Following the recent release of our groundbreaking video (which you can watch below) and investigative report on slavery in the mining industry in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Free The Slaves eagerly awaits the release of documentary film, Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering The Truth. The film, produced by Friends of the Congo, an advocacy NGO based in Washington D.C., describes itself as “a call to conscience and action”.
The documentary clearly locates the Congo crisis in its historical, social and political context and explains how the ongoing conflict, instability, weak institutions, dependency and impoverishment are a product of a 125 year-long experience of enslavement, forced labor, colonial rule, assassinations, dictatorship, wars, external intervention and corrupt rule. As Maurice Carney, Co-Founder & Executive Director of Friends of the Congo narrates, “all these 125 years must be taken into consideration to fully understand why Congo is in a weakened state today…what that does is destroy and eviscerate the Congolese institutions.”
With analysis from leading experts, practitioners, activists and intellectuals in the field, the film also seeks to expose the role that the United States and its allies, Rwanda and Uganda, have played in triggering the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st century, which since 1996 has claimed an estimated 6 million lives.
As for prescriptions, “keeping in mind that the ultimate solution is going to come from the Congolese people themselves”, Maurice Carney explains, “our role on the outside is to make sure that we create the space for them to solve and address the challenges that they face…the situation in the Congo is not just a Congolese issue, is not just an African issue, but it’s a global issue.”
President Obama appears to understand the need for international pressure on Rwanda and Uganda to stop their destructive interventions in the Congo. For many years he has been an advocate for Congo, and as a Senator he co-signed a law that outlined a comprehensive strategy for Congo to realize justice.
Yet key elements of this 2006 law have not yet been fully implemented, and the USG still retains a dispersed approach to the Great Lakes region, with responsibility divided among a labyrinth of offices within the State Department, National Security Council, Department of Defense, USAID, as well as the various US embassies in central Africa.
Accordingly, Free The Slaves has been calling for the appointment of a US Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region, who can bridge divides among the various US agencies and embassies concentrating on the region. Reporting directly to the Secretary of State or the White House, this official would play an instrumental role in pushing forward a comprehensive policy for Congo.
A 26-minute version of the feature length production, which will be released in the near future, can be watched here.
CNN’s year-long Freedom Project continues to churn out great coverage on modern-day slavery. We were excited to see Amanda Kloer’s (editor of Change.org‘s Human Trafficking blog) recent article highlighting the importance of the U.S. government appointing a special envoy to Congo—a position that Free the Slave actively supports.
Earlier this month, several U.S. Senators joined the chorus calling for the special envoy appointment. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and a bipartisan group of 14 other Senators sent a letter to President Obama urging him to take swift action to help stabilize the Great Lakes region. Read the letter here (PDF).
The ongoing conflict in Congo is the deadliest war in the world. Millions have already lost their lives in the battle between warring rebel militias and the national army and the associated decay of infrastructure and institutions. The battle to control the country’s vast mineral wealth and the slave labor that harvests those minerals is fueling the continuation of the fighting and suffering.
Since September 2009, FTS teams have been working in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to uncover the extent of slavery and develop effective strategies for ending it.
Earlier this year FTS joined seven other human rights organizations (Africa Faith & Justice Network, A Thousand Sisters, Enough! Project, Falling Whistles, Friends of the Congo, Jewish World Watch and STAND) to urge President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and others in the U.S. State Department to appoint a Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
FTS believes that the appointment of a Special Envoy is of utmost urgency. Congo’s elections are just months away, and many more long-term challenges ahead, it will be impossible without a senior-level envoy to achieve a coordinated U.S. and international policy in time to have the needed impact on these elections and other progress.
A special envoy has the potential to bridge the divides that currently exist between various U.S. agencies and embassies working on issues in the Congo. The envoy would report directly to the Secretary of State or the White House and would would play an instrumental role in pushing forward a comprehensive policy for Congo—especially with regards to eradicating slavery in the mines.
Further strengthening the rationale for a speedy appointment, a Special Envoy to the Great Lakes is a legal requirement under Public Law 109-456. It was President Obama himself, as a freshman senator in 2005 and 2006 that proposed the bill that became PL 109-456 AND the bill was co-sponsored by then Senator Clinton and passed with bipartisan support.
WHY IS THE APPOINTMENT TAKING SO LONG?
Many challenges exist to the appointment of a special envoy, despite PL 109-456. Budget realities confront the present administration and have created a wariness to support an additional special envoy in the administration. Furthermore, previous efforts to appoint a Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region have reportedly been met with resistance from State Department officials who feel it might disrupt conventional chains of command. Read more about FTS’ position and others, like Ben Affleck that are advocating for a special envoy in the Congo.
Prompted by its recent findings confirming the existence of multiple forms of modern slavery in mining areas of eastern Congo, FTS is actively pressuring the US Government to appoint a Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region. Stimulating this move is FTS’ conviction that the current administration is in dire need of stronger direction to spearhead an effective response to the complex conflict and associated atrocities afflicting the DRC.
PROBLEMS WITH CURRENT SYSTEM
A key criticism leveled at the U.S. government relates to the dispersed nature of its present approach to the Great Lakes region, with responsibility divided among a labyrinth of offices within the State Department, National Security Council, Department of Defense, USAID, as well as the various US embassies in central Africa. As David Sullivan at Enough Project points out,
“even within the Africa bureau, the basket of issues that could and should be coordinated by a single, empowered envoy are instead spread out among three different deputy assistant secretaries, each with their own additional workloads related to their respective regions.”
Consequently, while many in the U.S. government are willing and eager to address the crisis in Congo, efforts have remained piecemeal.