Arriving today in restive eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all the leaders of Africa’s Great Lakes region to throw their support behind a recently-signed peace accord which aims to ensure security, as well as development, for the long-troubled country.
“We have the best chance in many years to bring peace and calm to the region,” the UN chief said in Goma, eastern DRC’s main city, in proximity since Tuesday of renewed fighting between Government troops (FARDC) and rebels from the 23 March Movement (M23).
“We are here to support the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region,” the Secretary-General said in remarks to the press following a visit to the Heal Africa hospital, which treats victims of sexual violence. He was referring to landmark UN-brokered 11-nation accord that has been dubbed “the framework for hope” by Mary Robinson, Mr. Ban’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes.
He said that the framework aimed to address the root causes of the violence. In addition, the newly-deployed intervention brigade within the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the country (MONUSCO) is designed to bring added stability and protect civilians. “But that is only one element of a much larger political process. A peace deal must deliver a peace dividend – health, education, jobs, opportunity.”
Calling on the leaders of the region to back up the peace accord with action and investment in “the people who have suffered so much,” particularly women and girls, the UN chief also noted that today was the first annual International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. Many of the women and girls at Heal Africa suffered from fistula after enduring brutal rapes, but also due to early pregnancy and a lack of adequate healthcare.
With those factors contributing to some 40,000 cases of fistula alone, the Secretary-General said, the situation was further evidence of the need for holistic development. Education and healthcare were part of the broader infrastructure of development that can bring progress and hope to this “battered region,” he said, hailing the commitment of Mr. Kim and the World Bank, which earlier in the trip had announced a pledge of $1 billion to promote development in the region.
Mr. Ban, who arrived in the DRC yesterday for talks with senior Government officials in the capital, Kinshasa, was accompanied by Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank and Ms. Robinson. After a stop in Rwanda this afternoon, the officials will move on to Uganda and will wind up their trip in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the African Union summit.
Just ahead of the Secretary-General’s arrival, Moustapha Soumaré, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the DRC, called for all parties to respect international humanitarian law after three people were killed and 14 wounded yesterday by mortar shells fired into in a city northwest of Goma.
According to a news release from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), three shells exploded in the crowded neighbourhood of Ndosho, killing three people and wounding another 10.
The explosions, which took place next to churches, provoked panic among the population, causing many to flee towards downtown Goma in search of safer haven. During the night, three shells also exploded next to the Mugunga III internally displaced persons (IDP) camp, about 10 kilometres west of Goma and hosting 13,000 IDPs, wounding four people and destroying several houses.
“I am very concerned with the developments yesterday in Goma” said Mr. Soumaré, emphasizing that civilians were injured during military operations because military positions and military activities are taking place “too close to where civilian populations are located”, in violation of international humanitarian law. “I call on all parties to take all measures necessary to avoid civilian casualties.”
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) also issued a release expressing deep concern about the incident and calling on all sides to ensure the protection of civilians, including displaced persons.
As for the Secretary-General, later in the day the UN chief flew to Kigali, where he met with senior Rwandan officials, including President Paul Kagame. He also visited the Centre for Excellence for the Fight against Violence against Women and Children.
He and Mr. Kim also visited the Gisozi genocide memorial site, where they laid wreaths in solemn commemoration of the tragic 1994 event. Noting that it was his third visit to the site, Mr. Ban said that the memorial served as both a warning and a symbol of hope. While the international community had failed Rwanda, the country had, in less than two decades, reconciled and rebuilt.
“We want to see peace and development throughout the Great Lakes region,” the Secretary-General said, urging the international community to build a world “where all live in security, dignity, proud of who they are, wherever they are.”