Update on the Evolving Security Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Implications for U.S. National Security
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
The video below is available with
closed captioning on YouTube.
Chairman McKeon, Ranking Member Smith, and members of the Committee. Thank you for the invitation to testify today on the crisis unfolding in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, also referred to as the D.R.C., and our comprehensive response.
The security and humanitarian situation in the D.R.C. is the most volatile and violent in Africa today. An estimated five million people have lost their lives since 1998, and millions more have been uprooted and displaced. The people of North and South Kivu provinces in particular have faced repeated cycles of conflict, atrocities, and displacement, with the current crisis simply being the latest iteration. The rapid fall of Goma last month to the Congolese rebel group, known as the M23, provided a stark reminder that the root causes of the entrenched instability and recurring conflicts in the D.R.C. and the region remain unresolved.
At the highest levels of the U.S. Government, we are committed to helping the D.R.C. and its neighbors end this cycle of violence and instability, so that we do not find ourselves back here in three years, facing yet another crisis in the eastern D.R.C. Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Rice, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Sherman, and I have spoken or met with senior Congolese, Rwandan, Ugandan, and UN officials to advocate for a rapid and peaceful resolution to this crisis.
I traveled to the region last month with my British and French counterparts to press the Congolese, Rwandan, and Ugandan Governments to work together to stop the crisis and to address the underlying causes of instability. All three governments reiterated to us their commitment to these shared goals. In the UN Security Council, we have taken action to ensure that five of the most senior and most abusive M23commanders are now under targeted sanctions, and we have placed those same individuals under U.S. sanctions.
Talks between the D.R.C. Government and the M23 began on December 9 in Kampala, and are being mediated by Uganda as the chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, known as the ICGLR. While the sides have yet to begin substantive talks, the current ceasefire is holding and the parties continue to express commitment to a dialogue.
Much of the M23’s military prowess and success would not have been possible without outside support. There is a credible body of evidence that corroborates the assertions of the UN Group of Experts that the Rwandan Government provided significant military and political support to the M23. While there is evidence of individuals from Uganda providing support to the M23, we do not have a body of evidence suggesting that the Ugandan Government has a policy of supporting the M23. Nonetheless, we continue to urge the Ugandan Government to ensure that supplies to the M23 do not originate in or transit through Ugandan territory. We have not limited our response to diplomacy alone. As required by the FY 2012 Appropriations Act, Secretary Clinton suspended Foreign Military Financing, or FMF, to Rwanda in FY 2012 because of its support to the M23. The Department continues to closely monitor reports of external support, and we will continue to respond appropriately, including by reviewing our assistance, to deter this support if it should develops.
The highest levels of the U.S. Government are committed to helping the D.R.C. and the region achieve a sustainable peace. As my colleague Mr. Chollet said, President Obama spoke yesterday with President Kagame and underscored that any support to M23 is inconsistent with Rwanda’s desire for stability and peace in the region. President Obama emphasized to President Kagame the importance of permanently ending all support to armed groups in the D.R.C., abiding by the recent communications he made in Kampala along with Presidents Kabila and Museveni, and reaching a transparent and credible political agreement that includes an end to impunity for M23 commanders and others who have committed serious human rights abuses. President Obama believes that from this crisis should emerge a political agreement that addresses the underlying regional security, economic, and governance issues while upholding the D.R.C.’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. President Obama has also delivered the message to President Kabila that the D.R.C. must take concrete steps toward security sector reform and improved governance in order to reach a lasting peace in the eastern D.R.C.
Looking forward, we are using all the tools at our disposal to help address and end this crisis. We are monitoring humanitarian needs and working to mobilize resources to ensure continued emergency assistance to civilians in need. We are calling upon everyone involved in the conflict to maintain the current cease-fire, to permit humanitarian access, and to pursue a sustainable political resolution through honest and meaningful dialogue.
While the talks between M23 and the D.R.C. Government continue, we believe that direct dialogue between Presidents Kabila, Kagame, and Museveni is paramount to achieving a long-term durable stability in the region. Some of the root causes of this conflict can only be addressed through government-to-government dialogue and negotiation. These include issues of land tenure, refugee resettlement, the illegal exploitation of natural resources, border security, and support networks for armed groups.
While the responsibility to implement change rests first and foremost with the governments of the region, we encourage the United Nations Secretary-General to appoint a high-level UN Special Envoy to engage the relevant countries on a sustained basis, help them reach a durable political resolution, and ensure the successful implementation of that resolution over the long-term.
Throughout this peacebuilding process, civilian protection is and must remain a priority. The UN peacekeeping mission in the D.R.C., MONUSCO, has come under very heavy scrutiny in recent weeks. While we believe that MONUSCO’s performance has been acceptable given the very difficult circumstances, there is always room for improvement. We and our fellow UN Security Council members and troop contributing countries are reviewing the proposals on the table to improve MONUSCO’s capacity to protect civilians and counter armed groups. We are encouraging our partners to ensure that any new efforts are coordinated with, and perhaps even integrated into, the UN peacekeeping efforts. In the meantime, we remain committed to supporting MONUSCO’s robust implementation of its current mandate.
The primary responsibility for protecting the D.R.C. and the Congolese people rests with the D.R.C. Government itself. The crisis over the past few months has demonstrated to devastating effect the critical need for a professional and capable Congolese army that can protect the country’s citizens. To reach a sustainable peace, the D.R.C. Government must accelerate its efforts towards comprehensive security sector reform. We have and will continue to work with the D.R.C. Government to professionalize its military, including continuing our training to army officers and support to the armed forces’ military justice capacities.
Along with military reform, the D.R.C. Government must expand governance across the country. The governance vacuum that exists in parts of the country has allowed armed groups to set up parallel civil administrations and to exploit the population. Efforts to expand governance must include electoral reform, holding long-delayed provincial and local elections, and strengthening state institutions to provide much needed public services.
We believe that the time has come for the D.R.C. and the international community to permanently break the cycle of violence and impunity that exists in the region. Today’s crisis is a deep tragedy, but it also offers an opportunity to help the D.R.C. and the region to set a more sustainable course toward peace, prosperity, and long-term security. We urge the international community, the Great Lakes region, and the Congolese people to demonstrate the resolve to achieve the peace and prosperity that we know lays ahead for the D.R.C.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I look forward to answering your questions.