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

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

UN report on rapes released - why is MONUSCO so bad at protecting civilians?

The UN released a report today on the mass rape that took place in and around Luvungi at the beginning of August. There had been an uproar about MONUSCO’s lack of response to the rapes – the peacekeepers had a base 30km away – so the Secretary General had sent his assistant in charge of peacekeeping to investigate.

The report – which I have uploaded here – does not really say anything we didn’t know. MONUSCO knew that the FDLR and Mai-Mai had taken over the area and that they had committed a few abuses, but they were unaware of the scale of the rapes (they had heard about one, unconfirmed) until days after the assailants had left town. MONUSCO is under-resourced and staffed and there was no way for the villagers to contact them, as there is no cell phone coverage in the area.

The report continues: Protection of civilians is primarily the duty of the Congolese army, but MONUSCO did fail. The UN will now try to set up ham radios the villagers can use to contact them in case of an emergency. They will carry out night patrols and have already deployed 750 soldiers to the area to try and hunt down those responsible for the attacks. Furthermore, the UN will provide clear instructions its peacekeepers during these kinds of situations, i.e. when a new armed group moves into an area.

MONUSCO was somewhat unfairly singled out in this case. It does not appear that its troops were aware of what was going on – they were guilty of not patrolling enough and not keeping their ears close enough to the ground. But this does not appear to be like Kiwanja in 2008, when over a hundred people were massacred within earshot of a MONUC camp.

But this report does beg the question: Why were all of these sensible suggestions not implemented previously? For example, we know some of those who were responsible for the Kiwanja massacre – they include Bosco Ntaganda, Innocent Zimurina and Captain Seko, all of whom have been integrated into the Congolese army. Why not bring them to justice?

We have known for a long time that UN officers have scant guidance in how to deal with these kinds of situations. Why not provide clear instructions for all contingencies a long time ago?

MONUSCO has a long history of failing to protect civilians in imminent danger. If protection of civilians is the number one priority of the mission, why has it failed to address these failings?

A few preliminary answers:

  1. 1. MONUC has the mandate to protect civilians in imminent danger, but also to support the Congolese army. These two parts of the mandate can contradict each other – MONUSCO may not intervene to protect civilians if this would cause friction with the Congolese army. In general, the UN has often toned down the protection of civilians if it feels aggressive action might offend parties to peace process. When the RCD carried out the Kisangani massacre in May 2002 close to a UN base, MONUC was trying to keep the faltering peace talks in South Africa together. MONUC mistakenly thought Nkunda was a key figure in the peace process in the Kivus in May 2004 when he took control of Bukavu. Similarly, arresting Bosco Ntaganda could jeopardize the current fragile peace deal between Kigali and Kinshasa. This is a real problem, but we have erred on the side of extreme caution. The problem with argument is that MONUSCO compromises on justice today for a peace that never comes. In the end, all parties know they are unlikely to face any consequences for grave abuses. Remember that it was Laurent Nkunda and Gabriel Amisi who were both involved in the Kisangani massacre – both became repeat offenders later.
  2. 2. Protecting civilians in imminent danger does not make much sense militarily. If the danger is imminent, it’s probably too late to intervene. By the time you get your attack helicopters in the air and the SRSG to sign off on an order, the attackers have probably come and gone. So protecting civilians is mostly about deterring in advance and hunting down those responsible afterwards. In Ituri, for example, MONUC created demilitarized zones, so they didn’t have to wait until militias began killing to act – anyone with a gun in the DMZ could be disarmed, by force if necessary. In December 2006, Indian blue helmets told Nkunda that if he advanced on Goma they would open fire – he did, and MONUC put up attack helicopters, killing between 300-600 of Nkunda’s soldiers. After that, Nkunda’s troops had new found respect for the UN. Also, if you hunt down those responsible and make them face justice, your rivals might begin taking you seriously. But if your reaction is sometimes harsh and sometimes spineless, you lose all credible deterrence.
  3. 3. The UN Security Council provides mandates but not the resources. MONUSCO does not have enough resources and troops, and those ones it has do not want to die in the Congo. They are loath to send troops on dangerous missions and therefore interpret their mandate in a very conservative fashion. At the end of the day, there are few incentives for the Indian or Moroccan government to risk their soldiers’ lives in the Congo – there is little glory if they succeed and a ton or opprobrium if they fail. In the absence of a sense of urgency and vision, the bureaucracy of the UN and the risk-averseness of the troop contributors take hold.

I would make four recommendations. First, do as much work before and after the violence as possible – identify hot spots and patrol frequently; demilitarize areas that could be particularly contentious; if large military power shifts happen, pay close attention, as this is often when harsh counterinsurgency operations take place. Secondly, focus on gathering information. MONUSCO civilian intelligence is excellent, but consists of a handful of people. Its military intelligence is much less developed, as it relies on foreign troops to don’t speak the language and don’t know the area. But if MONUSCO had been more pro-active and had had better local contacts, it would have found out about the rapes sooner. Some UN commanders are excellent and do this, but it should not be left up to the individual’s discretion. Third, when violence does break out, react swiftly and with clear instructions to UN commanders on the ground about how to employ the use of force, rules of engagement, etc. And lastly, hunt down the perpetrators. Protecting civilians does not stop when the violence is over You need to do policing operations to bring those who carried out the attacks to justice together with the Congolese government. In this case, we know that is was probably “Colonel” Mayele from the Cheka Mai-Mai and Colonel Seraphin from the FDLR who took part in the operations. In the past, MONUSCO has pursued militias who have killed peacekeepers, but seems to be much less aggressive when it comes to Congolese victims.


Unknown said...

Hi Jason, maybe I am being naive and this is more related to blue helmets not wanting to die in the Congo, but I think another key recommendation should be training (pre-deployment or once in DRC) where "protection of civilians" is broken down and scenario-based exercises are presented. I have seen a bluehelmet patrol drive right by a small group of civilian men walking single file in a CNDP zone. They appeared genuinely to not see the situation for what it almost certainly was - forced labour or forced recruitment of civilians. I think practical training for peacekeeping operations should be up there in terms of priorities.

Jason Stearns said...

Add it to the list! Always hard to know to what degree they don't know and how much they just don't care or are afraid to die. But yes, training is a must, as well.

Unknown said...

An interesting question is how much of the work of MONUC would be better handled by domestic Congolese. You mention that MONUC is under-resourced, and this is no doubt true when looking at all the roles that it is mandated or expected to undertake. But might not many of these tasks be more effectively be undertaken by domestic actors? And potentially at a much lower cost and with greater sustainability too.

Obviously there are many security functions which MONUC plays a vital role in, and I'm not trying to bash their efforts here, or say that the FARDC or some sort of local militias would be better able to prevent the atrocities in this case. But there is the wider issue of how people hope the situation in the east DRC might improve. Will a better trained, more efficient, better resourced MONUC/MONUSCO bring peace to east DRC? Or could some of those resources be better deployed to local actors?

Unknown said...

Eugenia is right. Consistent with another version on the rapes I read on under the title "Is UN Atul Khare falsely accusing FDLR and Mai-Mai of rapes in DRC?."

Not sure where AfroAmerica Network (who are they?) got the story from but I also heard the CNDP brigades within FARDC maybe the ones responsible for the rapes but MONUSCO does not want any problem with FARDC and Kabila, Jr. Hence, blame on easy targets: FDLR and Mai-Mai. Explanation may be far fetched but facts on CNDP involvement has some truth in it!

Rich said...

Hi Jason,
I can only agree with your recommendations. However, it seems like, when we are too busy trying to scrutinise MONUSCO, we miss the opportunity to look at the bigger picture.

Why do I say this?

Domestic violence in the DRC is endemic and the recent wars alone cannot fully account for the reversed order Congolese values and culture have taken in the last 50 years. Yes, war has been a catalyst to many of the violent and immoral acts seen in the DRC (especially in the east) but the picture you are painting here and what monusco should do can only help deal with the symptoms of a deeply rooted disease.

Like most vulnerable Congolese, victims of rape are only caught up in a complex and predominantly immoral culture of ‘bargaining social interactions’. Here I mean, Instead of striving through the morally acceptable channel of interactions, some Congolese will often resolve to short cuts and immoral tactics to get what they want.

The Demographic and Health Survey DHS-DRC 2007 found that 37% of women admitted to have been victim of domestic violence at least 5 times, during the 12 months prior to the survey (in 2007). The violence varies according to the region of origin and the socio-demographic category of the women. North Kivu has the highest rate of domestic violence (52%) but other places recorded a similar rate. For instance, like Kasai Occidental (50%), Equateur (46%) etc... the full report on key findings can be found here.

It has been shown that there is a positive correlation between armed conflicts and sexual violence. However, I’d argue that in the case of the DRC, using rape as a weapon of war has been exacerbated by an existing culture of domestic violence where the most vulnerable members of the community find it difficult to negotiate their position.

You would agree with me that, despite all its good will, monusco will never be able to bring these figures down. Therefore, it is about time to also tell individual Congolese how they can help the others to help them.

Jason Stearns said...

Rich, the link didn't come through. Could you post it again?

Rich said...

Sorry Jason,

I didn't realise the link was not alive when I published my text.

You can get a summary report following by copying and pasting the link below and the chapter on domestic violence in DRC is on page 11.

A fuller verision (French) of the report can be found on the link below and (statut de la femme and violence domestique can be found in chapters 17 and 18.

I hope it works this time if not just let me know and I can attach both reports to an email...



Sphex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sphex said...

These recommendations are good, but much more money will be needed to realize them, or to redeploy in real hot spot leaving more peaceful area empty.

I did work in numerous area in North and South Kivu for couple years and I one thing I know is that UN patrol are mostly useless. Most MONUC bases (where I was) had resources to have a single patrol convoy with many roads axis and large area to cover. Roads are often in bad shape (the 30km between Kibua and Mpofi was particularly bad when I was there, at least 1-2 hours when no Fuso loaded with cassiterites was stuck, a Fuso usually took a full month to travel from Goma to Walikale which is not that far, a 4x4 could take 2 to 7 days depending of the number of Fuso ahead). Consequence is very limited number of patrol and they usually never stop. Meaning a 10-15 second presence for any given spot. They do stop in some location, often the same every time.

As for the language barrier, most UN troops on the field do not even speak English, including some/many officers...

Do MONUC care? Most local MONUC commanders I met seemed to be willing to fight rebels, but when something happen, they are very slow to react and usually show up after everything is calm. I never ever heard of any ground hut lead by MONUC. At best they offer some kind of logistics support to FARDC. What it means? They will transport them, maybe feed them. My guess is that the chain of command is responsible and it’s probably coming from very high. Which country is willing to see any of its man dying in a country far away?

About the rapes around Luvungi I am curious about what FARDC did. Before Umoja Wetu there was a small FARDC base in Mpofi with presence of an ANR representative.

Sphex said...

I can give some example of things I witnessed. After a week of gun shoot around the village and very near the house where I was I went once to ask for night patrol. MONUC told me they had the same problem around their own base... What a patrol at night could change if they can’t even manage the surrounding of their own base? Especially when you can see a night patrol coming at least 5-10 minutes ahead since it will be the only source of multiple lights (trucks mostly travel alone and are usually rarer during night).

One night FDLR launched an offensive against a neighbour village. Lasted for hours, the FARDC camp was burned and village completely looted, but IDP camp left alone. When MONUC did come? They did very late the day after, after FARDC took their revenge on the IDP camp while denying access to NGOs. Who hunted down the attackers? Not local FARDC who have been attacked nor MONUC, but other FARDC based far away who were in fact newly integrated CNDP...

Despite this, MONUC bases usually improve local security feeling among the population who live nearby. Sadly it is sometime a false sense of security.

Rich said...

Hey Jason,

Check out the following link, am sure you've seen similar footages several times but I just wanted to say the comment from minute 03:25 summarises better what I wanted to say in my earlier post.



RAF said...

Thanks for this post Jason.

I think this discussion points to the some larger issues about peacekeeping in general and who has been asked to create peace and protect. We are asking soldiers—who have been extensively trained to fight and kill—to also instinctively protect. I’m not saying don’t use soldiers (they are of course needed for Chapter 7 operations)—I’m saying train them extensively (a few classes on human rights doesn’t count) on techniques to protect civilians.

Another thing I’ve noticed in this debate is differing definitions of “protection.” While I was in eastern Congo, MONUC military seemed to define protection in terms of preventing/stopping hostilities between warring factions. This definition enabled MONUC Colonel James Cunliffe to confidently tell an OCHA room full of humanitarians in Goma in October 2008 that MONUC military was indeed protecting civilians because they were successful in maintaining certain cease-fire corridors. When people responded that civilians were being killed, he’d repeat the “maintained corridor” comment and didn’t understand why the humanitarians were so upset. (He also said that there was nothing to worry about as he prepared to leave, putting on his flak jacket). Humanitarians, or actually most non-military people I would guess, would more likely to define “protection” as proactive and assertive ways of preventing or stopping harm being done.

When I think of protection I think of mothers, and an ability to sense and foresee harm and multitask to make sure it doesn’t happen. When I think of peacekeepers, I think of soldiers who would much rather be fighting in Kashmir. Any way to mix the two?


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