House Foreign Affairs Committee Hears Testimony on Security, Human Rights, Health In Democratic Republic Of Congo

At a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on Tuesday, Ben Affleck, the actor, writer and director, and “other witnesses urged the Obama administration to immediately appoint a special envoy” for the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is due for a national election in November, CNN reports (Cohen, 3/8).

The hearing “featured testimony from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and human rights groups, including the Eastern Congo Initiative that Affleck founded in 2010,” National Journal notes. According to the publication, Affleck’s testimony helped to raise awareness of the issue that many say has been overlooked. “The International Rescue Committee estimates that 5.4 million people have lost their lives in the conflict since 1998; many of these deaths were children under the age of 5,” Affleck said, adding, “Not all were killed in combat but rather perished from the ravages that accompany this horrific region: malaria, pneumonia, malnutrition, and diarrhea” (Feldhaus, 3/8). “Without a stronger U.S. influence, including more aid, military training and regulations to crack down on minerals trade that fuels the conflict, eastern Congo faces another downward spiral of violence and suffering,” Affleck said during testimony, noting that five million people have died since 1998 “due to war and its collateral devastation such as hunger and disease” and more than one million people have been forced from their homes, CNN reports.

Donald Yamamoto, a deputy assistant secretary of state at the Bureau of African Affairs, said USAID had allocated $5 million to support the country’s November elections. Cindy McCain, the wife of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), also testified (3/8). Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who is chair of the Africa, Global Health and Human Rights Subcommittee, noted that “Congo is one of the five poorest countries in the world, with 80 percent of its people living on an average of $2 a day. The sufferings of war have been compounded by human rights abuses committed against innocent women, men, and children, he said,” National Journal reports (3/8).

Ahead of the hearing, Affleck and McCain discussed some of the challenges facing the Congo in an ABC News interview (Blackburn, 3/7).

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