Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Between the Hammer & the Anvil

505 civilians killed by the Congolese army in Nyabiondo, that was the sad statistic announced by Human Rights Watch yesterday. (For more on the history behind this violence, see my blog from a few days ago). An internal UN report I saw included some other sad numbers: 3,100 cases of sexual violence in North Kivu between January and July this year recorded by one local organization alone. Half of these cases cited the Congolese army as the culprits. Almost a million people displaced since the beginning of the year.

Hence the call by Human Rights Watch for MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission, to withdraw support from the Congolese army. Since March this year, MONUC has provided food, fuel, transport and medical assistance to Congolese army units deployed in the Kimia II operations against the FDLR (the Rwandan rebel group based in the eastern Congo). The logic is sound: we shouldn't be supporting an army that is committing such terrible atrocities.

And yet: the Kimia II operations have put a dent in the FDLR, albeit not a fatal dent by any means. And the FDLR remain the linchpin to the conflict in the eastern Congo. So something needs to be done about them. Which is why today Alain le Roy, the head of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, said that MONUC would maintain its support to the Congolese army, although it will withdraw its support from certain abusive units.

MONUC finds itself between a rock and a hard place (or, as they say in French, between the hammer and the anvil). Its main mandate is to protect civilians in imminent danger. But it has also been tasked to support the Congolese army - they two tasks now seem incompatible.

MONUC will have a hard time protecting civilians if it is not part of the joint operations. If the Congolese army starts raping or abusing civilians, MONUC soldiers will not be able to fly in troops on short notice and stop the carnage - they will find out about it only afterwards and they will arrive too late. And the operations, as far as diplomats say, will continue until the end of the year. The best option is therefore to do what MONUC should have done at the beginning. Withdraw support from the Congolese army, but only to renegotiate the terms of a new cooperation deal, under which MONUC can fully participate in the operational planning and execution of the operations, something that is currently not the case. That way, UN peacekeepers will be deployed on the front lines and can serve as a deterrent to abuses by units there. The watchful eye of a UN blue helmet will probably dissuade Congolese soldiers from abuses. Even when it doesn't, that proximity will give the UN a much better idea of who was in charge when the crimes were committed, which could help in prosecutions.

In the meantime, we finally need to get more serious about other, non-violent options for dealing with the FDLR. Arrest their officials in Kinshasa, Dar es Salaam, France, and Germany. Find out who the moderates are within the movement (i.e. the officers who aren't wanted for genocide in Rwanda, probably a large majority) and approach them to strike apolitical deals: give them an exit, a way out when they tire of the fighting. How many of them have diabetes, HIV, cancer and need medical treatment? How many have children they need to school? The jungles of the eastern Congo are not that hospitable. But until now, we've been all stick and no carrot with the FDLR.


BenRymer said...

Hi Jason

Great post. I saw the HRW report also and thought Anneke's work was outstanding as usual.

I am involved in the UK Parliamentary group on DRC/Grand Lacs, and wondered if I could contact you directly about some events we have planned for next June.

Thanks for the blog,


Jason Stearns said...

Sure. Send me your email and I'll write back.

Harper said...

Hi Jason,

As the Congolese soldiers are quite fluid hailing from a cacophony of armed groups, do you feel that it is important to mention that many of the atrocities committed around Lukweti and across the province are done by ex-CNDP commanders and soldiers? I was in Kishanga earlier this week when the World Food Program truck was raided of 11 tons of food by young CNDP soldiers who were not integrated into FARDC and other unarmed youth. Then later on the radio they announced it as an FARDC raid. Which according to the facts, is untrue.

I realize the importance of keeping the peace within the army by not denouncing the attacks done in FARDC uniform as attacks by ex-CNDP. But, where do you draw the line of media misinformation? Perhaps I am wrong, but it appears to me now that the CNDP use the FARDC uniform to enforce the perception that the Congolese army is synonymous atrocities and incompetance. Of course Bosco is figuring out how to play his cards, so I would be interested to hear what you think.


BenRymer said...

Great, thanks, its If you could delete it from the comments section afterward it would be appreciated.


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