KINSHASA, 2 March 2007 (IRIN) - Parliamentarians from Africa's Great Lakes countries have urged their governments to end conflicts in the region, noting that particular measures were needed to protect women and children, who suffer most in wars.
Photo: Laudes Martial Mbon/IRIN
Guns being sawn up for the incinerator in an army artillery base in the Republic of Congo
"We are telling heads of state and parliamentarians in the region that we do not want any more devastating wars," said Christophe Lutundula, spokesman for the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), at a meeting of regional members of parliament under the auspices of the International Conference of the Great Lakes.
The three-day gathering, which ended in the DRC capital of Kinshasa on Thursday, was attended by 11 countries and other development partners. It called for sanctions to protect women and children from sexual violence.
"The member states have to harmonise their national legislation, setting up protocols on the prevention of sexual violence against women and children," Lutundula, who presided over the meeting, said.
The International Conference of the Great Lakes was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in December 2006. Heads of state and ministers from the region signed a pact on security, stability and development.
Among other things, the pact outlines programmes of action and protocols on the property rights of returning populations, prevention and suppression of gender-based violence, and the care and protection of internally displaced persons.
At the Kinshasa meeting, the United Nations envoy to the region, Ibrahima Fall, called for funding to put into operation the programmes proposed at the Nairobi conference.
"I will be satisfied when the people of the region have felt the dividends of this conference," Fall said. "Funding for the different projects is required. International solidarity is essential because a Marshall plan for the Great Lakes will be required."
On the displacement of civilians by conflict across the region, the meeting asked governments to formulate appropriate laws to protect such people.
The Deputy Special Representative for the UN Secretary-General for the DRC, Ross Mountain, called for efforts to mitigate the impact of displacement and to improve health in the region.
Mountain told the meeting that life expectancy at birth had dropped in nine of the region's 11 countries by an average four years over the past 20 years. "Here in DRC, one in five newborn children dies before his/her fifth birthday," he said.
However, civil society representatives criticised the meeting, saying it had achieved little. "There is still a lot to do because the parliamentarians and the government of each country have to accomplish the will of the people of the region who want to live in peace and security," said Raoul Kamanda, speaking on behalf of civil society groups from Burundi, DRC and Rwanda.
"We want the Nairobi pact to become a political urgency in all the 11 countries," he added. "We do not want it to remain simple sentences, we want it implemented."
Burundi's former president, now Senator Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, called for dialogue with armed groups, saying it was the only way to ensure security in the region.
The Vice-President of the Rwandan Senate, Agnes Kayijire, said a climate of confidence was progressively being built between her country and the DRC.
"There is a process in the east of DRC and we hope that it will lead to the resolution of the Interahamwe presence and other [rebels]," she said.