As reports of atrocities committed against civilians continue to pour out of eastern Congo – Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, and Enough all issued reports on the crisis just this week – Senator Feingold (D-WI) sought to take the matter straight to Secretary Clinton.
In a letter this week, Feingold expressed his concern about the ongoing conflict in the eastern Congo, noting that, “Without a clear strategy for engagement, I am worried that we may witness a descent further into crisis.” He called on Secretary Clinton to develop a long-term strategy to address the root causes of the conflict, urge regional governments to “engage proactively,” and take immediate actions to prevent the already devastating and violent situation in eastern DRC from worsening.
In particular, Feingold pinpointed protecting civilians, addressing the economic drivers of the conflict, especially the conflict minerals trade, and ending the cycle of violence in the region through support for meaningful security sector reform and non-military approaches to disbanding rebel groups.
Accompanied by Senators Brownback (R-KS) and Durbin (D-IL), Senator Feingold recently introduced a Senate bill called the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 (S. 891), which directs the State Department to support multilateral and U.S. government efforts to break the link between the trade in minerals and armed conflict in eastern Congo.
Senator Feingold commended the Obama administration for increasing funding to Congo for foreign military financing but also pointed out that even with the additional funds, U.S. support is still small "given the challenging task at hand.” He noted further:
"…I strongly believe that new funds need to be backed by a clear strategy to promote reform and end abuses by the military. Moreover, as we increase funds, we should demand the removal of internationally indicted war criminals from leadership positions within the military."
Senator Feingold certainly commands a solid understanding of what needs to happen in eastern Congo to begin to change the violent status quo. Let’s hope that Secretary Clinton is listening closely.