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HAVING just returned from Oxfam Ireland’s programme in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), I have been struck by something extraordinary. Amid all the discussion on the Lisbon Treaty, I noted little if any talk about the fate of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
The humanitarian situation in eastern Congo is one of the worst in the world.
More than 5.4 million people — equivalent to the entire population of Ireland — have died since the war started in 1998, the majority from lack of access to food or healthcare.
With 45,000 dying each month, this is the world’s deadliest conflict since the Second World War — the civilian death rate is much higher than Afghanistan, Darfur or Iraq — yet we rarely hear about it.
Nor the fact that the EU has a critical peacekeeping presence there.
The EU and its various member states have done a great deal in recent months to support the peace process. An agreement was signed by armed groups in January 2008, but the violence has continued — scores of civilians have been killed and hundreds of women raped by militia groups or soldiers from the national army.
Urgent action is needed to get the peace deal back on track. This must include safeguards to protect civilians. The EU’s mission should support this with military observers, monitors, mentors and patrols being deployed to promote observance of international humanitarian law and human rights law.
Meanwhile, every effort must be made to secure the disarmament of rebel groups and other militias. But simple disarmament is only part of the story; demobilised soldiers must be fully supported to return to civilian life.
The EU, as one of DRC’s largest donors, should support the development and funding of a national reintegration strategy. This strategy must promote social and economic interdependency and also provide for the active involvement of women, as both ex-combatants themselves and community members disproportionately affected by the violence.
When the current furore over Lisbon settles down, the EU will still be faced with its responsibilities in Congo. Let us not abandon these people to more years of pain, loss and terror.
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