High-level officials from the United Nations (UN) have been actively promoting a new peace deal for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The agreement was signed in February by eleven African leaders and aims to finally bring peace not just to the DRC, but to the broader Great Lakes region of Africa.
Cycles of conflict and violence have beset the eastern DRC for almost twenty years. All parties to the conflict have been implicated in widespread and horrific sexual violence, perpetrated at an estimated rate of 48 attacks per hour, leading observers to dub the country “rape capital of the world.” This agreement – officially called the “Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Region” – aims to break this cycle, and in so doing, has been dubbed the “framework of hope” by UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Mary Robinson.
In the last few weeks, the “framework of hope” has been promoted by a number of high-ranking UN officials, even as fighting resurged in the region. On 23 May, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the DRC alongside Robinson and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. The delegates visited Heal Africa, a hospital dedicated to the treatment of survivors of sexual violence, and marked the first International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, a medical condition which commonly affects survivors of brutal sexual assaults. Kim called ongoing sexual violence in the region an “outrage,” while the Secretary-General noted that, in this peace agreement, “We have the best chance in many years to bring peace and calm to the region.”
Not long afterward, a visit from Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator in the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Kyung-wha Kang highlighted the need for increased funding to support survivors and provide crucial medical services. In Bukavu, Kang visited the Panzi Hospital, run by Campaign Advisory Committee Member Dr. Denis Mukwege, which currently treats around 300 rape survivors every month. Kang said that survivors at the hospital called the peace plan “the last chance to bring about peace” in the DRC.
Robinson has also announced that, on 9 July in the Burundian capital of Bujumbura, a meeting is planned amongst women from countries across the Great Lakes region. The purpose of the meeting is the elaboration of a plan for women’s involvement in the “framework of hope” peace process at all levels. In Robinson’s words, this plan will help to ensure that women’s voices are heard “from the bottom up and adhered to and implemented by Governments from the top down.”
DR Congo: Senior UN officials relay hopes for latest Great Lakes peace effort, UN News Centre, 4 June 2013
A Great Lakes Roadmap for Peace -- and Development, Huffington Post, 30 May 2013