The Devastating Crisis in Eastern Congo

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Johnnie Carson is the Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State. Assistant Secretary Carson presented this evaluation before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights on December 11, 2012.

Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Bass, and members of the Committee. Thank you for the invitation to testify before the Subcommittee on the crisis unfolding in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC.

As you know, the security and humanitarian situation in the Congo is the most volatile in Africa today. An estimated five million people have died in the years since the second regional war began in 1998, and millions more have been forced to flee their homes. The DRC is also the site of one of the world's longest- running and most expensive peacekeeping operations, having hosted a UN peacekeeping presence for several years after its independence in 1960, in addition to the more recent UN missions starting in the late 1990s. The people of North and South Kivu provinces in particular have faced repeated cycles of conflict, atrocities, and displacement. An unthinkable number of women, men, and children have experienced sexual violence or rape at the hands of soldiers and armed groups.

The November 20 fall of Goma to the M23 rebel group provided a stark reminder that, even as the international community has made major investments in humanitarian aid and peacekeeping, the underlying causes of the recurring conflicts in eastern DRC remain unresolved. The Congolese government has failed to provide effective security, governance, and services in the eastern provinces, and political and economic tensions persist between the DRC and its eastern neighbors, particularly Rwanda. The current crisis has been fueled and exacerbated by outside support to rebel groups operating in the Kivu provinces.

The M23 is one of many armed groups operating in the eastern DRC. Most of its officers were at one time nominally integrated into the Congolese army, a concession they extracted after nearly capturing Goma as part of a precursor insurgency in 2008. Once integrated, these officers operated in a parallel chain of command and enjoyed impunity for their human rights abuses and illegal exploitation of the country's mineral wealth. When the Congolese government appeared poised earlier this year to challenge these arrangements, several of these officers mutinied and constituted themselves under a new name, the M23. The commanders of the M23 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.

Since the M23 rebellion erupted last spring, the United States has worked closely with international and regional partners to mobilize a comprehensive response aimed at preventing a further deterioration of the situation, securing an end to hostilities, and maintaining humanitarian assistance. In September, Secretary Clinton met with Congolese President Kabila and Rwandan President Kagame at the UN General Assembly to urge them to engage in a more constructive dialogue. In the UN Security Council, we proposed and supported new actions to ensure that five of the M23's top commanders are now under targeted sanctions. We have also stressed the need to hold accountable all of those who commit human rights abuses. Ambassador Rice has remained directly engaged with senior UN officials throughout the crisis, as we believe it is critical that the UN continue to play a key mediating role. In early November, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman traveled to the region to meet with key heads of state to urge a rapid and peaceful resolution to this crisis.

In response to the M23's offensive on Goma last month, I traveled to Kinshasa, Kigali, and Kampala between November 24 and 28 with my British and French counterparts. …