Central Africa desperate for world attention bishops, CRS tell US gov't

by Dennis Coday

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Below is a media statment released today from the U.S. bishops' conference and Catholic Relief Service.

As background, here are two related news reports:

The bishops' statement


BALTIMORE, MD, June 13, 2011 – The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) are joining the call for a United States Special Envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the entire Great Lakes Region of Central Africa. In a joint letter to Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, New York, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, and CRS President Ken Hackett wrote that they do so “out of deep concern for the suffering that the people of the Eastern Congo continue to endure.”

An array of armed groups, including the Congolese army, local militias, and rebel groups from Rwanda and Uganda, fights to control territory and access to eastern DRC's vast natural resources. These armed groups continuously prey on civilians with nearly total impunity, regularly looting fields, homes, and businesses, and routinely raping Congolese women and girls. More than 3 million have died since 1998 from the effects of the conflict.

“Strong United States leadership is essential to defend human life and dignity, achieve a lasting peace, and realize the peoples’ aspirations for authentic human development,” wrote Bishop Hubbard and Mr. Hackett.

The USCCB and CRS have worked with the Catholic Church in the DRC and the other countries of the Great Lakes region for many years, and delegations of Catholic leaders have regularly traveled between the two countries to address the crisis. CRS has ongoing programs in the region and has seen firsthand the devastating impact the conflict has had on millions of people.

The letter asks for greater U.S. engagement, and specifically, for the Special Envoy to implement a comprehensive strategy that addresses the crisis in the region, and which is backed by an increased commitment of resources. “We believe that the formulation of the strategy, and more importantly, its implementation, require a Special Envoy to ensure unity of purpose, adequate authority, effective coordination with international organizations and other donor governments active in the region, and constant oversight.”

Hubbard and Hackett cite the example of Sudan, where strong U.S. government engagement has proven vital to a road to peace. “In Sudan, the world has witnessed the positive impact that a robust U.S. Government engagement can have on an intractable conflict,” the letter reads. “In solidarity with the bishops of the DRC and Great Lakes region, we urge the United States to show this same level of engagement and leadership there.”

CRS has been present in the DRC since 1961 working in partnership with the local Church in a range of sectors including education, health, HIV/AIDS, agriculture, peacebuilding, governance, and sexual and gender-based violence, as well as regularly responding to humanitarian emergencies particularly in North Kivu and Orientale provinces.

A copy of the letter is available upon request.

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