Africa Day 2014
"Towards sustainable peace and reconciliation in the Democratic Republic of Congo: the role of religion, women and civil society"
May 26, 2014, United Nations, Palais des Nations, Room XXII, Geneva
The Universal Peace Federation (UPF), the Fribourg Peace Forum and the Women’s Federation for World Peace, Int. (WFWPI), in partnership with members of the Congolese Diaspora in Switzerland, organized this conference to contribute to a peaceful settlement of the crisis in the DRC. This event followed Session I: The role of youth in promoting peace, organized by UPF Switzerland Biel / Bienne May 24.
The conference began with opening remarks by Heiner Handschin, Director of the Office of UPF for relations to the UN in Geneva, who read the best wishes of Chief of Staff Office of the Director General of UNOG, Mr. David A. Chikvaidze. He expressed the satisfaction of the Director-General in relation to the objective of the conference on this topic and hope for "prospective exchange of statements to overcome this challenge."
Then, Professor Adrian Holderegger, President of Fribourg Peace Forum, co-organizer of the conference, welcomed everyone to the UN in Geneva and noted that Geneva and Switzerland were traditionally known for conflict prevention and peace negotiations. He summarized the four sessions: the first on peace and stability in the Great Lakes region, the second on the contribution of women, especially women of the Congolese Diaspora in Switzerland, the 3rd on geopolitics and 4th on the important contribution of representatives of religions and civil society. He recalled that the conference would conclude with recommendations for different interest groups.
Session II: Towards a lasting peace in the DRC - Effects of peace and stability in the Great Lakes region
Chairman of the first session, Mark Brann, SG UPF Europe, opened the high-level meeting and the panel with an explanation of the UN Mission in the DRC region. He mentioned former Human Rights High Commissioner and President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, who was appointed Special Envoy of the Secretary General of the UN for the Great Lakes region, who was informed about the conference
Instead, a recorded presentation of the message of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for DRC and Head of the Stabilization Mission of UN, Martin Kobler, was broadcast in which he congratulated the organizers of this important conference. He emphasized the need for women's participation in politics and the economy at all levels as actresses who introduce two essential aspects: security and stability as well as the importance of education for their sons and daughters. He commended the introduction of quotas by the government. He explained that he undertook with two counselors to combat sexual violence and impunity, especially in armed conflicts east of the country, and eliminated the employment of pregnant women and children in mines. He finally recognized Mary Robinson’s close contact with civil society, especially with women, and urged the participants to visit the DRC to encourage people on site.
Then Erika Laubacher, Deputy Head of Staff of the International Organization for Migration, spoke about the role of the Congolese Diaspora in securing the peace process in the DRC. As an important part of the Congolese Diaspora in Switzerland and Europe were present, her presentation highlighted the potential impact that the Diaspora could have in the peace process, but also in the development of democratic and viable economic structures. She confirmed that the first condition for peace and sustainable development was the cessation of armed conflict in the eastern DRC. She encouraged migrants who received a high quality education abroad to return home and contribute to the prosperity of their nation as a form of circular migration.
Manda Kizabi, Permanent Delegate of UNESCO to DRC, began his speech by stating that the whole Great Lakes region was affected by the conflict in the DRC, and that despite all the meetings and conferences during the past 19 years, there were no lasting results. He recommended the implementation of the more than hundred agreements of Addis Ababa, in particular on the census, the enrichment of government officials, media openness, etc..
Session III: Women and peace efforts in the DRC: Justice and Reconciliation
Moderated by Chantal Chételat Komagata, UPF SG, Switzerland, this session began with Noëmie Komagata, a medical student, reading the text sent by Denis Mukwege, Gynecologist, Alternative Nobel Prize winner. He expressed his dismay at half a million women dishonored and 6 million dead. He asked for political will and courage of the international community to put an end to these horrors.
After that, Véronique Mbwebwe, lawyer and Ambassador for Peace, spoke of the participation of women in the Diaspora in the peace process and decision-making. To the victims of the armed forces, she affirmed the support in the prosecution and trial of the perpetrators through the "children of Congo" living outside. She mentioned the lack of female participation in the various negotiations, the rights violated and illiteracy and proposed to invite several Congolese women in order to bring their work to international and state structures. She concluded her speech urging women in the Diaspora to fulfill five conditions to support their sisters in the DRC.
Séverine Mukunay teacher in Geneva spoke of the rape of women as a tool to destroy Congolese society by preventing the woman to pass on values to the society. She demanded of the government to organize rapid and independent trials and of the international community to support this process and to promote the reintegration of victims.
The only male representative of the session, Emmanuel Kabengele, professor at the Institute for Global Health at the University of Geneva agreed to share his reasoning, touched by the tragedy of the population and called by a student; the same night he was going to give another speech at a casting for the post of special rapporteur on health as a banner of the underrepresented African continent. He said that to talk about peace, it was necessary to speak of conflict, recalling its two characteristics: permanence and continuity with the same actors, and that a misdiagnosis of the conflict could only lead to inadequate solutions. He also referred to the history and wondered what had changed and whether DRC was really a state. He said that peace could be realized unless women grew. He also questioned the continued international assistance, which violates the effective development and stressed the need to establish common and shared values. Finally, he spoke of "Chance-elokopamba", of the need to put an end to that tragic history and to continue the development and protection environment.
This speech full of charisma was followed by that of Charlotte Tocchio, representative of the Department of Principles and Values of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent. She spoke of women and youth as powerful agents of change in a country that has a majority of the population under 20 years. She referred to the targeted projects of IFRC, particularly in the creation of educational platforms, and under the perspective that education with principles and values has an impact on the establishment of lasting peace.
To conclude the session, Carolyn Handschin, Director of the United Nation Office for WFWPI spoke on “Creating an Enabling Environment for Peace and Development”, calling on women to claim their places as leaders in peacemaking and reconciliation in their families and communities and asking government to provide them with the tools and support to do so. “Peace can only be designed and implemented sustainably by those who know the value of living in peace”. She proposed a paradigm of "familiarchy", as an alternative to existing patriarchal systems, where that “enabling environment for peace” can be experienced and rooted from early childhood.
Session IV: Geopolitical Perspectives and strategic developments in the Great Lakes Region
Moderated by Delly Kazadi, the third session focused on geopolitical considerations, starting with Father Jean-Pierre Mbelu, a political analyst from Belgium. He talked about the ostrich-like approach and affirmed that the denial of dignity of Congolese men and women reached its peak in the violation of women. Thanking Prof. Kabengele for mentioning the history of Congo, he referred to the assassination of Lumumba in 1961 by the same people who asked Mobutu to leave and placed Kabila at the head of the country. He referred to the many reports of the international community and urged his people to speak. He expressed his dismay for ousting the Congolese people by neighboring countries and said that a Congo, under occupation and supervised by the UN, was not a state since it was contributing to the death of its own population! He made two proposals to the Congolese public: first create a synergy to take responsibility without relying on the international community and secondly to organize a peaceful Pan-African community.
Emmanuel Dupuy, Professor, Specialist in African geopolitics, who had just come from Africa for the conference and was taking a flight back the same day, referred to the 4 million deaths and the submission of DRC and the entire region. He drew a parallel with events happening in Central Africa, which he called, a “pseudo” democracy where the most powerful are not considering the needs of the minorities. He referred to the multiplication of NGO's, from the more effective to the most useless ones, and the need to respond to natural disasters and climate effects, which represent other important factors of conflict. He finally talked about UN reports that pointed to the responsibility of Burundi and Rwanda and the difficulties to achieve regional integration for failing to sufficiently involve regional actors such as in the health sector.
After this focused presentation, Benjamin Schwalb of the Institute of Sociology of the University of Basel, who has been studying the issue of violence by armed groups for 4 years, asked several fundamental questions: why these groups attack harmless civilians and under what conditions would they be willing to give up violence? He highlighted that it was not starvation but the decision of a group that was causing a conflict. In eastern Congo, the 50 armed groups are divided into three distinct categories (foreign rebels, militias and groups of men used by a strong lord), all driven by different motivations. All have in common their small size (100-500 men), their non-expansive strategy, the support of a member of the political and military elite and the precarious conditions of their fighters. He highlighted the fact that the reduction in violence in recent centuries was not only due to new ideas but also to the increase of the power of states and of economic relations. He expressed his fear that in a country at war for almost 20 years, with so many weapons scattered and people accustomed to war, it could not be a moral appeal alone that would stop the violence, but a strong counter-attack and the practice of healthy community life.
To end the session, Jacques Marion, president of UPF France, spoke of the UPF contribution in Africa. He spent nearly 9 years in Congo until the end of 1997 and kept very profound experiences. He said that UPF Congo invested into information and education of values and into the organization of conferences to resolve conflicts and achieve the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in the areas of women's empowerment and gender equality.
Session V: The specific contribution of civil society, including faith-based organizations for peace and reconciliation in the DRC
Carolyn Handschin, President of WFWP Europe, introduced the topic of the fourth session focusing on the role of confessional organizations in DRC.
Roger Puati, Theologian, Lausanne, started his speech by mentioning Simon Kimbagu as a spiritual man who, in 1910, received a calling from God but ignored it for fear of the hard colonial regime and the second calling in 1921, asking him to prepare the people for liberation. He was imprisoned for 30 years (more than Mandela) and preached Kimuntu, the principle of “Humanity” and the importance of working to achieve freedom. The pastor then mentioned that the nature of relationships and conflict management as well as the accession to power were tainted with violence, thus flouting the principle of Kimuntu. He said that peace must necessarily be restored in the heart before being drawn out and that spiritual values found in Africa need to be safeguarded.
In a practical note, José Elonga Bosekota, president of the foundation of the same name, called for young people to receive an education that allows them to have a positive impact in society. Among his recommendations, he asked that primary education be free, that learning centers be established and that young people have access to a job. He also demanded the speedy rehabilitation of children soldiers to allow them to follow the school curriculum.
As last speaker, Chantal Chételat Komagata, Secretary General of UPF Switzerland, taking a broader perspective, drew parallels between the conflict in DRC and elsewhere in the world, showing a distinct lack of human maturity at all levels. In accordance with the aspiration of the UPF founder, Sun Myung Moon, she emphasized the need to live in accordance with universal principles from the world's great faiths, which she summarized in four points. She said that only if the organizations on the field lived by these principles, cooperated with each other and worked hand in hand with the local population, an impact towards sustainable peace would take place in the DRC, in the Great Lakes region, in Africa and the world
In the Concluding Session, the"Recommandations de Genève sur la paix en RDC" were presented by three stakeholders of the Diaspora, including the interpreter of the conference, Johnson Belangenyi, supported by Emmanuel Dupuy. These draft recommendations had been prepared on the basis of regular meetings of the Preparatory Committee for the conference and the content of the speeches obtained in advance. They were proposals to be submitted to various bodies including the United Nations, the Congolese government and the Diaspora. The speakers urged participants to work on the basis of this list, adding their contribution in order for this conference not to become just “one more”, but to represent a step further. The hope of all was that this could be the beginning of a substantial walk to peace in the DRC, augmented particularly due to the involvement of the privileged Diaspora in Switzerland and Europe.
The conference attracted a public of about one hundred people and was followed by the television channel NAS4. The situation in the DRC being extremely complex, there was, as expected, some frustration and resentment expressed toward the international community and the Congolese government. The organizers understood these views and urged the strong Diaspora to continue to contribute to finalize these recommendations and participate in their implementation.
Chantal Chételat Komagata, Secretary General of UPF, Switzerland, 02.06.2014