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Booker Leads Colleagues in Urging Trump to Address Democratic Republic of Congo’s Political, Humanitarian Crisis

Over 3.8 million displaced due to political unrest, instability as government accused of gross human rights violations

October 3, 2017
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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, led his colleagues in urging President Trump to address the political and humanitarian crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In a letter to Trump led by Booker and signed by Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Edward Markey (D-MA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the Senators asked the President to use all tools at his disposal –  including nominating key senior State Department posts in the region, enacting stronger sanctions, and improving the implementation of the Conflict Minerals Rule – to address the dire situation. The letter comes as DRC President Joseph Kabila refuses to abide by an agreement brokered last December to hold elections in 2017. His decision to stay in office beyond his constitutional mandate has resulted in dire humanitarian conditions and a protracted political crisis.  

“We write with concern about the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and ask that you use all available tools to address increasingly worrisome political, security, and humanitarian crises,” the Senators wrote in the letter. 

“The lack of permanent senior leadership in [key regional diplomatic] posts hampers policy making in Washington.  It also hamstrings U.S. and multilateral diplomatic efforts and influence in Kinshasa and key African capitals, as well as coordination of humanitarian relief efforts.”

The Senators added: “If the [DRC] government continues to refuse to implement the spirit and letter of the [December 31st agreement between the Presidential Majority and a coalition of political opposition parties], the U.S. should use the means at our disposal—including sanctions designations under Executive Order 13671 on DRC, anti-money-laundering regulations, and additional tools available under the Global Magnitsky Act—to affect the incentives of individuals who have strong influence over President Kabila to incentivize them to urge him to change course.” 

As the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, Booker has been an outspoken voice for addressing the turmoil in DRC. In July, he led a bipartisan letter urging the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations to work with the UN Secretary-General to pursue an independent special investigation into the suspicious deaths of two UN investigators killed in DRC in March. And in April, Booker led a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) pushing the agency to keep in place key parts of the bipartisan Conflict Minerals Rule, which addresses the illicit mineral extraction that has helped fund armed groups in DRC.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below. 

 

October 3, 2017 

President Donald J. Trump

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear President Trump: 

We write with concern about the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and ask that you use all available tools to address increasingly worrisome political, security, and humanitarian crises.  Mass atrocities may already have occurred.  

As you know, President Joseph Kabila’s decision to stay in office beyond the end of his constitutional mandate in 2016 has thrown the country into political chaos.  The December 31st agreement between the Presidential Majority and a coalition of political opposition parties brokered by the National Conference of Congolese Bishops included a commitment to hold elections by the end of this year.  However, President Kabila has failed to implement its key terms in good faith—from organizing an inclusive transitional government, to dropping charges against political prisoners, to unblocking media outlets, to supporting a credible and independent council to oversee implementation of the accord.  The head of the national electoral commission stated publicly in July that elections by the end of the year are not feasible.

Just as worrying, analysts and international aid organizations on the ground believe the political crisis is fueling growing violence and unrest in various parts of the country.  Government forces and pro-government militia are accused of gross human rights violations in the Kasai region which, before last year, had been relatively calm.  Two United Nations sanctions investigators were killed in the region in March as they attempted to look into allegations of human rights abuses by security forces.  Some eighty mass graves have been discovered, and more than 5,000 people have been killed since 2016 according to the United Nations.  At least 1.4 million Congolese are internally displaced due to violence in the Kasai’s alone.  Separately, unrest in Tanganyika has displaced an additional 500,000.  In total, there are a staggering 3.8 million displaced people throughout the country due to insecurity, and another half million refugees have fled to surrounding countries.  We are deeply disappointed in your recently-announced cap on refugee admissions to the U.S. during Fiscal Year 2018, which has the potential to help Congolese fleeing this horrific violence. 

In addition to the recent spike in conflict in Kasai and Tanganyika, there has been an uptick of violence, banditry, and crime in eastern Congo, an area long beset by chaos and violence.  The recent militia kidnappings of humanitarian workers, clergymen, and an American journalist are further cause for alarm.  The decision in March 2017 by the UN Security Council—led by your Administration—to reduce the troop ceiling of the body’s peacekeeping mission in DRC has left it ill-equipped to provide security in the east and respond to the recent unrest in other areas.  Lives may very well be lost given how thinly stretched and poorly resourced the mission now is.

The repression of peaceful protesters in Kinshasa and other urban centers, the proliferation of armed groups in the Kasais and elsewhere, and attacks against civilians in the central and eastern portions of the country have created a tinderbox that threatens to engulf the region if unaddressed.  In light of the precarious nature of the situation in DRC, we ask that you to nominate an Ambassador for DRC, an Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and an Assistant Administrator for Africa at USAID for Senate confirmation right away.  The lack of permanent senior leadership in these posts hampers policy making in Washington.  It also hamstrings U.S. and multilateral diplomatic efforts and influence in Kinshasa and key African capitals, as well as coordination of humanitarian relief efforts. 

Targeted sanctions imposed in 2016 by the United States and the European Union at several strategic junctions provided much-needed leverage to the negotiations that resulted in the December 31st accord.  However as events throughout the country have demonstrated, further action is needed.  If the government continues to refuse to implement the spirit and letter of the agreement, the U.S. should use the means at our disposal—including sanctions designations under Executive Order 13671 on DRC, anti-money-laundering regulations, and additional tools available under the Global Magnitsky Act—to affect the calculus of individuals who have strong influence over President Kabila to urge him to change course. 

Finally, we ask you to address ongoing concerns about conflict minerals and extractive industry transparency by directing the Securities and Exchange Commission to continue implementation of Section 1502, as well as develop a new and strong rule implementing Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The last large-scale conflict in DRC, financed and fueled in part by conflict minerals, corruption and poor governance, was among the worst in Africa’s history.  It involved no fewer than seven countries, and resulted in millions of deaths.  

We urge you to take immediate action to position the United States to play a leadership role in forestalling a similar conflict, and stand ready to support a response that will save lives and result in accountability.

      Sincerely,

 

 

 

_______________________________                      _______________________________

Cory A. Booker                                                          Benjamin L. Cardin

United States Senator                                                 United States Senator

 

 

 

_______________________________                      _______________________________

Richard J. Durbin                                                        Christopher A. Coons

United States Senator                                                 United States Senator

 

 

 

 

_______________________________                      _______________________________

Elizabeth Warren                                                        Edward J. Markey

United States Senator                                                 United States Senator

 

 

 

_______________________________                     

Sherrod Brown                                                          

United States Senator                                                

  

CC:      The Honorable Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, The Honorable Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury, The Honorable Nikki Haley, United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations