UN Must Stop Backing Congo's Disastrous Operation Against Marauding Rebel Militias
UN Must Stop Backing Congo's Disastrous Operation Against Marauding Rebel Militias
Great Lakes Tensions Spike After Rwanda Nearly Downs a Congolese Fighter Jet
Great Lakes Tensions Spike After Rwanda Nearly Downs a Congolese Fighter Jet
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

UN Must Stop Backing Congo's Disastrous Operation Against Marauding Rebel Militias

The United Nations is finally having to confront what most observers already know: Its limited but unconditional support for a Congolese army operation to disarm Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern Congo has made a bad situation worse.

The army attacks have made no real progress against the rebels, have been accompanied by serious human rights violations, and have prompted massive reprisals against the civilian population.

The Congolese and United Nations must abandon this approach and move to a comprehensive strategy that matches targeted military actions with civilian protection, respect for human rights and expansion of responsible state authority to the region.

A leaked UN-sponsored report by a committee of experts on arms embargo violations addresses the recent military operations carried out by Congolese government forces against the rebel militias under the banner of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The UN mission has been supporting these offensives with food, fuel and logistics.

The leaked report confirms that these operations have so far failed miserably to root out the militias.

Instead, they have aggravated an already devastating humanitarian crisis.

It is not just that the Congolese forces are unable to protect local civilians from reprisals, including massive killings and rape used as a weapon of war.

The report documents credible evidence that government soldiers, notably the anti-Rwandan rebels recently reintegrated into the army, themselves have been raping and killing civilians by the thousands.

The ill-disciplined Congolese army is part of the problem in eastern Congo far more than part of the solution.

The UN peacekeeping mission — Monuc — has close to 20,000 troops in the Congo at a cost of $1.4 billion a year, the largest and most expensive UN mission in the world.

But as their support for the Congolese attacks indicates, the mission has lost direction and a sense of purpose.

Joseph Kabila, Congo’s president, has asked that a withdrawal plan be presented to him by June 30, 2010, for the 50th anniversary of Congo’s independence.

But Monuc’s leadership is not the only one to blame.

The UN Security Council gave the mission 41 priority tasks in its last mandate, illustrating their own lack of vision: If you have 41 priorities, in reality you have no priorities.

Further, they have failed to put the brakes on Kabila’s and Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s enthusiasm for military adventurism, instead pushing Monuc to jump on the bandwagon.

They should have known that the human cost would be catastrophic.

A change of course is urgent.

First, the United Nations should cease its support for offensive operations and concentrate on holding the ground gained by the Congolese army against the FDLR, protecting civilians from retaliatory attacks and embedding its units within Congolese ranks to help prevent abuses.

Kinshasa privately admits that ex-rebels now wearing the army uniform refuse to obey orders, maintain a parallel chain of command and commit grievous abuses.

When necessary, Monuc should help arrest them and bring them to military justice.

Second, the UN must fundamentally change its relationship with the Congolese government.

Unless a true partnership can be established, based on joint planning, joint implementation of operations, and strong mechanisms of accountability for both abuses and the theft of soldiers’ pay, there should not be joint operations.

Training and payment of decent salaries and allowances are two absolute requirements to reform the Congolese army, create discipline, and ensure accountability.

Foreign governments also have a key role to play.

Both African and Western countries have repeatedly failed to properly implement sanctions regimes, especially arms embargoes against the rebels.

Nor have they prosecuted FDLR leaders residing in their respective territories who may be complicit in war crimes in the Congo. This needs to change.

The Congolese army actions against the FDLR are partially at the behest of the Rwandan government in a deal that eliminates Rwandan support for rebels previously seeking to undercut Kabila’s regime.

But Rwanda has itself been complicit in massive human-rights abuses and illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Congo.

European countries and the United States should use their influence with Kigali, resulting from huge financial aid and political cover, to insist that Rwanda cease these actions and moderate its pressure on Kinshasa to carry out ill-advised attacks on the FDLR.

In a few weeks’ time, the Security Council will meet to discuss the renewal of Monuc’s mandate. 
Keeping the panel of experts report clearly in mind, the Council must use this opportunity to refocus UN’s efforts in eastern Congo to ending the plight of civilians, creating responsible governance and building a peaceful future for the region.


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