In 2005, the United Nations endorsed the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, establishing the responsibility of the world to act when governments are unable – or unwilling – to protect their own populations from large-scale violence. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the international community has taken up this responsibility, deploying the world’s largest United Nations peacekeeping force and expending significant diplomatic efforts to broker peace deals. But continuation of renewed fighting this week in eastern DRC serves as a sobering reminder that this responsibility does not end when the signing ceremonies are over.
Since 1998, that fighting in DRC has claimed over 5.4 million lives. While the situation briefly stabilized following a ceasefire agreement signed in January 2008, we have seen consistent ceasefire violations from many sides, culminating in a resurgence of large-scale violence in late August 2008. According to estimates, 100,000 civilians have been displaced from their homes as a result of recent fighting between the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and rebel CNDP militia led by General Laurent Nkunda. And just as the need for humanitarian aid is increasing, the deteriorating security situation, including looting and direct attacks on aid workers, has forced several aid agencies to suspend operations in North and South Kivu.
The recent violence marks the collapse of the January ceasefire agreement signed between the Congolese government and over 20 armed groups, including Nkunda’s CNDP. In a statement last week, the ENOUGH Project called on the international community, particularly the United States and the European Union as backers of the January agreement, to take urgent diplomatic measures “get the peace process on track.” Absent such efforts, as well as “a more impartial effort by United Nations peacekeepers to stop the fighting,” ENOUGH warned that the region could “descend back into total war.”
As anti-genocide activists, we have recognized the importance of creating political will to protect civilians from large-scale slaughter and mass atrocities, and to ensure that our government, as part of the international community, upholds the “Responsibility to Protect.” While the situation in eastern DRC has not been labeled “genocide,” it is characterized by ongoing, widespread targeting of noncombatant civilians on a nearly unparalleled scale. As this violence worsens, eastern DRC is increasingly becoming an area of focus for STAND.
Be sure to join us TONIGHT, Wednesday, October 1st, at 8 pm EST to discuss the conflict with STAND students and with Genocide Intervention Network (GI-NET) education associate Joshua Kennedy.
Hear an overview of the situation and find out more about why and how STAND and GI-NET are taking action. Get on the call at: (269) 320-8300 and dial access code 349902#.
–Nina McMurry, Congo Education Coordinator