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Letter to President Obama

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Richard Durbin (D-IL), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today led a bipartisan group of nine Senators in sending a letter urging President Obama to immediately take additional steps to help end the epidemic of sexual violence and other atrocities being committed by the M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Senators wrote, "We believe that a number of important steps must be taken not only to end the current crisis, but also to help achieve a more durable and lasting peace in DRC."

Specifically, the Senators asked the President to elevate the current United States Special Representative to the Great Lakes Region to full-time U.S. Special Envoy status. Empowering a U.S. Special Envoy with the requisite staff and resources would signal to the region and the world that the United States is serious about ending the unspeakable violence and suffering that continue to plague DRC.

The Senators also asked that President Obama work through the United Nations to ensure sustained high-level international attention to the crisis, including sending a joint United Nations/African Union Envoy to the region. Such an envoy would help the region and the world present a united front to those who seek to win power using violence, intimidation and rape as tactics.

Finally, the Senators recommended that the President impose a visa ban and other sanctions against those responsible for supporting the M23 rebels. The Senate included these sanctions in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013--which is currently being conferenced with the House bill--but the letter asks President Obama to use his existing authority to take this action immediately.

These steps would build on action taken by the Obama Administration last month to sanction a prominent M23 rebel leader.

The full text of the letter below:

December 11, 2012

The Honorable Barack Obama
President
The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write to urge you to take additional action to respond to the ongoing crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As you know, the M23 rebel group recently began an offensive in eastern DRC and captured the city of Goma in DRC's North Kivu province on November 22. Since April 2012, more than 650,000 people have been displaced by the violence and many others have been killed and injured. This crisis only magnifies the human suffering in this already war-torn region of Africa that has seen the most casualties of any conflict since World War II and earned the tragic distinction as the "rape capital of the world."

Like you, we are committed to helping bring security and stability to DRC and are profoundly troubled by the M23's actions. As such, we believe that a number of important steps must be taken not only to end the current crisis, but also to help achieve a more durable and lasting peace in DRC.

First, we strongly encourage you to elevate the current United States Special Representative to the Great Lakes Region to full-time U.S. Special Envoy status. We also ask that you provide the position with appropriate staff and resources. Similarly, we ask that you work through the United Nations to help ensure sustained high-level international attention to the crisis, such as through the dispatch of a joint United Nations/African Union Envoy to the region.

For far too long, the people of DRC have suffered through one horrifying crisis after another. While violence has abated at times, the underlying problems of weak governance, armed groups, an unregulated market for valuable minerals, and a legacy of decades of violence have remained. We believe any long-term solution must include a strong international coalition that elevates the process above current regional divisions and brings the necessary parties into a constructive dialogue.

We also ask that you take immediate steps to sanction those responsible for providing material support and training to the M23 rebels. As you know, the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, Human Rights Watch, and other credible voices have found convincing evidence of outside support for the M23 rebels.

The Senate included language during floor consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 that would place sanctions on and enact a visa ban against those responsible for supporting M23. We are eager to see these sanctions enacted into law upon final passage of the bill, but request that you move urgently in the interim. Similarly, we note provisions in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (PL 112-74) that include a cutoff of Foreign Military Financing to Rwanda or Uganda if either country is contributing to the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

We know that you share our concern for DRC and our desire to see an end to the long-term suffering of the Congolese people. We look forward to working together to implement the above suggestions to try to address these challenges.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

Richard Durbin
United States Senator

John Boozman
United States Senator

Christopher A. Coons
United States Senator

Sherrod Brown
United States Senator

Lindsey Graham
United States Senator

Patrick J. Leahy
United States Senator

Johnny Isakson
United States Senator

Benjamin L. Cardin
United States Senator


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