Mon, 08/10/2009 - 10:28
Dear Secretary Clinton,
Refugees International (RI) is pleased to learn of your decision to visit Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo on August 11th. Very few Secretaries of State take the time to visit embattled, isolated places such as the eastern Congo and your decision to do so shows admirable commitment to easing the suffering of the Congolese people.
The key issue we would like to highlight is the devastating humanitarian impact of the attempt to seek a military solution to the presence of the FDLR rebel group in eastern Congo. The U.S. must put equal pressure on the governments of Congo and Rwanda to find a durable solution by adhering to previous agreements and avoiding short-term actions that do more harm than good. The humanitarian impact of the military operations on the civilian population far outweighs any actual or potential military gains. These operations must cease.
The Impact on Civilians
The Kimia II military operation, which was officially launched by the Congolese army (FARDC) in July 2009 against the FDLR, has displaced tens of thousands of civilians in South Kivu.
An RI team just visited the territories of Uvira and Mwenga, centers of the current displacement crisis. People told RI that their displacement was a direct result of the violence surrounding the confrontations between the FARDC and FDLR. In some cases, people were warned by the government over the radio of the coming operations and were able to leave beforehand. In other cases, they heard gunshots and fled with no belongings into the forest at night. One 87-year-old man walked seven kilometers to seek refuge in a school. Some people reported being forced by the FDLR to pay a fee of US $10 per person to leave the area before the operations. Some family members were prevented from leaving at all.
Most of the displaced are now staying with host families, who struggle to cope with cramped conditions and inadequate food supplies. In Sange town in the Ruzizi Plains, a large IDP population is sheltering in a school and is concerned about where they will go when the school opens up again in the fall.
The Challenges of the Humanitarian Response
A number of NGOs and UN agencies are responding to the crisis in South Kivu and have managed to secure additional funding for emergency programs to assist the newly displaced. At the same time, NGO staff told RI that they faced difficulties in accessing certain areas because of insecurity and the poor condition or complete absence of roads into remote areas like Shabunda. One NGO expressed concern about the ability of humanitarian organizations to scale up their response to cover the increasing needs, even if new funding was received. Some NGOs were already working at their maximum capacity.
Based on this assessment, RI believes strongly that the negative impact of the current military campaign on civilians far outweighs any potential military benefit. We urge you to insist that the parties to the conflict adhere to past agreements and bring a halt to the war.
We look forward to your continued engagement in bringing lasting peace to the Congo.
Joel R. Charny