In commemoration of Africa Day and to contribute to a peaceful settlement of the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Women's Federation for World Peace, Int. (WFWPI), in partnership with members of the Congolese diaspora in Switzerland, the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and the Fribourg Peace Forum organized a conference at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on May 26, 2014. The conference attracted over 100 participants, reflecting the broad interest of governments, the UN and civil society.
Opening remarks were made by Heiner Handschin, Director of the UPF Office for UN Relations in Geneva, who read the best wishes of Chief of Staff of the Office of the Director General of the United Nations Office in Geneva, Mr. David A. Chikvaidze. He expressed the satisfaction of the Director-General in relation to the objective of the conference on this topic and hope for "prospective exchange of statements to overcome this challenge."
Professor Adrian Holderegger, President of Fribourg Peace Forum noted that Geneva and Switzerland were traditionally known for conflict prevention, peace negotiations and humanitarian assistance. He outlined the four sessions: peace and stability in the Great Lakes region, the contribution of women to peace in the DRC, geopolitical aspects and the important contribution of representatives of religions and civil society. The last session will conclude with recommendations to the engaged parties.
Session I: Towards a lasting peace in the DRC - Effects of peace and stability in the Great Lakes region
A recorded presentation of the message of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for DRC and Head of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC, Martin Kobler, was broadcast. He congratulated the organizers and emphasized the need for women's participation in politics and the economy at all levels as actors who introduce two essential aspects: security and stability as well as the importance of education for their sons and daughters. He commended the introduction of quotas by the government. He has been working with two counsellors to combat sexual violence and impunity, especially in armed conflicts east of the country. and eliminated the employment of pregnant women and children in mines. He urged the participants to visit the DRC to encourage people on site.
Erika Laubacher, Deputy Head of Staff of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) spoke about the role of the Congolese diaspora in securing the peace process in the DRC. As an important part of the Congolese Diaspora in Switzerland and Europe were present, her presentation highlighted the potential impact that the Diaspora could have, but also in the development of democratic and viable economic structures. She confirmed that the first condition for peace and sustainable development was the cessation of armed conflict in the eastern DRC. She encouraged migrants who received a high quality education abroad to return home and contribute to the prosperity of their nation as a form of circular migration.
Manda Kizabi, Permanent Delegate of UNESCO to DRC, began by stating that the whole Great Lakes region was affected by the conflict in the DRC, and that despite all the meetings and conferences during the past 19 years, there were no lasting results. He recommended the implementation of the more than one hundred agreements of Addis Ababa: in particular; on the census, the corruption of government officials, media openness, protection of children and women.
Session II: Women and peace efforts in the DRC: Justice and Reconciliation
Noëmie Komagata, a medical student, read the text sent by Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist and Alternative Nobel Prize winner. He expressed his dismay that half a million women had been raped and 6 million dead due to the conflict. He asked for political will and courage of the international community to assist in putting an end to these horrors.
Véronique Mbwebwe, lawyer spoke of the participation of women in the Diaspora in the peace process and decision-making. She mentioned the lack of female participation in the various negotiations, the violation of their rights and the problem of illiteracy. She urged women in the diaspora to fulfill five conditions to support their sisters in the DRC.
Séverine Mukunay, a high school teacher, spoke of the rape of women as a tool to destroy Congolese society by preventing the woman to pass on values to the society. She demanded of the government to organize rapid and independent trials and of the international community to support this process and to promote the reintegration of victims into their communities.
The only male representative of the session, Emmanuel Kabengele, professor at the Institute for Global Health at the University of Geneva, said that to talk about peace in the DRC, it is necessary to analyse the conflict. An incorrect diagnosis could only lead to inadequate solutions. He also referred to history, reflecting about what has changed in the people. He said that peace could not be realized unless women could develop. He also questioned the continued international assistance, which at times violates effective local development and stressed the need to identify shared values.
Charlotte Tocchio, representative of the Department of Principles and Values of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Society spoke of women and youth as powerful agents of change in a country that has a majority of the population under 20 years. She referred to the targeted projects of IFRC, particularly in the creation of educational platforms, and under the perspective that education with principles and values has an impact on the establishment of lasting peace.
To conclude the session, Carolyn Handschin, Director of the United Nations Office for Women's Federation for World Peace International, spoke on "Creating an Enabling Environment for Peace and Development," calling on women to claim their places as leaders in peacemaking and reconciliation in their families and communities and asking government to provide them with the tools and support to do so. "Peace can only be designed and implemented sustainably by those who know the value of living in peace." She proposed a paradigm of "familiarchy" as an alternative to existing patriarchal systems, whereby an "enabling environment for peace" can be experienced and rooted from early childhood.
Session III: Geopolitical Perspectives and strategic developments in the Great Lakes Region
The third session focused on geopolitical considerations, starting with Father Jean-Pierre Mbelu, a political analyst from Belgium. He talked about the dangerous ostrich-like approach. He referred to the loss of dignity of the Congolese people, reaching its peak in the violation of women. He made two proposals to the Congolese public: first, create a synergy to take responsibility without relying on the international community and second, organize a peaceful Pan-African community.
Emmanuel Dupuy, professor and specialist in African geopolitics who had just come from Africa, referred to the 4 million deaths and the submission of DRC and the entire region. The powerful are not considering the needs of the minorities. Regional considerations are critical to discussions about peace.
Benjamin Schwalb of the Institute of Sociology of the University of Basel, who has been studying the issue of violence by armed groups for 4 years, asked several fundamental questions: why these groups attack harmless civilians and under what conditions would they be willing to give up violence? He expressed his fear that in a country at war for almost 20 years, with so many weapons scattered and people accustomed to war, it could not be a moral appeal alone that would stop the violence, but a counter-attack and the practice of healthy community life.
Closing the session, Jacques Marion, president of UPF-France, spoke of his experiences in Africa. He spent nearly nine years in Congo until the end of 1997 and kept very profound experiences. He said that UPF-Congo invested into information and education of values and into the organization of conferences to resolve conflicts and achieve the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in the areas of women's empowerment and gender equality.
Session IV: The specific contribution of civil society, including faith-based organizations for peace and reconciliation in the DRC
Roger Puati, theologian in Lausanne, spoke about Simon Kimbagu as a spiritual leader from the early 20th century who received a calling from God asking him to prepare the people for liberation. He was imprisoned for 30 years and preached Kimuntu, the principle of "Humanity" and the importance of working to achieve freedom. Finally, Ms. Komagata, co-ordinator for the DRC Diaspora in Switzerland and UPF SG in Switzerland emphasised the need to live in accordance with universal principles, as taught by the world's great faiths. If the organisations in the field work to emulate these same principles, working hand in hand with local community, the impact for peace would be significant.
In the Concluding Session, the "Geneva Recommendations for Peace in the DRC" were presented by three stakeholders of the diaspora. These draft recommendations had been prepared on the basis of regular meetings of the Preparatory Committee for the conference. They have been submitted to various bodies including the United Nations, the Congolese government and the Diaspora. The speakers urged participants to work on the basis of this list, adding their contribution in order for this conference not to become just "one more," but to represent a step further. The hope of all was that this could be the beginning of a substantial walk to peace in the DRC, augmented particularly due to the involvement of the privileged diaspora in Switzerland and Europe.