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Statement on DRC violence from Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop of Congo and Bishop of Winchester

Thursday 19th November 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Congo and the Bishop of Winchester today voiced their concerns over the continuing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Today marks the centenary of the Great Congo Demonstration led by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Randall Davidson, to protest against violence and oppression in the Congo Free State. Speaking at the Royal Albert Hall on 19 November 1909, Archbishop Davidson condemned the "great wrong" perpetrated against the people of Congo, claiming, "we are ourselves in part responsible for the past, and, if that wrong be allowed to continue, by whomsoever carried out, we shall be answerable to God and man for its continuance."

One hundred years later violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to claim lives, with the conflict reportedly causing directly or indirectly the deaths of more than five million civilians since 1998. The conflict, including the latest military operations, is characterised by widespread human rights violations, including horrific acts of sexual and other violence against women and girls, the deliberate killing of civilians, and the recruitment of children as soldiers. The attacks have resulted in the mass-displacement of local communities, exacerbating existing disease and poverty. The United Nations reports that over 1 million people have been forced to flee their homes since January of this year in both eastern and northern DRC.

Today, one hundred years after the Great Congo Demonstration, an event at the Royal Albert Hall, organised by the V-Day campaign, brings together religious leaders with politicians, celebrities, business people and activists to demonstrate their concern about the violence in DRC, specifically sexual violence against women and girls, and to mark their commitment to work with the people of DRC towards an enduring and peaceful solution.

To mark the centenary, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, today said: "It is impossible to look at the situation in the DRC without the most profound distress. To that must be added the burden of shame when we read the words of my predecessor, Randall Davidson, and reflect on why so little has changed in a hundred years of history. This period should have been one of progress and development for all but that is manifestly not the case in the DRC. We must acknowledge our part in this collective failure. The time has come to act to end this nightmare of violence and cruelty, including the most appalling sexual violence against women and children."

The Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Congo, the Most Reverend Henri Isingoma, said: "In addition to the atrocities of the war, Congolese people also suffer from social injustice, a culture of impunity and pervasive corruption that destroys our society like a cancer. The country's resources are being consumed at the expense of human lives. All this contributes to the poverty and under-development that make our country lag behind. We request all people of good will to work hand in hand with us for lasting peace and an end to the human suffering."

The Bishop of Winchester, the Right Reverend Michael Scott-Joynt, who maintains a close and historic link between his own diocese and the Anglican Church in DRC, said: “I saw and heard again this summer, in the DRC, both the remarkable determination, courage, hopefulness and ingenuity of Congolese people, and the suffering and fear which is the daily experience of so very many. It is profoundly shocking that a century after the Great Demonstration of 1909, so much remains to be done if there is to be security, peace and justice for the people of the DRC. There is a great deal more that those with power and wealth in the DRC itself, the States on the DRC's Eastern borders, and external powers too, must do together to curb the pillage of the DRC's natural resources and the continuing inflow of arms that still cause so much misery and violence."

The continuing crisis in the DRC requires strong political commitment from the governments of all countries in Africa’s Great Lakes region, including DRC and Rwanda, to achieve a lasting solution and enduring peace. This will require strengthened political engagement, reviewing the ongoing military operations, including the role of the United Nations peacekeeping mission, and ensuring that the human rights and humanitarian needs of local communities are protected. In this context it is crucial that principles of justice are upheld. Crimes against civilians, including the brutal violations against women and children, should not be committed with impunity.

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