New York 03 November 2008 - A women's aid group and advocates, including a former U.S. State Department official and a Harvard University health director, say the United States must take the lead in providing and implementing solutions to the crisis in eastern Congo. They say recent events are again putting civilians, and particularly women, in grave danger. From VOA's New York Bureau, Mona Ghuneim has the story.
With the hills around Goma firmly in rebel hands and the Congolese government proving incapable of protecting its people, a former U.S. Agency for International Development mission director for the Democratic Republic of the Congo said the United States must be more involved.
Now working as a private consultant in international development, Tony Gambino said order has to be established in eastern Congo and the United States is the nation to take charge of the reins. He said the United States, if nothing else, should be more supportive of empowering MONUC, the U.N. mission in eastern Congo, and approving and allowing for a multi-national force to be deployed there.
He said, "We need MONUC strengthened. We need a multi-national force. We must have this. And this force needs to stay there with the men and the mandate. It is amazing to me that our government finds it difficult to provide this kind of support - not troops, not the kinds of things that the United States is doing elsewhere in the world - just support to others to do it."
The DRC country director of Women for Women International, a U.S. aid organization working with female survivors of rape and sexual slavery in the country, Christine Kurumba, said the recent worsening situation in eastern Congo could mean more sexual violence as well as renewed loss of property, displacement, and rejection by families and communities of additional rape victims.
Kurumba said the United States has a moral responsibility to help. "The world is looking at [to] America. We [have] come to a level that the army cannot protect the civilians. All the women I met say that we are expecting, we are looking to our sisters in America to help us so that the war may cease in Congo."
Speaking at a conference in New York on how to bring peace to Congo, Kurumba said she is very worried the situation will endanger the small improvements in security and economic well being that women have seen during recent months of relative calm.
Harvard Medical School professor, Dr. Michael VanRooyen, has worked in international disaster relief and humanitarian aid. He said his recent work with focus groups of men and women who have suffered from the violence in eastern Congo has given him insight into what the people want, and need. He said women victims in particular would like to see the United States provide more practical assistance.
He added, "It was actually very interesting to get their take on what they thought they needed, and one of the things that we thought is access to medical services and psycho-social support, and they want job training. They want to be independent and they want to have individual financial power, which is a huge issue."
But it is an issue in which all the speakers on the panel said the United States can play an important role. With its wealth, technology and entrepreneurial spirit, they said America could provide a lot in the way of mentoring, training and supporting the Congolese to get back on their feet.
Former USAID official Gambino said the United States and the American people have to care more. Both the government and the general public have to step up advocacy efforts, he said, and he is hopeful that there will be progress in that regard.
Gambino said he is encouraged by recent activity from college students, aid groups and private citizens, many of whom have been active on the Darfur issue. "The groups that have been focused on Darfur are now also expanding their concern to what is going on in eastern Congo. This year in the United States and moving into next year, we are going to see a new movement to insist that more be done relating to this horror in eastern Congo."
But Gambino stresses the importance of the international community as a whole, saying we all have a responsibility to protect civilians when a nation can no longer contain peace and security on its own.