In an open forum on social media site Facebook, US State Department Assistant Secretary Uzra Zeya, praised Ben Affleck for his efforts in combatting human rights abuse in the Congo.
The Oscar-winning actor’s organization, the Eastern Congo Initiative which he founded in 2010, is the first US advocacy and fund-raising group concentrating on assisting the people of the eastern Congo.
A Facebook user asked about the influence that sports and entertainment celebrities have on Congress and national debate. Assistant Secretary Zeya replied:
“[I]t is great when civil society speaks out in defense of human rights, and we commend Ben Affleck’s efforts. Anything that brings attention to injustice is important — as long as the facts are correct. That’s why we put so much time and effort into drafting the human rights reports and encourage people to read them.
Ben Affleck testified about the human rights abuses in the Congo before the House Armed Services Committee in 2012 and again last Wednesday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
That panel, “Prospects for Peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Great Lakes Region,” has as its goal providing the Senate the latest information about the dire ongoing situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The Congo, a central African country with a population of near 75 million, has been immersed in terrible violence, disease, and starvation since 1996. Much of it stems from ethnic conflicts and ongoing struggles to control the country’s wealth of natural resources, mostly copper, gold, and diamonds. Estimates indicate 45,000 Congolese are dying each month as a result of the war, and the total number of dead ranges from 900,000 to over 5 million as of 2009. Recent reports also assert that every year over 400,000 women are raped in the DRC.
Mr. Affleck started the organization after a series of humanitarian trips to the DRC, as he took note of the fact that there were not any American-based organizations that could provide the necessary resources to address the problems of the Eastern Congo. The humanitarian effort focuses on supporting survivors of sexual abuses, reintegrating children compelled into armed service, and improving health and education services.
The US State Department has been increasing its support of the initiative, and their recent praise of Ben Affleck’s efforts, on an open Facebook forum, indicate that will continue. Especially as the initiative has been able to report some genuine success.
In an interview, Affleck was cautiously optimistic, mentioning the recent surrender of the militia group M23, the appointment of former Senator Russell Feingold as special envoy to the region, and the effects of participation in the international marketplace. A Seattle-based chocolate company, Theo, now uses tons of cacao beans sourced from eastern Congo. Affleck added, coffee is next.
During his testimony, he urged Congress to appropriately fund the special envoy’s office and to strongly urge President Obama to engage directly with the current DRC president Joseph Kabila.
Affleck also remarked on the effects of celebrity, saying his fame provided him a special spotlight, but also acknowledged that there exists a certain skepticism about entertainment activists. Most important, he noted, was to demonstrate that you really understand the issues, that “you’re not a dilettante.” The recent Facebook comment by the US State Department praising his work makes it clear they believe Ben Affleck knows what he is talking about on this important issue.
by Brian Ryer