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Great Lakes Policy Forum—Meeting Summary—January 4, 1999

Discussant: I. William Zartman, the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
Presider: Susan Collin Marks
Speakers: Baudoin Hamuli, Minister of State for Regional Cooperation, Uganda, CNONGD, Thierry Landu, Groupe Amos, Jeanine Mukanirwa, Goma Women Organization, Amama Mbabazi, UNOCHA, and Alessandra Humme
January 4, 1999
Council on Foreign Relations


[Note: A transcript of this meeting is unavailable. The discussion is summarized below.]

The meeting featured a report from Alexandra Hume; a presentation by Baudoin Hamuli, on the peace efforts of Congolese civil society; and a presentation by Mbabazi. Dr. I. William Zartman was the speaker; and Susan Collins Marks, facilitated the discussion. This month’s Great Lakes Policy Forum intended to be a special session on “what can be done to support Congolese civil society.” However, the agenda overlapped this issue during a February meeting and the discussion has been postponed to the next Great Lakes Policy Forum set up for March 4, 1999. Information regarding the activities of Congolese civil society will be provided in the second part of the report.

U.N. Humanitarian Operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The undersecretary general of the United Nations evaluated the present need for further U.N. humanitarian operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and to discuss the basis on which U.N. assistance could be provided in all areas of the Congo. The operation should zone areas that are under government control and areas under rebel control; in particular, areas in the east where communication has been limited and assistance is urgently needed. Since the conflict began last year, the United Nations has not been able to provide support to the eastern part of the region due to the security situation.

The U.N. agency representatives presented principles of engagement that were drafted in consultation with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and donors. The Nairobi meeting that took place in November was an occasion to discuss with the government and the rebel representatives what the operational priorities are. The principles reflecting international humanitarian law agreed that the effects of the war on the civilian had to be minimized and humanitarian aid had to be provided everywhere in the country. Both sides acknowledged and accepted the need for humanitarian aid in the east, and in all parts of the country. However, assistance to the eastern region of the DRC would have to be engaged without the protection of government forces.

When the United Nations reestablishes an office in Goma, it has been decided that additional U.N. operations in the DRC will follow a more cooperative approach with existing NGOs and humanitarian operations already on the ground. The United Nations will not deploy another massive humanitarian aid campaign, such as those following Rwanda’s genocide. Moreover, a clear message from local NGOs working in the DRC was that U.N. involvement should support their efforts and collaborate with their organizations. The NGOs that have been working in the country during recent years are likely to have a clear understanding of the current situation. If the U.N. agencies had to withdraw once again for security reasons, it would better that a follow-up of their activities is ensured. The establishment of a U.N. office in Goma, possibly joined by offices in Bukavu and Uvitra, has been agreed upon.

Internal Situation and Cease-fire

While all parties seem prepared to sign a ceasefire, the critical question is how to ensure that this will lead to genuine negotiations and lasting peace in the DRC. In order to end the war and maintain peace, a ceasefire must be implemented, all foreign troops must be removed, and a democratic process must be established. The peace agreement must take into account the DRC’s need to protect its borders, as well as the legitimate security interests of its neighbors.

In order to ensure a durable peace, the DRC will have to address its internal and external dynamics. The DRC can strengthen its capacity to police its borders by recruiting the army from all regions of the country. It is also important for the future national government to move toward a representative democracy that can concentrate on economic development in order to satisfy the demands of a long-unrepresented people.

However, there can be no resolution of this conflict until there is a legitimate framework for the internal dialogue. One participant presented two prerequisites for this transformation. First, the Congolese leaders, especially Kabila, must be willing to resolve the present conflict peacefully and move the country forward with a comprehensive peace settlement and a democratic transition. Second, the South African Development Community (SADC), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and the United Nations must actively support the peace and national reconciliation process in the DRC.

An all-parties conference has been proposed to examine and fulfill the need for an accurately representative government to manage the transition to democracy, adopt a comprehensive legal and institutional framework for transition, and build a single national army to replace the existing army and militia forces. The conference should include representatives of the Kabila government and the rebel movement, major political parties including the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) and the Parti Democratique Social Chretien (PDSC), and other major religious groups including the Roman Catholic Church, Church of Christ in the Congo, and the Muslim community, the diaspora, and finally of civil society (major trade unions, the national business association, the coalition of development NGOs, women’s groups, major human rights groups, the professional associations of lawyers and doctors, university professors, and student groups).

Possible Actions of the International Community

The people in the Great Lakes region are confused about the inaction of the United States and the international community. Although most participants agreed that the possible role of international actors is limited, the necessity for some has led to several proposals.

One proposal is to strengthen the institutions aimed at providing aid for reconstruction and economic development in the DRC, which will require external support from Europe, the United States, and other donors.

Support to civil society is also necessary for any lasting democratic transition. Civil society in the DRC, which is organized under an umbrella movement known as CNONGD, has continued to promote peace throughout the war by bringing together groups from all over the country. The international community should look at the proposals for peace that are circulating within Congolese civil society. As a result of their knowledge of the country, civil society movements and democratic opposition are able to provide concrete and feasible solutions to the country’s problems. One speaker suggested that the international community pressure regional political leaders to include civil society in the peace negotiations.

Participants also recommended that the United States and other international actors make public as well as private condemnations of human rights abuses, regardless of their classification as genocide or crimes against humanity. The public diplomacy role is fundamental and the importance of international condemnations should not be underestimated. Moreover, one speaker said that human rights considerations should be integrated into the negotiating process.

The United States should support the formation of a multinational peacekeeping force to insure stability in the region, strengthen confidence building, and monitor activities for the transitional period. One speaker said that the complexity of organizing an international peacekeeping force requires a consensus among the neighboring countries to provide forces. However, another speaker argued that the Congolese would never trust soldiers formerly involved in the conflict. One participant concluded by saying that the more the Congolese people, civil society leaders, and regional governments believe that there is significant support to end the war, the more momentum there will be in that direction.

Any comments please contact Veronique Aubert

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