The past two weeks have seen the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights and the Pope have highlighting the ongoing violence in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, in response to separate events instigated by different groups in the ongoing conflict. These statements have demonstrated perfectly the deep complexity of the D.R.C conflict, in which multiple groups have been warring for decades.
Volker Türk, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoke out on 1st November against an uptick in fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 militia in the east of the country. The violence has reportedly killed over a dozen, injured 40, and displaced 90,000 people in a matter of days.
On 26th October, Pope Francis used his General Audience at the Vatican to highlight the ongoing conflict in the D.R.C. His mention was motivated by an attack by another militia involved in the conflict, called the A.D.F.-Nalu, in the town of Maboya in Northern Kivu. During this attack, multiple buildings were burned to the ground, including a local hospital. Seven people were reportedly killed, including a hospital patient and Sister Marie Sylvie Kavuke Vakatsuraki, a nun and doctor at the hospital.
International organisations have also been raising alarms about the escalation of violence The international N.G.O. C.A.R.E has made a statement saying that fighting is severely impacting their ability to deliver humanitarian aid in Rutshuru, another area of North Kivu.
In response to this multi-actor, widespread conflict, national and international leaders call for unity on a local level. The Bishop of Butembo-Beni, in response to the Maboya attack, highlighted the need for solidarity, asking that “everyone rise up like one sole man to say ‘no, we condemn these acts'”. It is particularly notable that a Catholic leader should say this in response to an attack by a self-described Islamist group. Türk also explicitly highlighted the risk of hate speech and ethnicity-based targeting, and urged warring parties to choose dialogue over violence.
While the statements of high-up leaders, far removed from the day-to-day reality of armed conflict, may seem glib and unrealistic, they should not be dismissed. A short review of history will demonstrate that political and religious leaders have the power to incite terrible violence. This same power can be used for the opposite effect. However, given the well-documented involvement of multi-national corporations, particularly mining companies, in the instability of the Eastern D.R.C., perhaps international leaders should be using their influence to pressurize the big men behind the conflict, as well as the small communities on the front line. There is a dire need to facilitate ways to mitigate conflict and assist victims in the D.R.C. and world leaders and international organizations must continue to do their part in these efforts.
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