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Coat of Arms

Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development


NUMBER 117 
l
1st SESSION 
l
42nd PARLIAMENT 

EVIDENCE

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

  (1555)  

[English]

     Good afternoon, everybody. I'm going to call this meeting to order.
    We have guests with us today who will provide testimony for our study on the situation in Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Our guests today are here specifically on the situation in the DRC.
    We are very pleased to welcome Fredrick Mwenengabo. He is the executive director, ambassador to the United Nations of civil society organizations and a peace and human rights advocate. He is with the East and Central African Association for Indigenous Rights. Welcome.
    We also have Marc Kapenda, who is a professor. Welcome, Professor Kapenda.
    Anthony Njoku is going to be here as well.
    I believe we're going to hear from Professor Kapenda and Mr. Mwenengabo, and then we will open it up to questions, which I know my colleagues will have lots of, and the three of you can participate.
    Given that we're running a little short on time, if you can keep your remarks to about eight minutes, that would be great. Thank you.
    Mr. Mwenengabo, would you begin, please?
    Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for inviting me to appear before this honourable Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to talk about the situations in Somalia, South Sudan and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
    I accept this opportunity with respect, honour and humility. I hope my contribution will contribute to peace building and development in DRC and in Africa as a whole.
    Mr. Chair, we may agree that the situation in Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are very similar. They are all fragile states and they are characterized by weak government, institutionalized corruption, mass killings of civilians and abuse against women and girls. However, with your permission, let me focus on DRC. In the development of my opinions, you will understand the reasons why.
    Before I give my witness opinion, please allow me to express gratitude to Canada for the chance to be part of this compassionate nation. I'm proud to be a Canadian. I also know that there are many new Canadians who feel like me. It is for that reason that I sit here today to build a bridge between the DRC, a country where I was born, and Canada, a country I now call home.
    The DRC has suffered a lot. It has suffered from numerous wars and genocides since the time of King Leopold, who alone killed as many as 10 million of 20 million Congolese at the turn of the 20th century as he plundered and pillaged the country. In 1960, when the Congo gained independence from Belgium and Patrice Lumumba became its first ever elected prime minister, a conspiracy by the United States Central Intelligence Agency—the CIA—and Belgium led first to the sponsoring of a secessionist movement and then ultimately to his assassination, barely one year into his term.
    Then we were given Mobutu Sese Seko as our president of the country. He equally plunged the country into corruption, causing the collapse of all institutions, and the DRC became what it is for now.
    Mr. Chair, I know I don't have enough time, but my sitting here is really to appeal to this honourable committee. I would have loved to read all my comments, but I'm not going to read them. From time to time, when I speak about the situation in the Congo, I become very emotional. I will request your indulgence if that happens to me. Already, I can feel it.
    The Congo is in very bad shape as we talk. From 1996 to 2001, the Congo lost over six million civilians. Picture it: six million. Take that number out of Canada. Think about it. These are our sisters, our mothers and our brothers. If I was one of them I wouldn't be sitting here. It's real people.
    From 2001 to 2003, three million people were slaughtered. Today, on a daily basis, 3,000 people are dying. They are dying from brutality, violence, wars and related issues such as diseases, lack of infrastructure and so on.

  (1600)  

     When Mobutu became an embarrassment, we allowed Rwanda to go. We supported an invasion led by Rwanda and Uganda to go to the Congo. This is how we lost five million to six million people.
    We went on. We supported the second invasion, and we formed different rebel groups. This is how we lost all of these people.
    The Congo has gained a dubious recognition as the world capital of rape. The UN reports that 48 women are raped every hour, and this is only for the cases that are reported. These are our mothers, our sisters, our wives and so on.
    I may stand here as someone with experience on Congo, as someone with an understanding of the issues of Congo, but equally, I sit here as a victim because I'm in that picture myself. Without going very far, I'm telling you that Congo is going to have a catastrophe that has not been seen, if there are no changes for that country.
    I'm sure you'll ask your questions, but I have a few recommendations that I'll proposed to this honourable committee. These recommendations include creating a transitional government, because there will not be any proper elections. There is no institution that is legal that is going to organize those elections.
    Second, I'm requesting this honourable committee to help us and to work with the Congolese to reform the justice of Congo. From that transition, we can have disarmament, demobilization and the rehabilitation of combatants. Then we can have an opportunity to promote democracy and civic education, and therefore, to organize proper elections.
    Today, Kabila has refused to accommodate the international community to participate in the Congolese elections and to help us. He has wanted to remain in power—actually, he is in power today—beyond his constitutional mandate.
    I'm requesting of Canada, in our own best short-term and medium-term interests, that we help Congo. I've submitted my views in writing and I've detailed what the help of Canada will bring to Congo, to a nation with such immense opportunities, which will give us a chance to realize these within the population and with its natural resources.

[Translation]

    In conclusion, may I add that I will answer any questions you may have regarding the proposals and recommendations I have just made. I think this is in the interest of Canada.
    I am asking Canada to approach the troubles in the Congo with in mind Canada's image, interest, honour and responsibilities both at home and abroad.
    Thank you.

[English]

    Thank you very much.
    For the record, your remarks are online, and we'll make sure that they're redistributed again to all of the members. We do have your whole statement online.
    Professor Kapenda, we also have a copy of your remarks that have been distributed. If you want to summarize those, that would be good, and then we can go into questions.

  (1605)  

    Thank you very much for the opportunity to be part of this testimony.
    I would like to make my presentation. It will be in French.
     There might be some differences between what I'm saying and the summary that you have received. I wanted to restrict things, so that I could present within the time you have given us.

[Translation]

    I will begin by describing the situation in the DRC.
    The DRC has 80 million inhabitants spread out over a vast territory. It is the second-largest African country, just after Algeria. Its 80 million hectares of arable land can feed the African continent, and part of the world.
    The DRC has also been called a ''geological scandal'', given the rich diversity of minerals it has, among other things: coltan, gold, copper, oil, diamonds, silver, zinc, uranium, manganese, tin, germanium, radium, bauxite, iron ore, coal, hydroelectricity, wood, and so on. And despite that, a recent United Nations human development index ranked it 178th out of 188 countries. This makes the DRC one of the poorest countries on the planet.
    How can a country so rich in natural and human resources be so poor? The recurrent reason for the DRC's delayed development is the authoritarian political system, which is both repressive and permissive.
    As opposed to the ideal type of state described by Max Weber, the Congolese state still bears the marks of the patrimonialist system that has existed from its origins in 1885, when the Berlin Conference made it the property of King Leopold II without the consent of its inhabitants.
    Since then, despite independence and the presence of Congolese people at the head of the country today, the economy is still outward-looking. The political system, which appears to be republican, is in reality neo-patrimonial, that is to say, authoritarian and characterized by a high level of generalized violence. The prosperity of organized gangs that are there in addition to the rife militia and other private, highly-armed protection services bear witness to the country's failure in the first duty of the state, which is to provide security for its citizens.
    And to those indicators you must add the important and sustained role of appointments based on favours and not merit, at various administrative levels. Moreover, the law is applied differently, according to the category of citizens involved. In addition, there is blind repression of peaceful demonstrations.
    Furthermore, the development and implementation of public policy is frequently aligned with corporate interests. The authority of the state is missing at several levels. This is a state where repression cultivates intimidation and discourages public participation. It is not concerned with the social contract, which in a republic gives the state the mission of ensuring the safety of persons and their property. Instead of that, personal enrichment, corruption and predation continue to prevail over ethics and legality.
    The authoritarianism and permissiveness of the state, as described above, has a negative effect on all areas of life, political, economic and social. The centralization of power and the absence of political participation that accompanies it deprive the country of the opportunity for structural change conducive to developing the economy. When the economy languishes, so does society.
    Let's talk about the social and humanitarian repercussions, more specifically.
    Two decades of conflicts have left behind armed groups, foreign and local militia that still exploit our minerals, in addition to terrorizing the population. In the east of the country, in Beni, more particularly, and in the Kasai region, the knifing massacre of populations by armed groups continues despite the presence of the national army and of MONUSCO.
    The unemployment rate in the DRC is estimated to be 51%, which explains the exodus of the Congolese who are looking for a better life, and have moved to neighbouring countries or elsewhere abroad these past years.
    According to a UN estimate from January 2018, there are 540,000 refugees in the DRC, and 4.5 million displaced persons. Many of these were forced to choose exile because of the insecurity there, as is the case in Kasai. When shortly thereafter, asylum seekers were expelled from the host country, as was the case recently when Angola expelled some 250,000 Congolese refugees, this generated a serious humanitarian crisis that requires assistance.
    In short, the Congolese state, rather than encouraging national productivity and developing markets that would be profitable for the country, has a permissive attitude which favours the illicit exploitation of resources. A change in government is needed.
    If the elections announced for December 23 could take place in a transparent and credible way, the political change the population wishes to see, and the rule of law promised by parties such as the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, the UDSP, might well see the light of day, with the end of Kabila's mandate.
    As Canadians, we must demonstrate the forward-looking responsibility discussed by Hans Jonas, so that the knowledge and means our society has at its disposal are used to facilitate the political change on the horizon in the Congo.
     There are other effective things Canada can do. A Canadian law should hold Canadian organizations to account so that they behave ethically in their activities abroad, such as in the Congo. Canada's reputation is at stake.
    Canada can see to it that armed groups in the eastern part of the country in Kasai and Katanga are opposed by international forces such as MONUSCO forces.
    Given the presence of voting machines, the corrupt electoral lists, and the refusal of DRC authorities to accept international observers, Canada should not rush to recognize the results of the election planned for December 23, if that election is won by Kabila's anointed successor.
    From a humanitarian perspective, displaced persons need transportation, food and housing. Canada can mitigate that suffering.
    Should the election be postponed for any reason, we could invite Mr. Kabila, who is at the end of his mandate, to resign, so as to leave—

  (1610)  

[English]

     Professor Kapenda, I'm going to have to ask if you can wrap up in the next minute. I do want to leave time for questions. We're unfortunately rushed.
    We do have your comments, which we will get translated and distribute.
    If you can wrap up, then we can have members ask questions. Thank you.

[Translation]

    With its long experience in organizing rightful elections, Canada could perhaps offer its assistance, over time, to train observers, by asking for the participation of Congolese persons who have settled in Canada and are willing to help in this area.
    Thank you.
    Thank you.

[English]

    Let's go right into questions.
    MP Aboultaif, go ahead, please.
    Thank you very much.
    The question follows the last note of Dr. Kapenda, regarding the election on December 23, if I am to truly believe that this is the date when the election is going to take place.
    We have the UDPS, which is the Union for Democracy and Social Progress. It's a political party in the DRC. It was founded on February 15, 1982. I also believe that there's a UDPS Federation of Canada, which I believe you are involved in.
    My understanding is that this is part of the basic organization of the outside world. Within the UDPS in Canada, the members are grouped into sections that represent the geographic boundaries of each province in Canada. There are representative of the UDPS in Canada and they are appointed by the party president.
    What roles do the international wings of a political party play in the political system back home? How are the diaspora from the DRC to participate in your electoral system? What are the challenges that they will be facing, based on their actions?

  (1615)  

[Translation]

     I may have a problem with the interpretation, but I think you understood me.
    I will explain as best I can the role UDSP representatives play outside of the country.
    UDSP Canada is a civil organization based in Canada whose purpose is to inform the Government of Canada and the Canadian public about the situation in the Congo, and it tries to influence them in the right direction, which is the direction of change.
    The UDSP has been fighting since 1982 for political change in the Congo. The party advocates for a respectful, law-abiding state, one that will respect not only human rights, but also the normal missions of a country, the first of which should be to ensure the safety of its citizens. If such a state could be set up, we would see good participation of civil society in the economy and the proper functioning of the country.
    To my knowledge, this is also what UDSP militants advocate in other countries. They generally work in co-operation with other Congolese groups, even if they are not part of UDSP.
    I will now answer the second question concerning the dangers these people face when they go back to the country.
    Some of them are well-known for having spoken out openly or opposed the country's political system. Generally, there is a file on those people in the country. If they go back there, they may well be harmed, and may be kidnapped or killed in a way that cannot be traced back to the state. It will be made to look like an accident or a kidnapping; and then people will say that the person just disappeared. Those are the risks those people face. However, there are less visible actors who can go back to the country without running into too many problems.
    I don't know if I answered your question properly. If you need further clarification, I can continue.

[English]

     Thank you.
    MP Saini, go ahead, please.

  (1620)  

    Thank you very much, all three of you, for being here today.
    Mr. Mwenengabo, I was really touched by your remarks. Actually, I feel the same emotion and the same sadness when it comes to the DRC, because of all the countries in Africa, it is probably the one that has the most potential.
    If we look at the current political climate right now, you have elections coming up on December 23. You have three completely different characters running for the presidency. Whether you have Shadary, who is being supported by Kabila; whether you have Martin Fayulu, who does not have broad-based support; or whether you have Tshisekedi, who does not have broad-based support, ultimately, in the last 58 years of the DRC, there has been no peaceful transition from one political power to the other political power.
    If you look at the situation right now, it is not one armed conflict, there are hundreds of armed conflicts that are going on with small groups from village to village. But the potential there, if you look at it right now.... The estimate from the IMF is that there is 24 trillion U.S. dollars' worth of minerals and precious metals there.
    The DRC is not—
    Sorry...?
     That's why they're fighting.
    Yes, but the fighting is beyond that, right?
    Potentially with the kind of resources it has.... What we are doing so far has not worked. There has to be some greater ambition than doing things piecemeal by piecemeal. I know my friend thinks it's beyond that, but would it not be that we need something bigger or grander to solve the problem?
    Initially, there would be an upfront cost, but over the course of time, that could be recouped. If there was a more organized approach to the economy, more transparency—something the equivalent of what happened after the Second World War when it came to the Marshall plan, where we had all these forces who came in, solved the problem once and for all—that could be the jewel that could uplift all of Africa, including the countries that are continuous on those borders.
    Should we think with that level of ambition?
    Mr. Raj, let me thank you, because you've really summarized the ideas I have. You're a world player, and if we can all think this way, I think Congo can be a peaceful land and a land of opportunity. Why do I say this? It's because, as you have rightly put it, the situation in Congo has been there for the last 50 to 100 years, and all approaches that we've taken, if we say they are successful, then we don't recognize all of these millions of people who are dying. We have failed. For us to be successful, we need new approaches, new momentum to recreate this Congo and we will all benefit.
    What do I mean by what I'm saying? I actually spoke about transition. What I meant by transition is exactly that. You mentioned all political parties, and we've been recycling all of the same people—politicians—over and over for 50 years, but we are expecting different solutions while we're just recycling those problems. None of the people you've mentioned have not been a player. They have participated in the destruction of Congo.
    I want to suggest to this honourable committee that the solution for Congo is to make it, under UN resolution, a protectorate state of the UN. This protectorate state will give a chance for the youth, who have been suffering, who have everything to lose and who have everything to gain, to start rebuilding their country. They will work with the UN. They will work with international partners, and those are the only people who can organize elections. These parties we have cannot properly organize elections. Kabila refused to leave power. He took his own crony, his uncle, to re-run, and he took power from his father, so what will really happen?
    This protectorate state that I'm talking about has worked everywhere. There are many examples and Congo is not a standalone example. For instance, we did this in East Timor. The United Nations helped to create that transitional government. We had this in Eastern Slavonia, and now we have it in Kosovo and Canada is helping through NATO.

  (1625)  

    There's a question I have, and I have very limited time and I appreciate your comments, and I appreciate the understanding of being more ambitious.... The only problem is that you have other state actors who are involved in DRC who may not see eye-to-eye with us and who have a greater infiltration and penetration in the economy.
    How do we bring all these people around the table to have a discussion where human rights, women's rights, indigenous rights, environmental rights, all those line up in such a way that there's no conflict between what the UN or what the west wants to see and wants to see the DRC develop into, and what some other state actors—currently China—that may not have the same mindset as us want?
     We need to support the Congolese. Every time the Congolese have wanted to take those opportunities, they have been suppressed. I can tell you in 2015, in January, when people tried to do a peaceful demonstration against the Kabila regime, those demonstrations were heavily reprimanded: 47 people were killed. After, in a mass grave, they found 425 bodies of people who were killed. The international community did not stand by us Congolese.
    With regard to your question about how we bring stakeholders in the Congo—those who have interests—I can tell you that the people who have interests in the Congo are not the politicians. With the politicians, their interest is their money and the power to control.
    The people who have all to lose are the 70%, the young—youth below 30—who have never worked, who have only known suffering, who are resilient; and millions of women, who are being raped on a daily basis, who have nothing to hope for apart from prayers, apart from hopes that tomorrow might be better.
    I'm saying that if we look from that perspective, we have religious actors, for example, who are a strong institution. We have well-meaning Congolese, and—
    Thank you. I'm going to have to move to the next question. Hopefully, you'll get a chance to answer then.
    MP Duncan, the floor is yours.
    Mr. Kapenda, I look at your list of recommendations, and they're definitely a list of all the things that need to be done to stabilize any nation, including Congo. The problem is, how is any of that possible until you have a stable government?
    I'm looking at the recommendation for a transitional government. I know a number of nations go through that. Sometimes after the election, the vice-president takes over. There's a transitional government for a while.
    My colleagues have said that there doesn't appear to be any one candidate in the coming election, except for the one people don't want, because he's the one creating all the terror—at least the government-driven terror. How would you recommend that Canada would be involved in supporting a transitional government? Have you put that recommendation to the United Nations?
    I note that there's already a huge investment by the UN in peacekeepers in the stabilization mission, yet they haven't been able to have any effect. My understanding would be that the support for a stable, peaceful nation is going to have to come from the people of Congo. Surely it's going to have to take somebody in the Congo to bring everybody together. I can't imagine some external force coming in—Canada, the United States, any other nation—and imposing some kind of transitional government and that going over well.
    I would welcome what you mean by a transitional government. In addition, I'll just throw out a couple of questions to you.
    Absolutely, there needs to be references to the International Criminal Court. First of all, you have to get a hold of those people, get them out of the country and bring them to the court. Certainly we want to have retraining for the child soldiers. However, with a lot of the obviously really great platform that you have for reform for the country, you need to have the stabilization first.
    I guess what I would ask is what you're asking of Canada that Canada could do alone, or are you asking us to make requests of others to do something, for example, towards the transitional government?

  (1630)  

     Is that question to me or the others?
    I would welcome it from both of you.

[Translation]

    I think I will begin and take advantage of the opportunity to go back to the previous question.
    I would like to say that the current problem in the Congo is the state, the government. When I talk about the state, I mean the government, the political system that is in place. As I said, that system has not changed much since Leopold II, or since independence. With the elimination of Joseph Kasavubu and the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, who was the symbol of independence, the country quickly went back to having incompetent leaders. Those leaders are not chosen by the population, but generally imposed from the outside, and that is where the problem lies.
    However, there are alternate solutions. Indeed, contrary to what my colleague said, and what I just heard, there are a number of options in Congo. We mentioned parties like the UDSP, who are still waiting in the wings, and are critical of the poor functioning of the state. They have an alternate plan to offer. They want to bring in democracy, the rule of law, the respect of the Constitution, and so on. These people exist; they are real.
    On this, you have to be careful about appearances. You can see, for instance, that Félix Tshisekedi is young and new, as is Martin Fayulu. However, Félix Tshisekedi is not only Félix Tshisekedi, but also the leader of the UDSP. He has a plan, the UDSP project. That party is very well organized in the Congo. It has enough leaders that could bring about rapid change in the Congo, even if they took over the government by themselves.
    If you think that the issue in the country is the state, that political change is indeed possible, and that there are people available to bring it about, I don't see where the problem lies. The problem is the state, and it is that same state which today sees to it that elections do not unfold normally. However, that other government is in the wings and is fighting for better elections. These people have fought for the elimination of the voting machine, which they believe is an inadequate system. They think that because they believe it makes cheating possible. They fought for the electoral list to be reviewed. The Organisation internationale de la Francophonie audited the electoral list and concluded that it was indeed corrupt.
    It's a struggle. We are asking for the support of a country like Canada for pressure to be exerted so that we can have better elections.
    So, when—

  (1635)  

[English]

     Thank you, Professor Kapenda. I'm sorry, but I need to cut you off there. We have one last questioner.
    MP Vandenbeld, please.

[Translation]

    As you know, the Congo is close to my heart, since I directed a program to encourage dialogue among the political parties during the 2011 elections. Those elections were neither transparent nor credible.
    Is it still possible that a credible and transparent election could be held on December 23? In addition, do you think a consensus could emerge around a common opposition candidate?
    Mr. Wangabo said that a transitional government would be preferable, but that had been planned for in the December 31 agreement. However, the only result was that the election was postponed.
    My question is for Mr. Kapenda.

[English]

     Before that, could I just add a question?

[Translation]

    In fact, I only have three minutes, which I share with my colleague, and I would really like to hear Mr. Kapenda's opinion about the elections.
    Mr. Kapenda, could Canada help the DRC to hold credible elections?
    There are issues with the upcoming Congo election because of the facts we outlined.
    First of all, people don't want the voting machine. We have to exert enough pressure to get rid of the voting machine and have printed ballots. Those things can be done quickly. Voting ballots can be printed in one day. It really does not require much time. Since the voting machine does not inspire trust, we need to eliminate it and replace it with ballots.
    Also, even if the electoral list was not revised, the elections could work if there were enough observers to watch the process and ensure that fake electors do not vote. The electoral list is said to be corrupt, that is to say that it contains fictional electors. However, if there is enough oversight to prevent fictional electors from coming in, it would be possible to get around that fraud and to have acceptable elections. The election can be made more credible thanks to the witnesses. It is possible.
    We know that the problem is not insoluble. It can be resolved if enough pressure is brought to bear to get rid of the election machine, and if observers can play their role in a valid way.

[English]

    Thank you, Professor Kapenda.
    My other colleague has a quick question to ask. Please go ahead.
    In the testimony, we heard about mass graves, mass killings and millions dead. One of you gentlemen said that the DRC is blessed with natural resources, but it also seems to be a misfortune.
    Professor Kapenda, you referenced blood metals. I think you said coltan. In 2009-10, I had contacted Blackberry, because that was a metal they were using in their devices. Canada clearly is looking for ways to help the DRC, but most Canadians don't realize we've contributed to the horrors. This information has been available for over a decade, yet in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last year, Blackberry agreed in a compulsory disclosure that they continued to use conflict minerals, a portion of which may have originated in the DRC, and listed it as “necessary conflict minerals”. In many cases they have unknown origin.
    Professor Kapenda, you referenced coltan. Canadian industry and businesses are implicated. As a Canadian from the Congo, would you like to comment on this topic?

  (1640)  

[Translation]

    I will be very brief, and my colleagues can complete my answer.
    The enterprises are subject to an ethics principle known as the SRE, that is to say the social responsibility of enterprises. In the Congo at this time, the state deals in kickbacks and corruption to allow any enterprise to operate as it wishes. Thanks to the social responsibility of enterprises policy, we expect that foreign companies that exploit DRC resources will at least contribute to the development of the local population.

[English]

     Thank you. Unfortunately I have to cut things off there because our other witnesses are here.
    Gentlemen, I want to thank the three of you for being here and providing such compelling testimony today. These are not easy issues. I thank you for your passion and for taking the time to join us.
    With that, we're going to break for one minute to switch in our next witnesses. If members can stay in their seats, or get back to their seats within a minute, that would be fantastic.

  (1640)  


  (1645)  

     Thank you very much. I want to welcome our two witnesses for our second panel.
    We have by video conference Julienne Lusenge, president and co-founder, and director of the Fund for Congolese Women. Also here joining us this afternoon we have Yvette Yende-Ashiri, research co-ordinator, University of Ottawa. I think because we have Ms. Lusenge on the phone, maybe we'll begin with her.
     Can you hear us?

[Translation]

[English]

    If we can have you provide remarks for about seven minutes, that would be fantastic. Please go ahead and then we'll move to Ms. Yende-Ashiri.

[Translation]

    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    Thank you for the invitation to appear before the members of the committee to give my testimony. This gives me the opportunity to talk about the situation of women in my country, and also about the needs of our population in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
    Canada has been supporting my country for several decades. Canada has come to the aid of the survivors of sexual violence, a plague that ravages and destroys the dignity of Congolese women, our dignity, my dignity. Canada supports several projects in Congo. Our organization, the Congolese Women's Fund, is currently executing a project funded by the Women, Peace and Security Program, entitled “Renforcement des capacités des femmes sur la médiation des conflits électoraux en République démocratique du Congo”, to strengthen women's skills in mediating electoral conflicts in the DRC. We are in the midst of an electoral process at this time. As we speak today, in the context of that project, we have begun training 30 electoral conflict mediators, 45 observers and 45 candidates. We are grateful to the people of Canada, to its government, and to its Parliament.
    Today we are discussing conflict, peace and security. It is important to include women in all steps in the resolution of conflicts and in the peace process, whether village women or city women. Since violence reigns over our daily lives, we Congolese women are trying to force open the door so that we can participate and take our place in the peace process, pursuant to United Nations Resolution 1325. Armed conflicts continue to dehumanize the Congolese people.
    In light of this, we are asking Canada to work for peace, not only by offering financial aid to mitigate the consequences of this violence, notably by supporting the project to fight against sexual violence—and we are very grateful for that help—but also by providing men in the commands and United Nations troops to fight these anti-values and contribute effectively to the establishment of peace.
    We have been through atrocious wars for more than 20 years in the DRC. It is more than time for Canada to really get involved and throw all of its weight behind ending these interminable wars. Armed groups or rebels from neighbouring countries like Rwanda or Uganda should go back to their countries, and we want Canada to help us defend that point of view and support our efforts so that they are sent back home. A program to demobilize local militia should be supported by Canada. Your country will, however, have to see to it that women take part in the development of that program, to avoid past errors that occurred in other programs set up by other countries.
    Canada must support women's associations directly and trust Congolese organizations, so that the funding we have heard about, from the feminist fund, is used to support the efforts of Congolese women.
    In order to resolve conflicts, women have to be involved in the peace negotiation process and in politics. Canada must provide significant financial and technical support for the efforts made by Congolese women, and for the organizations that are working for peace, pursuant to Resolution 1325. Canada must also facilitate exchanges with other women in the world and in Canada about their experience. Moreover, Canada should support training for young people and women on peaceful cohabitation.
    Canada should strengthen its influence in the Great Lakes region and ask leaders to respect their commitments to peace and non-aggression and the fight against sexual violence. It should also support the peoples' efforts in advocating for democracy.

  (1650)  

    Despite this bleak picture, the Congolese people, especially the women, remain hopeful. They're working tirelessly and with a smile. We want to change our situation and build a real democracy to reach the targets set out in the sustainable development objectives by 2030. That's why the Congolese people, especially women, are working each day to ensure credible, free, transparent and democratic elections. We don't want any election that could plunge us back into even more deplorable situations. We want the system to change. We're asking Canada to support this hope.
    Democracy brings peace and security. Canada must help the Congolese people in their quest for free, transparent, democratic and peaceful elections. Today, the Congolese people want and deserve clean elections, with a level playing field, real choices and real competition. We're asking Canada to work with its allies and local partners to support Congo and address the important aspects of the electoral process, such as the security of the vote and fraud prevention. Through its support of major observation missions, Canada has always been a leader in promoting free and fair elections around the world.
    In terms of respect for human rights, Canada must help us by clearly expressing its position on the serious human rights violations occurring in the DRC. Canada must work with its partners to put pressure on the authorities in the DRC and on anyone who commits human rights violations or sexual violence or who pillages resources. This includes the neighbouring countries that, in doing so, perpetuate the wars.
    Justice strengthens peace, and peace is fuelled by justice. Canada must support the restoration of justice, since legal dysfunction and impunity fuel conflicts. Canada must also make significant efforts to help the judges and lawyers who support reform and to improve access to a fair justice system for ordinary Congolese people, especially women survivors of conflict and sexual violence.
    We're asking Canada to become involved and to support free elections, an independent judiciary, a strong civil society and free media. These are the essential components of democracy, where accountable and transparent decision-making is the norm and where people and their rights are respected and protected. This will address serious human rights violations and build democracy, peace and development.
    A new Congolese Women's Fund project will help the associations provide access to legal aid for the most vulnerable women survivors, work for peace so that they can also benefit...

  (1655)  

[English]

     Ms. Lusenge.

[Translation]

    I'm almost finished, Mr. Chair.

[English]

    We have the written form of your testimony. All members have it, so I'm going to suggest, because we want to have time for lots of questions, that if you can just take another 30 seconds to finish off, then we'll go to the other witness. We do have your written comments, though.

[Translation]

    I'll conclude.
    Canada has supported long-term projects in our country. We want this support to continue to ensure that we women can reform the country, that human rights are respected and that the empowerment of Congolese women can become a reality.
    Thank you.
    Thank you.

[English]

    Now we're going to move to Ms. Yende-Ashiri, please.
     Mr. Chairman, members of the standing committee, ladies and gentlemen, bonjour, mbote, hujambo, betu'abu, hello. It is my honour to be standing here in front of you.
    My name is Yvette Yende-Ashiri, and I'm an Afro-French-Canadian woman. I'm an advocate for women's and young girls' rights, and for social justice. I was born in Zaire, which is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo. When I pronounce the word “democratic”, I always ask myself and wonder what is democratic in Congo.
    I am here today to be the voice of many women and young girls who don't have a voice. I believe, just as Julienne Lusenge said, that the solutions are in the hands of the women. Women need to be and must be at the table where decisions are taken. Women are the ones who should decide their fate. Women must be the ones leading the country. Women must be respected and considered as equal human beings, like you and me. The solutions will come from women and no one else.
    Congo is a country that has been living under the domination of colonization up to now. I consider that this country, which is my home country, is still going through unfairness, especially when it comes to the status of women and young girls. What follows is an extract of the message from women and young girls from the city of Beni in North Kivu, addressed to MONUSCO. I will read this in French.

[Translation]

Our first message is: [...] we are the girls, the women of the city of Beni. We want peace in Beni. That is our first message! We want peace!
As an international community represented here by MONUSCO, you have certain mandates that are recognized and that you must fulfill to protect the people of [Beni] from the killings. [...] Resolution 1334, which gives you the mandate to contact the rebels and tell them to cease fire. We are asking what are you waiting for, what are you waiting for, how many massacres, how many bodies, how many deaths before you tell the rebels [to] cease fire?
[...] We are saying that [...] we have children who have been kidnapped, who are in the bush. [...] What are these children doing [in the bush]? [...]
[...] 60% [of the] rebels in the parks [...] are not [C]ongolese. [...] Only 40% of the rebels are [C]ongolese. We want to know [...] have you ever wondered how these people came from elsewhere to reach [Beni]. Have you ever wondered about the supply of [weapons], and what measures you have implemented to [control] the [...] supply of weapon[s]?

  (1700)  

[English]

    This message was addressed to MONUSCO. As you can hear, the women of Congo have been experiencing violence for more than 24 years. Their bodies have been used as war weapons. Congolese women are very resilient women. Congolese women need a change in Congo. We always wonder why we cannot put an end to the war in Congo.
     I heard earlier that we were talking about Bosnia. I do believe that if we dig further, with the help of Canada, we can put an end to this war.
    What is behind this war? Why is it that the country of Congo is suffering so much?

[Translation]

    The Democratic Republic of Congo has suffered for a long time as a result of the proliferation and illicit flow of small arms and light weapons and the lack of regulation of the weapons control mechanisms. The Arms Trade Treaty, or ATT, was adopted, signed and ratified, but Canada and the DRC didn't sign it. However, we commend Canada for its efforts to join the ATT, because at least Canada recognizes that the ATT sets a real global standard that helps prevent human rights violations and save lives.
    The purpose of the ATT is to protect people from weapons. The ATT ensures that countries effectively regulate the international arms trade to prevent weapons from being used to support terrorism, international organized crime, gender-based violence and violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.
    Our recommendations are as follows.
    First, Canada must put pressure on the government of the DRC and encourage it to join the Arms Trade Treaty to prevent human rights violations and save lives. The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, a member of Parliament and Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated as follows: “We must continue to encourage other countries to join this treaty, and we must ensure it is properly implemented globally.”
    Canada must also show its involvement in disarming armed forces and groups that operate in the DRC. Despite the presence of MONUSCO, we recommend that the Canadian government propose that the Security Council send a quick reaction military force that's similar to the Operation Artemis force, in order to quickly disarm the armed groups in the eastern DRC, since there are daily casualties.
    The next recommendation concerns mining. The DRC is a victim of its natural resources, which are a source of envy. The presence of Canadian mining companies mustn't create misery for the Congolese people. The Canadian government must ensure that the socio-economic and environmental benefits of the presence of Canadian companies help improve the situation of Congolese people, and must also ensure the security of mining areas.
    I'll conclude by stating the following. No war means no rape or child soldiers.
    Thank you.

  (1705)  

[English]

    Thank you very much.
    We will move to the first question with MP Aboultaif.
    Thank you very much to both of you.
    You finished where I would like to start, on sexual violence. It's a big disaster, and a scourge in the region with what's happening there. We know that MONUSCO is supposed to be the United Nations organization for stabilization in the DRC.
    Talking about the election on December 23, the question is going to be for both of you, and please participate as you wish.
    The sexual violence that's happened there is a very important issue. It's not even on the ballot box among the parties that are running. MONUSCO is supposed to have some influence in that fashion, at least to be able to push such an important issue forward to be on the ballot box so people start talking about it. It's beyond the economy and beyond the money. We know that the country has resources, and I think that the focus should be there.
    Since both of you, the WCWFF with Ms. Ashiri, or the SOFEPADI with Ms. Lusenge, are both very active in that area, I would appreciate a brief on this area. What's happening on this topic when it comes to the election, and what's going on? How much are you hearing from the international community on that topic?
    This brief from both of you to this committee will be greatly appreciated. Whoever wants to start first, we'll be happy to hear from you.

[Translation]

    Mrs. Lusenge, would you like to start?
    Thank you for the question.
    We've been working on these issues for a number of years now. We meet with survivors all day, every day. I asked my colleagues in Beni to close the office, because the situation there had become too unbearable as a result of the massacres, the Allied Democratic Forces and the Ebola virus. That day, my colleagues told me that they couldn't close the office because they had three new cases of sexual violence.
    Sexual violence is currently on the rise and is increasing in all villages and cities. Why? As my colleague said, if there were no wars or armed groups, sexual violence would decrease or become less frequent. These wars have destroyed our society. Now, there are no longer any morals or social norms. People behave as they wish. Both civilians and solders commit rape because they can do so with impunity. The justice system doesn't work. The administration is virtually non-existent. Our country has been completely destroyed.
    We've even recorded cases involving MONUSCO officers. Why? The international community sends forces from countries where women's rights aren't respected. When these people commit crimes or sexual violence in our country, they're simply sent back to their country. They aren't punished and no remedy is sought for the victims. This shows impunity.
    In addition, the Congolese justice system is dysfunctional. Some judges commit to working. In a few cases, the victims were able to access justice, we won our case and the perpetrators were convicted. However, even if the perpetrators are sent to prison, they manage to leave prison within a short amount of time. They return to the communities and they threaten the activists, lawyers and victims.
    There are also the terrorists, such as the Allied Democratic Forces or the Maï-Maï. All armed groups that enter a village will rape the women to punish the people and dehumanize our community. To end this pattern of sexual violence, Canada and the other allied countries must be able to send forces to combat all these armed groups. It's necessary to start with the groups that come from abroad, the Allied Democratic Forces, who are real terrorists. Every day, they slit throats and cut open our people. The Interahamwe and FDLR must return to Rwanda. These Rwandan peoples must return home. We can then demobilize the Maï-Maï. We women must be involved in the development of a demobilization program. The other programs were planned without our presence at the table. Some important factors that could have stopped the recruitment of child soldiers weren't taken into account.
    I'll let my colleague continue to elaborate on this issue before I speak about the December 23 elections.

  (1710)  

    Thank you.

[English]

     What Julienne said is exactly what is going on in the Congo. I still believe that we need real intervention by Canada into disarmament in DRC. To us, it is the only way we will be able to end the violence on women that is used as a weapon of war.

[Translation]

    As Mrs. Lusenge was explaining, the purpose of the violence is really to terrorize. People will enter a village, rape the mother, rape the little girl and kill the father. The woman is then left on her own and she often has no moral support. Rape is often seen as something shameful that taints the entire family. As a result, the woman will leave the area and leave the place free. The rebels can then return to pillage the resources. This happens every day, and it has almost become the norm. If you ask some people why they do it, you'll see that they don't even know. They do it, and they find it normal. It's very important to have Canada's support to end the presence of rebels in the DRC, especially rebels who aren't Congolese.

[English]

    Thank you very much.
    MP Vandenbeld, go ahead, please.
    Thank you to both of you.
    Yvette, you mentioned the resilience of the Congolese women. I can say first-hand that the women of the Congo are among the most courageous I have ever met. It's also very troubling, because when I led a training school for women candidates in the DRC and I asked how many of them had faced sexual violence because of their involvement in politics, about 80% of them put up their hands.
    The sexual violence in Congo is not just being used as a weapon of war. It's also being used as a weapon to prevent the participation of women in decision-making, in political processes. It's a particularly horrific form of political violence as well.
    What can Canada do specifically in terms of the ways in which violence is being used against women to prevent them from being part of the political process, part of the peace discussions?

  (1715)  

    Canada could implement a specific program in the Congo. I know from speaking with some of the women that when they try to say something, or move forward,

[Translation]

    their voices are crushed. They aren't heard. I asked them myself what we could do from outside the country. I was told that we could create programs and implement them across the country.
    When you were here in Canada, we had the opportunity to discuss these programs. You said that Canada could train women to act as election observers, and those women could then train other women observers. Would it be possible, at this time, to hold a credible and transparent election and to witness a peaceful transfer of power? Would Canada or other countries have enough time to provide this type of training to women's groups? Women are credible and they're everywhere. However, could the presence of women observers increase the risk of violence against women in politics?
    Mrs. Lusenge can answer first, then Mrs. Yende-Ashiri can respond.
    Women are attacked because they run as candidates. A woman from Goma even disappeared. She was kidnapped and she hasn't been found yet. That said, many people in the community, population and villages are saying that we must now support women, because men have failed.
    The men who have been in power, who have pillaged and who have stolen money will buy consciences with money. Women don't have any money. Since our people are poor, women who campaign are asked whether they'll provide a little something, such as salt, oil or a few medications. Yet the women have no money to provide, and they try to explain that they want to change this situation. However, in times of famine, a hungry stomach has no ears. Our people have been dehumanized by a group of individuals who have held power for a long time, who have systematically pillaged and who have destroyed the entire social system.
    As a result of the support of Canada and other partners, we women have trained the trainers, who have then trained other observers. We can therefore help women who don't have any money benefit from the services of women observers, witnesses and mediators. These women are then able to volunteer, observe the election process and report on the process. They'll assist the other women candidates in the villages in order to increase the candidates' visibility and help the candidates use our machines to print the photos for their campaigns.
    Women are standing tall. They're fighting because they want to have strong presence where the decisions are made. However, this isn't easy. The situation is very hostile. The groups of people of who have plundered the country for a long time aren't giving up. Nevertheless, women are standing tall. The public and youth support some women, the real women. We don't want to be represented by women who have been imposed on us and who constitute a mere decoration. We want feminist women who make our voices heard. That's why we're working day and night to defend the rights of women, to support them, to observe and to denounce any anomalies in a democratic election.
    So far, the situation is uncertain. There's a great deal of tension and violence in our country right now. Nevertheless, we maintain that we must run in these elections and remain steadfast if we want the situation in our country to change.
     I firmly believe that one solution is to turn to women who previously ran as candidates but were cast aside. They should be sought out to share their experiences and provide training. I also think financial assistance is key to encourage women to run in the upcoming elections. As you can see from media reports, not a single woman is standing for a seat yet, for the reasons Mrs. Lusenge mentioned. Women aren't taking the chance anymore. It's not that they don't want to run; it's that they don't have the money and fear for their safety. Therefore, Canada could lend support with funding or safety protections.

  (1720)  

[English]

     Thank you.
    MP Duncan, go ahead, please.
    Thank you.
    Thank you to both of you. It's really important testimony.
    I think we have to be pragmatic here. The election is less than a month away. Canada is not about to initiate some kind of a training program for the election.
    Are you aware if there is already an international election-monitoring mission on the ground there that will be helping to monitor the election? If so, are you in touch with that monitoring mission?
    I'm not aware of that.
    There are international organizations that go to various countries. I'm not sure whether anyone has stepped in, given the violence there. I would encourage you to find out who is on the ground and is doing that, and then try to encourage them to do specific training for the women to encourage them to vote, to support them when they vote and so forth.
    You mentioned Beni.
     I'm sorry. It was you, Julienne.

[Translation]

    Yes, we have—

[English]

     Just a second, let me ask my question.
    My understanding is that Beni is one of the places where there is the Ebola crisis. Given the violence that is still going on there, are you seeing problems? Is there any specific assistance that Canada or Canada talking to its allies can provide to make sure that somebody intervenes to protect the health workers there to get the Ebola under control and not spreading?

[Translation]

    Your first question was about election monitoring. The Catholic Church is going to deploy as many observers as possible. In addition, an American organization called Freedom House, associations and young people have expressed their desire to volunteer as election observers to make sure the elections are conducted properly and thus bring the regime destroying the country to an end. All the women who belong to the associations provide training, as do some Congolese experts. As I said earlier, Canada contributed $280,000, or $301,000 Canadian, under the women, peace and security program. That money helped us train all those women, and we will continue to train and help women.
    We need help to secure areas in which women are running. We want to clean up those areas. You've seen how the UN mission has fallen short. Despite being on the ground for more than 15 years, the UN hasn't been able to bring the fighting in the country to an end. If you keep pumping money into MONUSCO, Canadian taxpayer dollars will continue to support an initiative that will not lead to a solution. Why can't Canada lobby the UN and its allies to establish a military force to combat armed groups, similar to the Operation Artemis troops deployed by France in Bunia? Even our military says the rebels are Jihadists and that it can't contain them because they are waging asymmetrical warfare. The military is unable to gain the upper hand. How can women stand for office in areas occupied by armed groups, when they risk being kidnapped, raped or even killed? It is high time to help us clean up those areas.
    This is not just about the December 23 elections. We have a process, an election agenda that goes right up to 2020. Local elections will be held in March. For that, we need Canada to not just provide financial assistance, but also lobby the UN to deploy military troops to combat all the armed groups and demobilize the areas in order to foster peace.
    The focus needs to be on something other than the Ebola virus. The reason people in Beni reacted the way they did to health care workers treating the virus was that it showed the international community was more concerned about eradicating the outbreak—an important objective, to be sure—than it was about addressing the fact that the people in Beni were being slaughtered every single day. Some of them don't even sleep at home anymore. More than a thousand residents move around every night, looking for a safe neighbourhood to sleep in. They come home the next day. Children don't go to school anymore. The orphans produced by the massacres are not taken into account. How can people possibly stand in an election in that context?
    The people have spoken: they don't want to see those in power stay in power. Help us ensure the elections are conducted properly. We hope the Catholic Church will be able to deploy enough observers and help us [Technical difficulty—Editor].

  (1725)  

[English]

    Thank you very much.
    With that, our time is coming to a close.
    I want to thank both of our witnesses for their most compelling testimony. As with much of the testimony we've heard for this study, it has been difficult to hear, but important that we and all Canadians hear it.
     I really do thank you both for taking the time to testify before us this afternoon.
    The meeting is adjourned.
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