ACTOR and director Ben Affleck has appealed to US law-makers to back a stronger mandate for the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying Washington needed to flex its diplomatic muscle to protect the country’s population.
“I’m not here to ask for American tax dollars. I’m here today to respectfully request that you use the most important power you have, your collective voice as representatives,” Affleck told the House Armed Services Committee.
“We can help and we should,” Affleck said, making the case that Washington could not afford to ignore the long-running violence in DR Congo.
Similar to fellow actor George Clooney’s effort to raise awareness of the conflict in Sudan, Affleck in 2009 founded the Eastern Congo Initiative advocacy group.
The M23 rebel group “is just the latest in a long list of armed groups who have destabilised Congo since 1994”, said Affleck, who appeared before the panel along with two other experts.
“With the latest violence, the world is reminded that the systemic sources of instability in this region have yet to be addressed,” he said.
The M23 rebels’ capture of the mining hub of Goma on November 20, less than eight months after they launched an uprising against the government, has raised fears of a wider war and a major humanitarian crisis.
The M23 fighters, army mutineers mostly from the ethnic Tutsi community, pulled out of Goma 12 days later but still control large parts of the mineral-rich eastern DR Congo.
Some members of the house committee openly admitted they knew little of the conflict or the region but Affleck displayed a familiarity for the subject, citing first-hand conversations with Congolese on the ground and a summary of recent diplomatic history.
“We have seen this cycle repeat itself too many times,” he said.
“Violence flares up and the international community turns its attention for a moment to this part of the world, violence recedes and the world turns away in relief without addressing the systemic issues that must be dealt with in order for a lasting peace to be established and maintained.”
Affleck, saying M23 fighters enjoyed backing from Rwanda and Uganda, urged Washington to use its “unique” influence on the presidents of the two countries to end their governments’ support of the rebels.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama called on his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame to stop all support for rebel groups operating in DR Congo, including the M23.
Affleck also urged the US to endorse a resolution that would enhance the mandate of the 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission.
“At a minimum, the mandate must be strengthened to enable whatever force remains to actually keep the peace and protect the people,” he said.
He said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should appoint a special envoy under the auspices of the UN and the African Union to bring all parties together “to craft real, implementable solutions”.
Affleck, who won an Oscar for the screenplay of “Good Will Hunting”, has won rave reviews for his latest movie “Argo”, which recounts the true story of how six Americans were spirited out of Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis.
Affleck directed and starred in the film, which has drawn big audiences at the box office since its US debut in October.