Washington — African leaders and the international community must step up efforts to end the carnage in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), says Johnnie Carson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
"We believe that the time has come for the region's leaders and the international community to break the cycle of violence and impunity in the region," Carson told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights during a December 11 hearing.
An estimated 5 million people have been killed and millions displaced since 1998 by a variety of rebel groups battling to control the mineral-rich Kivu provinces. In 2012 a new group of rebels rose up. Known as the M23, these rebels are mostly breakaway officers from the Congolese army.
"The commanders of the M23," Carson said, "represent a 'who's who' of notorious human rights abusers in the eastern DRC. They include Bosco Ntaganda, who faces an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for sexual violence and other crimes against humanity and continues to play an active role in the militia."
In November, the M23 seized the city of Goma. "The M23 would not be the threat it is today without external support," Carson said, and one of those sources of support is Rwanda.
Carson said that there is "a credible body of evidence" that shows that the Rwandan government has been supplying M23 with "significant military and logistical support, as well as operational and political guidance." The United States, Carson said, has suspended foreign military financing funds to Rwanda and is pressing Rwanda's leaders to end all forms of support to Congolese armed groups.
A November agreement forged in Kampala by the Congolese, Rwandan and Ugandan governments to end outside support to the M23 resulted in that rebel group's withdrawal from Goma, although many rebels remain much closer to the city than the agreement called for, Carson said.
Ultimately it is the DRC government that has the primary responsibility for protecting its territory and citizens, Carson said.
"We are urging President Kabila to undertake a credible effort to professionalize and reform the Congolese security forces," Carson said. "At the same time, we are making clear that the Congolese government must accelerate its efforts to deploy and strengthen state institutions and provide needed public services in the Kivus. The extension of effective governance, combined with legitimate provincial elections, is necessary for a lasting peace."
In addition to its diplomatic efforts, the United States has provided in 2012 more than $110 million in humanitarian assistance for Congolese refugees, displaced persons and conflict-affected civilians, Carson said. And at the United Nations, Carson said, "we have urged donors to respond to the U.N.'s consolidated appeal for the DRC."