A year after the UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, Christian Aid has warned that military action will not solve the conflict and may worsen it.
Since January 2009 the UN-backed military operations against Rwandan Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and have not solved the long-standing problem of foreign armed groups operating in DRC.
The operations have dispersed rather than contained the FDLR, increasing the risk of reprisal attacks on civilians.
At least 1,000 civilians have been killed and upwards of 900,000 people forced to flee from their homes as a consequence of the ongoing military operations. Thousands of women have been raped and entire villages burnt to the ground. Both the FDLR and the Congolese army have committed serious human rights violations against civilians.
Shuna Keen, Christian Aid’s Great Lakes analyst, has just returned from North and South Kivu, where the military operation, Kimya II is taking place with logistical support from the UN.
She said: “The people I met described how they fled their villages on foot when the military operations began. Some had walked hundreds of kilometres to find safety. Others didn’t make it and died of starvation along the way."
Keen continued: "When they reach the relative safety of Goma and Bukavu provincial towns, they are helped by local families who are already desperately poor themselves. One woman, who has a small business, supported by a micro-credit loan from Christian Aid’s local partner, told me how she has taken in nine people who had fled the fighting and now has 17 people living in her home. Her teenage son has had to give up his studies as there was no money left for school fees with nine extra mouths to feed,' added Ms Keen. 'This is a clear example of development-in-reverse. The efforts of local communities to pull themselves out of poverty are being undermined by ill-conceived military action."
The long-standing crisis in the Great Lakes is a political crisis and requires appropriate regional political solutions and genuine political will for peace.
Christian Aid has called on the UK to support the suspension of the Kimiya II military operations and work with the Congolese government and the UN to conduct a proper evaluation of the security and humanitarian situation, with participation from local communities.
"With two million displaced people across the two Kivu provinces, strategies must be urgently redefined to prioritise civilian protection and increase humanitarian access", the agency says.
It adds that it does not believe that peace can be achieved in the region through more war and violence.
"More can and should be done by the UN and Member States to accelerate the voluntary repatriation of FDLR rebels and Rwandan refugees through inclusive non-military engagement and confidence-building measures. Furthermore European governments have so far taken disappointingly little concrete action to address the problem of illegal militarised mining and trade in the Kivus, a major driver of conflict in the region. The EU should agree and implement measures requiring companies to carry out strict due diligence to ensure that they are not buying, selling or processing minerals which benefit any of the warring parties in eastern DRC."
The churches' international development agency says the UK - a major diplomatic actor in the region and number one bilateral donor to both DRC and Rwanda – must use its influence in favour of the peaceful resolution of this crisis, the promotion of civil and human rights and the correct exercise of justice mechanisms.
The GO has welcomed Glenys Kinnock’s appointment as Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister of State with responsibilities for Africa, United Nations and Human Rights.
"We hope this will provide a new opportunity to for the UK to contribute to addressing the underlying causes of conflict in the African Great Lakes region," a media statement says.