Remarks by Michael Chertoff
On behalf of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and our partners in today's conference, National Endowment for Democracy and Eastern Congo Initiative, I welcome all of you.
We would also like to acknowledge one of our invited guests, Dismas Kitenge, who could not make it here today because he was in a recent plane crash in Kisangani. Thankfully he survived. One of his colleagues, Franck Koy Mawade, did not. This serves to remind all of us of the daily dangers, in addition to threats and intimidation, that Congolese civil society leaders face. In honor of them, and the millions of Congolese civilians who have perished since the wars began, we ask you to join us in a moment of silence.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is dedicated to the preservation of memory of those who suffered and died in the Holocaust -- the six million Jews and 4 million others. The museum also serves as a warning that we cannot be complicit, cannot be quiet when civilians are systematically persecuted and assaulted. That is why the founders of the Museum created a Committee on Conscience, our genocide prevention program that seeks to educate the public and policymakers about the constant danger of genocide. I am the new chairman of the COC.
We honor those who were abandoned by the world during the Holocaust by working to protect those who at risk now. We cannot save those lives so tragically lost during World War II, but we can focus attention today on the millions of lives which continue to be at risk in places of extreme, intentional violence against civilians. Today, we have gathered together to discuss the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a place synonymous with some of the worst superlatives. The war that began in 1998 was called by many “Africa’s first world war” because so many nations joined the fray and fought on Congolese soil. The country has been called the worst place on earth to be a women because of the number of rapes – estimated in one study to be over 400,000 a year. And the death toll between 1998 and 2008 alone has been estimated at 5.4 million people in excess of normal mortality. Congo is one of the most perilous places on earth for civilians.
The scale of the violence in the DRC underscores the vital importance of preventing mass atrocities before they take place. If the world had acted more aggressively to prevent the Rwandan genocide 17 years ago, it is possible that the carnage in Congo could have been avoided. The impact of genocide can last years and spill beyond the borders where it takes place, with waves of violence that soon gain their own momentum, logic, and cycles.
Congo is known as a place rich in mineral resources. But hope for the Congo resides in its greatest resource: its people. Among the most courageous of those people are its civil society leaders, some of whom are with us today. We invite you all to join us in welcoming them and listening to them. They bring unique insight about what is stake and how we can support their efforts.
Today’s conference is sponsored by the Museum with the National Endowment for Democracy, which has supported many of the Congolese leaders who we will hear from today. And by the Eastern Congo initiative, which also focuses on bolstering the work of Congolese and which has brought so much additional attention to the crisis in Congo. And now I will introduce Cindy McCain, Founding Member Eastern Congo Initiative, humanitarian, business owner and wife of Senator John McCain.