas Internationalis DVD, D. R. Congo's Life or Death Transition. Order it now. Print the accompanying discussion guide now.
- The Catholics Confront Global Poverty initiative and how it is promoting peace.
- Peace, conflict and our Catholic response by watching this brief video.
- CRS' priority policy issues for 2009-2010.
- Who your elected officials are and how to contact them.
- Raise Your Voice. Visit the CRS Action Center for our latest action alerts.
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An array of armed groups including the Congolese army, local militias, a Rwandan rebel group—the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR)—led by perpetrators of the genocide, and more recently the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), all fight to control territory and access to DRC's vast natural resources including coltan, gold, diamonds, tin, copper, cobalt and oil. These armed groups continuously prey on civilians with nearly total impunity, regularly looting fields, homes, and businesses, and routinely raping Congolese women and girls.
Credible mortality studies estimate that up to five million people have perished in eastern DRC since 1998. These studies suggest that 1,500 people continue to die every day, not necessarily from the conflict itself but because of its effects. The ongoing conflict is leading to widespread displacement, which in turn is causing malnutrition, disease and lack of access to health care, resulting in thousands of deaths every day.
As of April 2009, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than 1.4 million people have been displaced across the eastern DRC—many have been displaced multiple times.
In addition to its humanitarian and development work in the DRC and Great Lakes region, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has worked with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to amplify the voices of the Congolese bishops and the communities we serve overseas. Our work in the United States includes education, speakers' tours, legislative advocacy and coordinating high-level delegation visits to U.S. and international policymakers—all to promote policies which can help bring about sustainable peace, reconstruction and development in the DRC and Great Lakes.
CRS Policy Position
CRS is advocating for the United States to aggressively assert its leadership with the United Nations and regional and donor governments to ensure the protection of civilians, an end to the fighting and implementation of already signed peace agreements.
Specifically we are asking the U.S. government to:
- Appoint a special presidential envoy for the Great Lakes to ensure high-level, sustained, robust diplomatic engagement with local, national and regional actors.
- Pressure the governments of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, through the special envoy and other means, to live up to their commitments to better protect civilians, honor the accords they have signed, halt the illicit mineral trade and work for lasting peace.
- Work to make the United Nations Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) more effective by (1) pressing for the urgent recruitment and deployment of the 3,000 additional troops that the UN Security Council has authorized; (2) continue to fully fund the U.S. share of the MONUC peacekeeping budget; and (3) push to strengthen MONUC capabilities with higher quality, better trained mobile forces, and increased aerial, logistics, and information capabilities so that it can protect civilians from abuse and otherwise fulfill its mandate.
- Support to the fullest extent the implementation of the Amani Programme, the peace program for eastern Congo established by the Congolese government on the basis of the 2008 Goma peace accord that was signed by 22 armed groups and the Congolese government.
- Provide more support for comprehensive and coordinated DDR—Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration—including the return of foreign rebel forces.
- Assist the Congolese government in professionalizing its armed forces and police to protect the civilian population.
- Support peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts at the community level to address longstanding conflicts related to land, resources and ethnicity.
- Significantly ramp up U.S. government funding for humanitarian assistance and development programs, as well as transition programs to bridge the gap between relief and development.
- Press for more transparency in the contracts, extraction and use of revenues from DRC's natural resources to ensure these do not fuel conflict, corruption or human rights abuses. Pursue a variety of tools—including policy and legislative mechanisms—to pressure all stakeholders, such as the DRC, Rwandan and Ugandan governments, as well as local and international companies, to increase the revenue transparency of extractive industry activities.
- Support a comprehensive plan to prevent and respond to sexual violence, with holistic support for survivors, their families and communities—including sufficient funds and technical assistance to the DRC government for legal reform to punish violators.