Actor Ben Affleck and other activists are urging the United States to appoint a special envoy for the Democratic Republic of Congo and to help ensure elections scheduled there in November are free and fair. Affleck, founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative, testified this week before the U.S. Congress.
Affleck came to Washington Tuesday to make his case before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights. He says he is concerned that elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo could lead to unrest if not carefully monitored.
"An electoral outcome that is questioned can easily perpetuate another downward spiral of violence, division and rupture. Last time Congo collapsed, armies came in from across Africa, and, as I said before, five million people died," he said.
Cindy McCain, the wife of Republican Senator John McCain, accompanied Affleck to the hearing. They traveled to the DRC last month and are trying to draw attention to what they call the intense suffering of the Congolese people. McCain says the situation is critical.
"We are going to lose a generation of women and children in Congo unless we do something now. I am only a humanitarian relief worker. That’s the only thing I’ve ever done and that’s the only thing I know with regards to this region, but I only know what’s right. We can’t leave behind these women and children," she said.
Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, an adviser to Catholic Relief Services on sexual and gender-based violence, expressed similar concerns.
"In eastern DRC, I’ve repeatedly come across rape survivors who have walked many kilometers from their displacement camps to seek support at the nearest parish," Vigaud-Walsh said.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto told the subcommittee the United States continues to play a significant role in the lives of the people in the DRC. "Helping empower the DRC and the Congolese people and the challenges they face would take time and persistence, but the U.S. government intends to stay a strong partner over the long term," Yamamoto said.
John Prendergast, founder of the human rights organization Enough Project, told VOA after the hearing that illicit trade of minerals used in the manufacture of electronics fuels the conflict. "You see that these are the militias and armed groups that are fighting over the vast mineral wealth in the Congo. They are contesting for the control of the mining themselves, for the smuggling routes out of the country," said Prendergast.
Last year the U.S. Congress passed a bill requiring American companies that import electronic products to disclose the source of their minerals. Prendergast says more is needed.
"The next step is for Congress to push the U.S. government to create a certification program like we did with the 'blood diamonds' when we said it’s not acceptable to buy diamonds and have the terrible atrocities occur in West Africa. We are only going to buy diamonds from the countries that are clean," he said.
The turmoil in the Congo was accented Monday by the arrest of more than 120 suspects in connection with the recent attack on President Laurent Kabila's palace. Affleck said the attack is a reminder of the country's instability. He and the others insisted on the need for the U.S. to appoint a new special envoy to the region.