Refugees International welcomes Ambassador Nikki Haley’s visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan, and Ethiopia this week and next, as well as her commitment to U.S. support for refugee assistance and protection in Africa. By visiting these countries, all of which are facing urgent humanitarian challenges, Ambassador Haley is playing an important and constructive role on these issues.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
The DRC continues to be beset by poor governance, interference by regional actors, internal conflict, and abuses by security forces, creating one of the most compelling humanitarian situations in the world today. Nearly four million Congolese are internally displaced as a result of conflict and persecution, with 1.4 million having been forced from their homes due to conflict in the Kasai region. In addition, more than half a million DRC citizens have fled the country as refugees, and the DRC itself hosts some 500,000 refugees from other parts of Africa.
Refugees International Concerns and Recommendations to Ambassador Haley:
Keeping the peace and the need to avoid cuts in life-saving and cost-efficient programs: In the DRC, the UN stabilization mission, MONUSCO, has an extraordinarily challenging mandate relating to protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders, as well as support of the DRC government in its stabilization and peace consolidation efforts. While Refugees International strongly supports greater efficiency in peacekeeping operations, we are concerned that recent U.S.-driven cuts to the MONUSCO operation in particular and other operations in general were motivated not in the first instance by the need for efficiencies, but rather for the simple desire for budget savings. This approach to reform implies that the world is spending too much on peacekeeping, which is hardly the case. For instance, worldwide expenditures for peacekeeping amounts to about one-tenth of one percent of annual U.S. military expenditures, and UN deployments to many conflicts around the world lightens the load for the United States military and militaries of other governments. RI is concerned by reports of cuts in worldwide operations in critical areas such as human rights monitoring, protection of civilians, gender and child protection. We note a recently reported statement on peacekeeping in the DRC from the UN Secretary General that “member states should exercise caution in making future cuts to the mission’s budget that may compromise its ability to deliver on core priorities.” Finally, we believe that the process of cutting budgets should not be opaque, but rather subject to public scrutiny.
Recommendation: RI urges Ambassador Haley to support a careful UN assessment of the impact of cuts on basic protection activities in the DRC and other countries hosting peace operations, and to ensure that the UN provides public information on the specific programs that have been cut due to reductions in the DRC and elsewhere around the world. This public accountability is very important.
Adequate funding for critical humanitarian programs: Although the Trump Administration requested reductions in the current U.S. humanitarian assistance budget of some 30 percent, these cuts were not enacted by the Congress and Ambassador Haley is thus in a good position to demonstrate U.S. leadership by supporting continued and increased humanitarian aid to the DRC. The UN’s 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for the DRC, at $812 million and designed to provide life-sustaining support, is less than one-third funded. The visit to the DRC provides Ambassador Haley an opportunity to commit to increased U.S. assistance and to encourage other governments to do much more.
Recommendation: RI urges Ambassador Haley to announce additional U.S. humanitarian assistance to the DRC and urge other governments to do more to fund the $812 million UN 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan. She should also make clear that the Trump Administration, in its FY 2019 budget submission, will sustain or even augment U.S. humanitarian assistance to the DRC and worldwide.
Respect for Human Rights and Accountability for DRC Security Forces: For many years, there have been consistent reports of serious abuses against civilians by the security forces of the DRC. Refugees International has previously expressed its deep concern about the September killing of 39 Burundians, when security forces in South Kivu fired into a crowd of people who were reportedly protesting in opposition to the involuntary repatriation of some Burundians.
Recommendation: Ambassador Haley should press the DRC government on accountability for violations of human rights by the security forces and, in particular, emphasize the importance of a thorough and impartial investigation of the killings of the 39 Burundians in September.
On July 9, 2011, South Sudan celebrated its independence, an achievement strongly supported by the international community and one many believed would bring peace to a region that had long known conflict. But poverty and a history of ethnic tensions were mostly overlooked during the fight for freedom, and it was soon evident that these would take their toll on the new republic. South Sudan’s civil war erupted in December 2013, when a division between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar culminated in a split within the army. Fighting quickly spread throughout the country and, within weeks, both government and opposition forces had committed serious human rights violations. Civilians remain in extreme danger, humanitarian efforts are systematically obstructed and aid workers continue to be targeted with violence and sexual assault. Despite a peace agreement in 2015, fighting resumed in 2016 and the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) process has been ineffective in bringing an end to the fighting. The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs currently estimates that 5.5 million South Sudanese are food insecure. This dangerous reality continues to force large numbers to flee to neighboring counties and states. The UNHCR’s July 2017 figures show that 2 million people had been internally displaced and an additional 2 million had sought refuge or asylum in other countries.
Refugees International Concerns and Recommendations to Ambassador Haley:
Addressing humanitarian issues, politics and security: The issues of safety of displaced civilians, safety of aid workers, and humanitarian access are all critical, but it is also clear that there will be little progress on any of these concerns without progress toward a political settlement. Despite U.S. imposition of sanctions in September against three associates of President Kiir, President Kiir’s recent statements and actions reflect little concern about the urgency of either the humanitarian or political situation on the ground – or little concern that governments will bring significant pressure to bear in efforts to reach a political settlement.
Recommendation: Ambassador Haley should demand that President Salva Kiir take action to end abuses against civilians, and ensure safety and access for humanitarian aid workers. She should also make clear that the United States will impose additional sanctions against his government if he does not take these measures and demonstrate a willingness to enter negotiations in good faith. Moreover, the United States should be prepared to go beyond the IGAD regional process if it continues to stall, such as by engaging the UN Security Council in discussions of an international administration of South Sudan in a transition period.
Background on Ethiopia and South Sudan:
Ambassador Haley’s visit to Ethiopia is very important, as the country shares a border with South Sudan, contributes to UN peacekeeping forces in that country, and hosts some 400,000 South Sudanese refugees as well as the headquarters of the African Union.
Recommendation: Ambassador Haley should urge Ethiopian officials to play a leadership role in efforts to press for a political solution in South Sudan, and, if negotiations continue to stall, to consider support for a UN, or a joint AU-UN, effort to establish joint administration of country in a transition period. Ambassador Haley should also visit with South Sudanese refugees while in Ethiopia.