U.S. Policy Toward Post-Election Democratic Republic of the Congo

Daniel Baer
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Testimony Before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights
Washington, DC
February 2, 2012

Good afternoon, Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Payne, honorable Members of the Committee: Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the United States’ policy toward the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the DRC, in light of what Secretary Clinton has described as “seriously flawed” presidential and parliamentary elections held last November 28. If I may, I’d like to commend the Committee for holding this timely hearing to draw attention to this large, troubled country and the recent elections. I also appreciate the Committee’s focusing on important questions about the human rights climate.

The Administration is monitoring events closely and shares Congressional concerns. We are taking action as events unfold. For example, in recent days, the Department Spokeswoman publicly expressed our concern about reports of Radio France International (RFI) having been shut down. We urged relevant Congolese authorities to reinstate RFI’s frequencies immediately (which the government did) and we continue to advocate to all Congolese political leaders and their supporters the need to act responsibly and to renounce violence.

I would also like, at the outset, to reiterate our serious concern about genderbased violence in the DRC. Every hour of the day dozens of women are raped in DRC. This is why the United States continues to champion improved protection of civilians, especially an end to the epidemic of rape and gender-based violence. The United States has worked successfully to secure new Security Council sanctions against individuals who lead armed groups operating in the DRC or are linked to crimes involving sexual and gender based violence and illegal child soldier recruiting. Additionally, the United States led the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution that supported, for the first time, due diligence guidelines for individuals and companies operating in the mineral trade in Eastern Congo.

In general, and in part as a result of the training provided by the U.S. to the Congolese National Police, the police in the DRC have l exercised restraint when dealing with provocations by demonstrators and protestors. However, in some notable instances during the run-up to the elections, and in their immediate aftermath, the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (GDRC) resorted to excessive force to break up protests. Citizens were shot and beaten; detained without charge; and, sometimes, “disappeared.” The GDRC also placed restrictions on the freedoms of speech, press and assembly in breach of democratic norms.

We expect the GDRC will be tempted to resort to such behavior in the future. For this reason, the USG has repeatedly and will continue to forcefully advise the GDRC that such violations of civil and human rights are unacceptable and must cease immediately, and that the perpetrators of human rights violations must be brought to justice. We expect that the GDRC’s ability to focus on substantive issues will unavoidably be attenuated until the election controversy is resolved. We are cognizant of the dangers this presents, and will work with the international community and press the GDRC to stay focused on electoral and human rights reforms.

The court system in the DRC is dysfunctional at best, and in many parts of the country nonfunctional. The electoral law calls for the establishment of a Constitutional Court, among whose functions would be the review of electoral challenges, but to date the new Court has not been established. The existing court system will be severely challenged to judge impartially and credibly the thousands of challenges expected to be filed by disappointed parliamentary candidates. If provincial elections go forward as scheduled, the number of challenges will increase substantially. This surely will exacerbate the already troubling situation. Moreover, the Congolese Supreme Court is widely considered to be biased towards President Kabila and its decision validating his electoral victory was extensively criticized as premature, unfair, and poorly considered. Its future decisions will undoubtedly similarly be criticized.

The U.S. and international community – foreign governments, international organizations, and NGOs – have contributed billions of dollars and thousands of advisors into the DRC over the years. To date, unfortunately, the GDRC has not shown the same commitment to reform, and we need to be clear: Without a strong and sustained commitment by the GDRC to democracy and human rights, little can be done that will be sustainable. However, the very fact that the elections have been so widely condemned may provide an opening to press for internationally accepted human rights standards and norms. Certainly, as Dr. Mendelson and Ambassador Yamamoto have testified, we will be pressing the GDRC to undertake effective reforms – not just with respect to elections, but with respect to the entire spectrum of human and civil rights.

Of course, we must also acknowledge the fact that the DRC is one of the least developed countries in the world. Even were the GDRC completely committed to improving democracy and human rights, its ability to do so is limited. And, developing the capacity of the GDRC -- enacting laws and transferring tools and know-how -- is but a small part of the solution. Helping them foster and inculcate a respect for human rights and the rule of law—and embed it institutions as a way of doing things – is the central task, and the larger part of a sustainable solution. I have already addressed the issues surrounding the courts. In addition, a free and robust media sector must be established and allowed to function freely. A vibrant civil society must be supported and recognized as a vital partner in building a stronger DRC. Children must be educated, and all people need to know their rights, and be given a chance to understand through experience how those rights undergird democratic societies.. All of these are hard, long term tasks, and none can be accomplished until the GDRC is able to provide for the physical security of its people. Democracy and human rights are both contributors to and vitally dependent on peace and security. Security agencies must be better trained on civilian protection and human rights as part of overall security sector reform. This is why we are focused on improved protection of civilians. In this regard, Dr. Mendelson and Ambassador Yamamoto have described our work with the international community, particularly MONUSCO, as well as a number of important programs that they are implementing. DRL likewise has relevant programs in the DRC, totaling some $7.5 million:

  • We have granted two programs totaling approximately $4.3 million to build the capacity of Congolese justice sector actors and local leaders to investigate cases of mass violence and sexual and gender-based violence, and to initiate a pilot program to reform prisons and detention centers in Eastern DRC.
  • Two other programs, totaling approximately $2.5 million will strengthen protection of human rights defenders by helping them take on and fight impunity within security forces for attacks on defenders and other civilians. We’re also supporting NGOs working to foster grass-roots action on security, human rights, and corruption. .
  • And finally, we fund a program for $700,000 to support the Team of Experts of the UN SRSG for Sexual Violence in Conflict in training selected security forces in the East on how to address SGBV crimes that might be committed by colleagues, and teaching civilian protection techniques that security forces can and should employ to prevent SGBV crimes.

In conclusion, I want to assure this subcommittee that this Administration is unwavering in its commitment to move the Congo to internationally accepted human rights standards and norms. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I welcome your questions.