About the Conflict in Eastern Congo The Christian Council of Norway’s conference, 22 August 2014
Thank you for inviting me to this conference on Eastern Congo. It is a pleasure for me to address you here today and have this opportunity to meet with church leaders from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, as well as other guests.
I am well aware that beyond your spiritual and religious functions, you are giving voice to many of those most severely affected by the conflict in Eastern Congo. I am also well aware that you are listened to. This gives you particular role in promoting peace and cooperation and your work, efforts and progress are highly appreciated.
Norway closely follows the development in Eastern Congo. Though demanding challenges remain, especially with regard to prevailing insecurity, human rights violations and the dire conditions of internally displaced persons, we acknowledge that important progress has been achieved.
This time last year, as you very well know, there was heavy fighting just outside Goma, M23 attacking civilians and the UN. FDLR and other rebel groups were reported to be on the rise. Today M23 is militarily defeated, thanks to joint efforts of the Congolese army and MONUSCO. The number of ADF armed rebels is significantly reduced, and 4000 of a variety of rebels have surrendered. A number – however modest – of FDLR rank and file have laid down their arms.
But peace cannot be achieved by military means alone.
It is vital to address the root causes of violence and conflict in the region, taking into account factors such as lack of state control, significant discrimination of women, land issues, outstanding reforms in economic governance, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and the illegal exploitation of natural resources.
Framework of Hope
Norway welcomed the signing in February 2013 of the Peace, Stability and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region, often referred to as the Framework of Hope. We share the Framework’s approach that the underlying political problems need to be solved and economic and social development strengthened if lasting peace is to be achieved.
The PSC Framework provides a good basis for a lasting peace – if implemented. We urge the Government of the DRC to advance the implementation of the reforms at the national level, and neighboring countries such as Rwanda and Uganda to fulfill their commitments.
I would also like to highlight the importance of including women in the implementation of the PSC Framework. War and conflict affect women, men, boys and girls in different ways. A gender perspective must be applied in order to recognise the equal rights and human dignity of all people. Furthermore, women’s participation in peace processes gives added value and bring in a broader range of issues to the table. This has a positive effect on the outcome and contributes to an inclusive and sustainable peace.
Addressing the underlying causes of the conflict in Eastern Congo requires a concerted effort on the part of the authorities in DR Congo, neighbouring countries, and the international community. How does Norway contribute to this end?
It is important to maintain momentum in the implementation of the PSC Framework. The special envoys and the regional oversight mechanism have a particular responsibility in that regard. Norway supports the work of the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General through financial contributions to the Envoy’s office and program activities.
Disarmament of FDLR forces inside the DRC is essential to achieve peace. Norway has for many years supported an initiative for securing peaceful repatriation of refugees and former combatants connected to the FDLR from DRC to Rwanda. The project is located in Kivu. It is implemented by Eglise du Christ au Congo (ECC), an umbrella organisation for all major protestant denomination in DRC, in cooperation with the Congolese and Rwandan government and MONUSCO.
A major humanitarian effort
It is crucial that military achievements of the FARDC and MONUSCO are followed by a swift restoration of state authority to regions where armed groups are no longer active. Norway fully supports the International Security and Stabilisation Support Strategy (I4S) aimed at stabilisation activities in these areas, inter alia through seconding civilian staff to MONUSCO in support of the implementation of the strategy.
The sufferings that the conflicts have inflicted on the civilian population in Eastern DR Congo have prompted a major humanitarian effort by Norway.
In 2013 Norway provided NOK 171 million [almost USD 28 million] in emergency aid to DRC. These efforts are continuing. An additional NOK 90 million/USD 15 million was provided to development programs in 2013. Our partners are multilateral and international organisations, Norwegian and local NGOs. The Norwegian support has a particular emphasis on assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons; on the promotion of women’s rights; and on efforts to combat sexual violence. Our support also includes activities to combat climate change resulting from deforestation and forest degradation.
So far in 2014 there has been a decrease from 2.9 million to 2.6 million internally displaced persons in the DRC. Nevertheless, 2.6 million is an extremely high number – equivalent to more than half of the population in Norway. 430,000 DRC citizens are still refugees in neighboring countries, mainly in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi. Norway supports activities of the UN, as well as of international and Norwegian NGOs in order to respond to the humanitarian needs of IDPs and refugees, returnees and host families.
One example: We support the efforts of the Norwegian Refugee Council and its local partners to provide basic education to displaced children and youth. They build classrooms, train teachers and provide school material. They also sensitize parents and local authorities on the importance of education, child protection and their active participation to promote children’s rights.
Extremely difficult for women
The situation for women in Eastern Congo and DRC is extremely difficult. Women are poorly represented in political bodies and leadership positions. Despite the fact that the constitution establishes gender equality in theory, the legislation and practice lags far behind.
Women’s empowerment and participation is essential to address. Through a collaboration with a local NGO – Fonds pour les Femmes Congolaises – we support for women’s organizations working for increased political participation of women, and for training opportunities for women activists and candidates.
Sexual and gender based violence is a serious scourge all over the country. In the Eastern provinces violence and rape against women and girls are particularly associated with the conflict scenario.
Norway has for years supported the activities of Norwegian Church Aid in the eastern Congo aimed at reducing gender based violence, and removing stigma towards victims of gender based violence. The target population of the NCA program in DRC are survivors (of gender based violence) and young women and men at risk of either becoming victims or perpetrators, while also doing advocacy work towards religious and official authorities.
Preventing sexual violence in conflict is a matter of ensuring human rights and promoting gender equality. Gender inequalities are often exacerbated in a conflict. Besides, sexual violence is closely connected to the broader women, peace and security agenda, and cannot be dealt with in isolation from other issues. Women’s empowerment and participation is essential to address, respond to, and end sexual violence. Further, sexual violence is a weapon that traumatises and destroys whole communities and in the end, the whole society. Men and boys are also victims and survivors of sexual violence and suffers from the physical and psychological injuries and stigmatisation equally to women and girls.
Combating conflict-related sexual violence
Let me share a few reflections on combating conflict-related sexual violence, and how the priorities of the Norwegian Government in this area are reflected in our support to the DRC.
Firstly, perpetrators of sexual violence must be prosecuted. We cannot prevent new crimes unless we hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. There must be no impunity for this type of crime, as has often been the case in the past. Through a collaboration with the American Bar Association we support a programme to strengthen the capacity of the Congolese justice sector to process sexual and gender based violence cases in a timely and effective manner. The programme includes the expansion and operation of a Case Database to ensure prosecutors and judges access to current, well-organized court records. It further includes legal training of law school professors, judges, magistrates, prosecutors, and court administrative staff in the field of sexual violence.
Secondly, equal access to the justice system is vital in the fight against impunity. Norway therefore supports the work of mobile courts in South Kivu. These mobile courts hold trials in districts where abuses have been committed, which makes it easier for victims in remote areas to access the judicial system. We also support local and international NGOs providing legal aid services to survivors of sexual and gender based violence.
Last, but not least, we support projects providing medical assistance and psycho-social counselling to survivors of sexual and gender based violence, as well as vocational and livelihood skills training. The projects vary from large projects like the building of the Kyeshero Hospital in Goma, a hospital that specializes in the treatment of women who are victims of sexual violence, to smaller – like our support to the local NGO, SOFEPEDI, that provides comprehensive assistance to sexual violence survivors at the only health clinic in Bunia.
Let me end on a positive note. The PSC Framework and the intensified efforts by the Congolese armed forces and MONUSCO to fight armed rebel groups, provide a window of opportunity to end on of the deadliest conflict since World War II. The Government of the DRC, the neighboring countries, civil society, religious groups and the international community – we must all seize this opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people.