Ripples of Rwanda's Genocide Still Rock the Eastern Congo
John Prendergast, Globe and Mail |
26 Oct 2005
Imagine if the entire population of Alberta, or Toronto, was slowly wiped out, community by community. The media would be transfixed by such a spectacle, and everyone would surely know who was suffering and where it was happening.
Yet while some four million people have lost their lives in eastern Congo and Rwanda over the past 11 years, how many of us could even point out those places on a map? And who has ever even heard of a Rwandan Hutu militia group called the FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda)?
Yet here we are, 11 years after the organizers of this militia tore through Rwanda during the fateful 100 days of the 1994 genocide. Washing up in neighbouring Congo, they have fuelled a conflict that has led to four times as many deaths as in the Rwandan genocide itself. Now that a peace deal in the Congo is finally beginning to be implemented, and elections are to be held within the next year, it is crucial to deal once and for all with the FDLR, and the legacy of the genocide that this group represents, because its members are one of the principal drivers of continuing Congolese conflict.
Levels of sexual violence in eastern Congo rival any in the world. Amid increased reports of kidnappings and sexual slavery, soldiers and other armed men continue to loot, rape, harass, and tax local populations. Humanitarian-aid delivery is constantly compromised. The constant cycles of displacement experienced by civilian populations have left most communities on the knife edge of survival, and the continued insidious and predatory presence of the armed groups ensures that mortality rates, with people denied the medical help they need, will remain among the highest in the world.
The FDLR is not the only such group, but it is one of the very worst. Its presence provides a pretext for continuing destabilization across the border by neighbouring Rwanda, a major reason for eastern Congo's continued low-intensity conflict. Massacres perpetrated by the FDLR (and I saw the horrifying evidence) clearly send a message to the UN peacekeeping mission, known as MONUC, that there will be repercussions against civilians for any actions taken against them.
MONUC is between a rock and a hard place. It has begun operations against the FDLR in the east, and for its own credibility cannot back down. However, if the UN mission further intensifies military operations against the FDLR and other armed groups, its actions will soon cross the line into counterinsurgency and forcible disarmament. This would be very difficult to conduct effectively, given the terrain and the lack of MONUC manpower.
A more assertive and responsible role is desperately needed from the Congo's own military. This does not appear to be forthcoming - given lack of payment, slow military integration, and a reluctance to authorize force against some of the armed groups by politicians in Kinshasa.
To break the impasse, both sticks and carrots are needed. First, incentives should be deployed to encourage the voluntary disarmament and return of FDLR militia members. The United States and United Kingdom should enter into a heightened-level dialogue with the Rwandan government to create terms of return for the FDLR that would create incentives for those who wish to do so.
The terms of return should include international monitoring, some reintegration into the army, and no prosecution of those younger than 14 when the 1994 genocide occurred. All peaceful avenues to bring home the non-hardcore elements of the group, most of whom were recruited after 1994, should be exhausted before forceful means are deployed. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to take part very soon in an important meeting with the Rwandans, Ugandans and Congolese, which should provide an unprecedented opportunity to move this option forward.
Second, sticks should be deployed to support the forcible disarmament of those who won't do so voluntarily. Donor countries must support the Congolese army as it conducts forceful disarmament of armed groups in order to proactively protect civilians. The UN Security Council should provide a stronger mandate and more resources for MONUC to back up the Congolese army. The donors and Security Council should directly underwrite the payment and training of a number of brigades of Congolese troops to work with the UN troops to counter further atrocities by armed groups and to facilitate a stable electoral environment.
Ultimately, if the world wants to watch as the Rwandan genocide's ripples continue to rock the Congo, as the eastern parts of the country continue to be carved up and looted, and the people continue to starve and suffer abuse, then the existing UN mandate and level of resources are just fine. If not, the UN must have a tougher mandate focused on assertive protection of civilians and neutralization of armed groups. And it needs the resources to do the job.
John Prendergast is special adviser to the President of the International Crisis Group
. He previously served as director of African Affairs at the National Security Council.