A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
Mary Robinson – former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – is meeting Lord Malloch Brown, British Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN (UK), today (17 March 2009) as a part of a high-level European lobbying tour to highlight the situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where civilians have experienced an upsurge of violence in recent months.
Robinson’s diplomatic tour follows a fact-finding mission in DR Congo last week, where she met President of DRC Joseph Kabila. She also met Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Kigali. Ms. Robinson comes to London directly from Paris, where she held talks with French government ministers. Robinson is accompanied by Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary of the World YWCA, a leading advocate for women’s rights. Tomorrow the women will head to Brussels to continue their lobbying efforts.
Over 160,000 people have been displaced in North Kivu, eastern Congo and 100 people have been killed in revenge attacks carried out by the FDLR rebel group since January. Looting and rape have also been reported.
Robinson welcomed the bilateral relationship that is developing between Rwanda and DR Congo, but called on Europe to do more to support peace efforts and honor their promises of extra peacekeepers.
Ms Robinson said:
“Congo has fallen off the diplomatic radar, but the situation is still precarious. Rape remains endemic, with women from ages 8-80 years still targeted regularly by armed men. Looting, abduction and forced labor are daily realities. For the situation to improve, the 3000 additional peacekeepers promised last November must be deployed.”
Some 3,000 additional peacekeepers for MONUC, authorized as a matter of urgency by the UN in November 2008, have still not been deployed, and vital equipment such as helicopters and transport planes still needs to be pledged to enable the peacekeepers to do their job. Only Belgium has pledged one transport plane – an additional 18 helicopters and one transport plane was promised by the UN.
Ms. Robinson is calling on the UK, France and EU to ensure that the new peacekeepers are deployed on the ground as a matter of urgency and have the equipment they need to strengthen the protection of civilians. She also called on European leaders to strengthen the bilateral relationship between the DRC and Rwanda.
Robinson was encouraged by regional interest in increasing involvement of Congolese and Rwandan women in the peace process. Both Presidents indicated their intent to support the efforts of women organizations working across the border between Rwanda and the DRC to consolidate the peace. In support of this action, Rwanda will be hosting a meeting of women for the 11 countries of the Great Lakes region on 19-20 March.
"The women I met in DRC want to be agents for change where too many have been victims of rape and sexual violence as weapons of war," Robinson said. “They are keen to link with women in Rwanda, who are equally keen to deepen links with them.”
In Goma, the women met with victims of the conflict’s endemic sexual violence, former child soldiers and displaced families living in the region’s crowded camps.
Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda added:
"At the heart of this crisis there are real people. I met a young girl, 17 years old, 4 months pregnant. She was one of 6 girls who were living among 300 boys at a transition and rehabilitation center for former child soldiers. We need to commit to solutions that give all of these children a chance in life and a chance to just be children."
Notes to editors
Mary Robinson and Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda visited DR Congo from 12 – 14 March 2009. They visited IDP camps and host families, a center treating rape victims and a transitional center for former child soldiers.
250,000 people were displaced in the upsurge of violence in North Kivu last year. Overall, over one million people are still displaced in eastern Congo.
The CNDP and Congolese army are now cooperating in an offensive against another rebel group, the FDLR. Reprisal attacks have resulted in the deaths of more than 100 civilians and displaced some 160,000 people.
Civilians in other areas of eastern Congo are also at risk and need better protection. More than 900 people have been massacred by the Lord’s Resistance Army since Christmas time, during a forced disarmament operation in Haute Uélé, in the far north-east of the country. Over 150,000 civilians have been displaced and the attacks continue.