Senator Coons appeared on MSNBC's Daily Rundown on Friday to reflect on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, and to talk about his own experience fighting apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. After graduating college, Chris went to work for the Investor Responsibility Research Center and actually wrote a book encouraging colleges and universities to divest from South Africa.
The Central African Republic (CAR), long a fragile state, has spiraled downward since March, when the president was ousted by a diffuse group of rebels called Seleka. The humanitarian situation is dire and getting worse. More than 460,000 Central Africans have been displaced and, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, half of the population of 4.6 million needs humanitarian assistance and about a quarter are seriously food insecure. Without strong, high level international engagement, the CAR risks descending into chronic violence and lawlessness guaranteed to cause even more human suffering.
Secretary Kerry’s statement on November 20 condemning the ongoing abuses and announcing that the U.S. Government will provide $40 million to support the African Union Peacekeeping Mission (MISCA) in CAR is a step in the right direction. Now, the United States must urgently deliver the promised support to MISCA, work with the international community to accelerate humanitarian relief, and engage with community-based and national efforts to advance reconciliation and political transition. Several respected international rights groups issued a statement to that effect on November 19, outlining recommendations for a comprehensive U.S. Government strategy that merit serious consideration.
As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee, Senator Coons is closely following the ongoing situation in the CAR and is committed to working to support peacekeeping, humanitarian, and democracy efforts in the country.
Since a March coup ousted the nation’s president, inter-communal and sectarian violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) has resulted in widespread chaos and lawlessness. Despite a rapidly deteriorating situation, the mass violence and suffering of civilians has been met with far too little international outrage or assistance. The recent decisions by the African Union (AU) to expand its stabilization force and the United Nations to strengthen the Peacebuilding Office are welcome moves that could lay the groundwork for expanded protection for civilians and accelerated progress toward greater stability. The U.S. administration should step up with assistance to help ensure that AU forces can carry out their mission effectively and support UN and AU efforts to promote reconciliation and democracy in this troubled country.
An October 31 press release by a number of respected international NGOs starkly describes the situation in the CAR and issues a strong call for greater international focus on the country.
As advocates and organizations dedicated to the prevention of violent conflict and mass atrocities, we are deeply disturbed by the violence that is plaguing CAR. The most recent wave is tipping the situation beyond control and is taking a trajectory towards large-scale interreligious and intercommunal violence.
We urge the international community to act swiftly to prevent atrocities and ensure civilian protection. The international community must rapidly expand its presence in the country, extend protection beyond a few selected sites, and allocate the resources necessary to address the complex and protracted nature of humanitarian needs.
As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee, Senator Coons is deeply concerned about the ongoing situation in the CAR, and is committed to working within the committee and with the administration and non-governmental partners to support peacekeeping, humanitarian, and democracy efforts in the country.
As the International Criminal Court (ICC) trials of Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and former radio executive Joshua Sang begin at the Hague, the Court’s future credibility and effectiveness in delivering justice for victims of state-sponsored atrocities is in jeopardy. Ruto and Sang – as well as current President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose trial will begin in November – are accused of committing crimes against humanity during the widespread, ethnically-tinged violence that followed Kenya’s disputed December 2007 presidential election. In Kenya, the prosecution of high-level officials by the ICC has prompted a motion by the Kenyan Parliament calling for withdrawal from the ICC and cessation of cooperation with the Court. Kenya has been an ICC member state since 2005.
Though the current trials will move forward regardless of Kenya’s decision, the Kenyan government’s energetic campaign to discredit the ICC among its African peers has successfully damaged the ICC’s standing in Africa. The campaign paints the ICC as a “foreign” institution that targets Africans while ignoring the transgressions of Europeans and others guilty of heinous crimes. The African Union has openly supported the efforts of Kenya, Sudan, and others to undermine the ICC’s credibility and effectiveness.
It’s important to remember, however, that the ICC began investigating the Kenyan cases only after the Kenyan government failed to meet the commitments made by its own president to either investigate and prosecute those responsible for the post-election violence or refer the cases to the ICC. The ICC represented the only avenue for justice for more than 1,100 Kenyans killed and hundreds of thousands displaced by the post-election conflict; just as it was the only entity capable of prosecuting President Bashir of Sudan for the genocide that left several hundred thousand dead in Darfur.
The ICC is not a panacea nor should it be seen as a first resort. However, the participation of Kenya and the majority of African states in the ICC has demonstrated, in the words of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, a dedication “to tipping the balance in favor of justice and away from impunity.”
Unfortunately, that commitment is waning. African Union snubs and active campaigns by indictees to intimidate witnesses have already weakened the ICC’s ability to effectively prosecute cases. If Kenya withdraws, other states may follow, leaving millions of victims of atrocities with limited hope of recourse when their national institutions fail them. That would indeed be a tragedy. As President Obama so eloquently stated in 2010, “In Kenya and beyond, justice is a critical ingredient for lasting peace.”
Today, from Tanzania, the White House announced new and improved U.S. efforts to combat poaching and wildlife trafficking. Wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion dollar illegal business that is a threat to populations of targeted species including elephants and rhinos, to tourism and economic development, and to our national security and the security and stability of the nations where this violence is occurring. As the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, Senator Coons is very concerned about the recent rise in wildlife poaching, particularly in Africa, and applauds President Obama’s renewed and enhanced commitment to addressing this serious issue.
The President signed an executive order to establish a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, which will develop a national strategy to address the issue. The order will also establish an Advisory Council made up of non-governmental experts on the issue to make recommendations to the Task Force. These efforts will help enhance coordination among existing U.S. programs and policies to combat wildlife trafficking and assist other nations to do the same.
The initiative includes $10 million in funding from the State Department dedicated to combatting wildlife trafficking in Africa. This funding will strengthen the ability of nations to address the issue through laws and penalties, enhance investigations, law enforcement, and criminal prosecutions, and support regional cooperation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also station an official at our embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which is a major export point for illegally traded wildlife and wildlife products. This official will help the Government of Tanzania with a wildlife protection and security plan.
The President also announced plans to leverage new authority granted under the new Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program, which was signed into law this January. Senator Coons cosponsored this legislation, which allows the Secretary of State to offer rewards for information on members of transnational criminal organizations, including wildlife trafficking. The President will also enhance existing authorities under the Endangered Species Act, African Elephant Conservation Act, and the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act to address the issue. Senator Coons voted to reauthorize funding for these conservation programs and others incorporated in the Multinational Species Conservation Fund during the last Congress.
Last May, Senator Coons participated in a full Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing entitled, “Ivory and Insecurity: The Global Implications of Poaching in Africa,” the first full committee hearing addressing this issue. He also recently hosted two screenings of the National Geographic film, “Battle for the Elephants” in Washington, D.C. and Wilmington to inform Delawareans about this ongoing challenge.
This issue is incredibly complex and growing in intensity. Senator Coons believes it will take the involvement of a number of U.S. agencies, working in coordination with other nations, non-profit organizations, and private entities to successfully combat it. The President’s announcement today builds on the significant steps Secretary Clinton, and now Secretary Kerry have taken to address the poaching crisis. Senator Coons looks forward to working with his colleagues to support implementation of this important new initiative.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity, and commending its successor — the African Union — Senator Coons was proud to sponsor a resolution that the Senate passed unanimously on Wednesday night. Senator Jeff Flake, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, cosponsored the resolution.
“This resolution commends the African Union on its increasingly positive contribution to peace, security and development across the continent,” Senator Coons said. “As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, it is my hope that the AU continues to play a constructive role in the region.”
In 2007, the new AU adopted a charter that aims to “reinforce commitments to democracy, development and peace in Africa.” Notably, the African Union departed from the OAU’s strict doctrine of nonintervention in the internal affairs of member states, which had impeded its ability to address serious governance, conflict or human rights issues. The AU is now able to intervene in a member state under certain circumstances, including with respect to war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. African Union peacekeeping forces, political mediation missions, and other peace-building processes have been instrumental in ending conflict and bringing stability to Burundi, Comoros, Sudan, Somalia, and Mali.
The AU’s new chairwoman, Nkhosazana Dlamini-Zuma from South Africa, has promised to focus on strengthening regional integration, economic development, and good governance during her term as Chair.
A week ago, Senator Coons chaired a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa hearing on prospects for democratic reform and economic recovery in Zimbabwe. Panelists highlighted the need for the coalition government of Zimbabwe to carry out previously agreed electoral and democratic reforms as a precondition for free and fair elections later this year. Meaningful AU engagement with the government of Zimbabwe and the Southern African Development Community to advance democratic reform in Zimbabwe would be a positive signal that the AU is committed to realizing the promise of its charter.
The Christian Science Monitor published an article on June 23 on South Africa’s progress in the fight against AIDS.
The United States can and should take pride in the contribution the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), along with the UN Global Fund and African governments, has made towards achieving a milestone few believed possible just a few years ago: HIV/AIDS no longer poses an acute health emergency in many African states. We have made important contributions in purchasing antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) at discount rates, distributing ARVs to urban as well as rural areas, and improving national capacity to manage the disease.
The number of new HIV infections across Africa has dropped by 25 percent since 2001 – and more than 50 percent in 13 sub-Saharan African countries – according to the UNAIDS 2012 global report.
Here in South Africa, progress is even sharper. Rates of infection have fallen by at least 30 percent. Nearly 2 million people are on antiretroviral drugs, known as ARVs, which have helped extend the life span of the sick and limit the transmission of the disease. Approximately 75 percent of South Africans who need ARVs have access to them, putting the country just shy of The Global Fund's 80 percent standard for universal access.
Perhaps most meaningful to ordinary South Africans: Life expectancy in South Africa has gone up – reaching levels not seen since 1995.
However, as this article poignantly illustrates, as the rates of new infection and deaths fall, the effects of the acute emergency live on for caregivers and children of HIV/AIDS victims. As these children grow up, the ones who have provided for them – often female relatives and neighbors – are running out of steam, as well as financial and social resources to help launch them successfully into a healthy, productive adulthood. Studies suggest that children of HIV/AIDS victims are more likely to drop out of school and to suffer from anxiety, depression and abuse than their peers. Many of the women who have taken in multiple orphans are entering middle age and facing their own health problems that are only exacerbated by the growing needs of the children they have taken in and nurtured for many years.
Although the disease itself may pose a diminishing health danger for the population, states are likely to grapple with the social and economic after-effects of the disease for years to come. As PEPFAR enters its second decade, we would do well to ensure that the needs of those living with the legacy of the epidemic are not forgotten.
Click here to read the full article on CS Monitor’s website.
Senator Chris Coons, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, published an op-ed in the News Journal on Thursday highlighting the opportunity to improve Delaware’s economy by expanding trade with Africa.
When American businesses sell their products in Africa, they grow and create jobs in their offices, headquarters and factories here at home. Nearly 10 million American jobs are supported by exports – including well over 11,000 in Delaware – and every billion dollars of U.S. exports could create as many as 5,000 new jobs. So it is in our economic interest to dramatically scale up our economic engagement with Africa. If we don’t, our international competitors will – and in some cases, they already have. At a meeting about U.S. export opportunities, an African head of state told me that while they “would prefer to work with the United States, the Chinese are already here.”
We cannot allow our competitors in the global economy to lock American companies out of fast-growing African markets, which have as many as 900 million potential consumers. Large and small businesses in Delaware, from DuPont-Pioneer to Baltimore Air Coil, based in Milford, are already selling their goods and services to African customers, but we have to do more to provide the tools and resources they need to succeed.
Click here to read the op-ed on the News Journal’s website.
Click here to learn more about Chris’ work on Africa.
Senator Coons unveiled an 18-page report detailing recommendations for boosting U.S. trade with Africa on Thursday, convening a press conference in the Capitol to unveil it. Standing with him to talk about the report and about why stronger African economies benefit the United States were Kenyan Ambassador to the United States Elkanah Odembo, the Chamber of Commerce's Scott Eisner, and the Corporate Council on Africa's Stephen Hayes. Videos of each of their remarks are below.
Senator Coons' remarks in announcing the report are below:
His Excellency Elkanah Odembo, Ambassador of Kenya to the United States:
Scott Eisner, Vice President for African Affairs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
Stephen Hayes, President of the Corporate Council on Africa:
This afternoon, Senator Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chairman of the African Affairs Subcommittee, hosted an advanced screening of the National Geographic film “Battle for the Elephants” in the Capitol Visitors Center.
“Battle for the Elephants” follows investigative journalists Brian Christy and Adrian Hartley as they examine the criminal networks and market forces fueling ivory’s global supply and demand. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, one of the world’s main ports for smuggled ivory, Hartley poses as an ivory buyer and documents poachers negotiating the sale of large quantities of tusks. In Hong Kong and Beijing, China, Christy explores the thriving industry of luxury goods made from ivory and the ancient cultural tradition of ivory carving. Following the screening, Christy joined the film’s producers and director to answer questions and share insights about the experience of tracking ivory, as well as steps the international community can take to end this destructive trade.
Last May, this issue was the topic of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing titled Ivory and Insecurity: The Global Implications of Poaching in Africa. Since that time, elephant poaching on the continent has reached unprecedented levels.
Senator Coons’ office will host a Delaware screening of the film at the Penn Cinema Riverfront on May 13 at 6 PM. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Katie Carpenter, one of the film’s two producers and a Wilmington native, and John Heminway, the film’s director. The Penn Cinema Riverfront is located at 401 S. Madison Street in Wilmington. The event is open to the public.