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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the Bishops' relief and development agency, thank Representative Royce and the Subcommittee for providing this opportunity to give written testimony on the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Africa.
This hearing is just the latest example of the leadership that has been provided by this subcommittee and its chairman. The USCCB and CRS have been actively involved with the Catholic Church in the DRC and share your deep commitment to the search for a just and lasting peace in the DRC; to the promotion of regional security; to reconciliation and healing of the deep wounds afflicting millions of people in the region of the Great Lakes; and to providing increased humanitarian and development assistance to those who have survived the cruel and dehumanizing horrors of war. Catholic Bishops from the USCCB and the CRS Board have made numerous visits to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the other nations in the Great Lakes region, including the November 2002 trip of the Bishops' Committee on Migration to Tanzania. Many Church leaders from these countries have come to the United States.
As one of the few major institutions still functioning throughout the DRC, the Catholic Church provides assistance to the poor, orphaned, homeless, displaced and ailing masses in the country suffering from the disastrous effects of a five year war. While various armed forces in the regions to the east and north have engaged in an effective manipulation of ethnic identity as a means to divide communities and weaken the resolve of the Congolese people, the Catholic Church seeks to invite all peoples to work together so as to respect and protect the dignity of each human person. While Congolese, Rwandans, Ugandans and others expropriate the vast resources of the country, the Catholic Church and other religious institutions, working in partnership with humanitarian relief organizations, provide avenues for the delivery of the few and precious humanitarian resources made available by the people of the United States and the international community. Financing and support for humanitarian and peace-building programs must be dramatically increased if lives are to be saved and a culture of justice and reconciliation fostered.
The crisis in the DRC takes on heightened urgency and relevance now because of the credible reports from the Church and others of the return of foreign forces to the DRC in violation of numerous agreements, and the ongoing battle for territory in the east, precisely at a time when the final arrangements are being made in Sun City and elsewhere for the creation of a government of transition and the inauguration of a durable peace.
The lack of genuine political will by all parties involved in the conflict, the occupation by foreign military forces, and the subversion and cooptation of otherwise legitimate groups of Congolese citizens seeking to defend family, region, and nation, have transformed vast zones of savannah, mountains, and forests into a battlefield where the first ‘World War' of Africa is being waged. Congo's extensive mineral and natural resources, expropriated illegally by all parties to the conflict, provide the fuel that perpetuates the stalemate and deepens the humanitarian crisis.
This war, which engulfs many African nations, is made more complex by a series of interrelated local, regional and global factors. Congolese politicians continue to divide the spoils of war, and the military and other forces subject the people to cruel and inhumane treatment. Neighboring countries are dealing with their own civil wars, the difficult process of democratization, and multiple challenges to political legitimacy. The United Nations' Mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) languishes without a clear mandate and lacks sufficient and appropriate resources to accomplish its mission. The United States, which is committed to the promotion of a just and lasting peace in the region of the Great Lakes, is itself confronted by the many faces of terrorism, and is now at war with Iraq.
We urge that the following steps be taken to help bring an end to the conflict, restore regional security, and guarantee the rights and protections of all peoples living in the DRC and throughout the region. These recommendations are based on proposals of the Bishops of DRC and are supported by the Bishops of Rwanda and Burundi.
Director, Office of International Justice and Peace
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Catholic Relief Services
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