More than six million people have died as a result of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998.
We asked Joseph Donnelly, Caritas Internationalis Permanent Delegate at the UN in New York, if the international community is closing its eyes?
JD: A multi-million dollar UN-peace keeping operation has been in Congo for 10 years. More than 22,000 men and women have been sent. The international community is making efforts, but the strategy may not be right. How can it be that the number of civilians dying and in extreme need is still rising? How come we have the worst humanitarian crisis in the world there since the Second World War? The peace force is not effective. Something else is needed. The Congolese Bishops Conference has been saying this all over the last year. The focus of international support needs to focus on the protection of the civilians.
Why focus on the protection of the civilians?
JD: For Caritas, the protection of the civilians is the number one priority. Everything else is secondary. If you want to restore the Congolese community, you have to protect and strengthen the civilians, especially by investing into social projects, schools and hospitals for example. We believe that change will come from the ground up. The fact that the Congolese people survived so many hardships shows their strong will to live in a peaceful society. They want to help themselves, but without protection, it will not work. Without international political will, it will not happen.
What should be done to ensure the civilian protection?
JD: Fight impunity for criminals first of all. The illegal exploitation of natural resources is one of the major disruptive sources. Congo is very rich in natural resources. The sale of resources should benefit the population. The exploitation of those resources needs to be done legally and peacefully. Then it could actually strengthen the civil society. Then, there should be absolutely no tolerance for those responsible of sexual crime. Sexual violence has become a major problem in this conflict. Impunity towards sexual offenders and other criminals needs to be stopped.
What will Caritas be doing at the UN to take advocacy on Congo forward?
JD: Our global advocacy continues to “speak truth to power” at national and international levels, to demand justice, to end every form of exploitation. The heart of our advocacy strategy is the demand to remain highly visible, recommend alternative peace and security processes, confront impunity and violations. We invite people from Congo to come to UN Headquarters to expand the debate face-to-face. We also work with Security Council experts especially as they prepare another visit to Congo. We work to end the “deafening silence” reminding leaders that millions of lives have been stolen already.