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Chairman Menendez Opening Remarks at the Hearing, “Prospects for Peace in Democratic Republic of Congo”

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s hearing, “Prospects for Peace in Democratic Republic of Congo.”

“Welcome to our panelists, to our many guests today, and to Mr. Affleck for clearly drawing so much attention to this important international issue.

We are here to shed light on the best way forward to end the horrific violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over the last two decades over 5 million people have been killed and hundreds of thousands more displaced.

There have been brutal killings, continued recruitment and conscription of child soldiers, and horrendous acts of sexual violence against women and girls.

The M23 rebellion was just the latest iteration of a long conflict that has stalled economic development and destroyed the social fabric of communities in eastern Congo. I commend the work of the international group of Envoys, including our own Special Envoy -- a good friend and former colleague -- Senator Feingold, as well as regional players – like Uganda -- for their efforts to promote political reconciliation in the DRC.

But the apparent end of the M23 rebellion has not ended the violence. The latest UN Group of Experts report documented evidence of continued recruitment by the M23 and the regional threat posed by the FDLR – The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda – by Kata Katanga, and by various Mai Mai militias and dozens of other groups.

At the end of the day, the international community must send a clear and forceful message that the era of impunity for those who commit human rights violations is over.

I commend the Congolese government for taking the first important step with the passage of the new amnesty law that seeks to hold those who have committed acts of genocide fully accountable.  There is, however, much more to do.

I am pleased that we are joined today by Dr. Denis Mukwege, founder of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu.

Dr. Mukwege has been a tireless advocate for human rights and the rights of women. Both he and Panzi Hospital are internationally known for being there -- twenty-four-seven -- for survivors of sexual violence.

Thank you, Doctor, for being with us today. I ask unanimous consent that Dr. Mukwege’s prepared statement be submitted for the record.

His statement and our panelists’ testimony will help answer the questions before us:

What is their assessment of the security situation in the east since the end of the M23 rebellion?

What other armed groups pose a threat to the Congolese government and civilian populations?

What are the economic and political dimensions of the conflict?

What is the current status of political reconciliation under the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, and the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process?

What role will other regional actors play? And how can the U.S. government best continue to support regional and international efforts toward peace and stability in the African Great Lakes Region?

With that, let me turn to Senator Corker for his opening remarks.

Introduction of First and Second Panel

On our first panel is our former colleague Russ Feingold. During his eighteen years in the Senate, he served on and led the African Affairs Subcommittee and we look forward to his perspective as Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the DRC.

As you well-know, Senator, your opening statement will be included in the record in its entirety, but if you could summarize it in five minutes we can proceed with questioning.

Let me introduce our second panel.

Ambassador Roger Meece served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 2004 to 2007. Most recently he has served as the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the DRC and head of the UN’s Stabilization Mission in the DRC. Ambassador Meece was a career Foreign Service Officer who served as Ambassador to Malawi and Interim Ambassador to Nigeria and has graciously taken time out of his retirement to join us today.

Dr. Raymond Gilpin is the Academic Dean at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies of the National Defense University. Prior to joining the Africa Center, he served as the director of the U.S. Institute of Peace's Center for Sustainable Economies; Director for International Programs at Intellibridge Corporation; Senior Economist at the African Development Bank Group; Research Director at the Central Bank of Sierra Leone; and was an economist at the World Bank. His research focuses on the economics of conflict.

And, last but certainly not least, we are pleased to welcome Ben Affleck -- who many of us here in Washington remember as Tony Mendez in Argo. But today, Mr. Affleck is here in his real-life role for which he will be long-remembered as an activist committed to helping end the violence in Africa.

The Eastern Congo Initiative he founded provides funding and advocates for organizations that are finding local solutions for vulnerable populations, particularly women and children. Through the Eastern Congo Initiative, he is helping Congolese civilians overcome barriers to good governance and move toward sustained development.

Thank you, Mr. Affleck for taking time out of your busy schedule to be here.

Again, let me remind all of you that your opening statements will be included in the record in their entirety, but if you could please summarize them in five minutes we will have more time for discussion."