The words complicity and conditionality have been invoked in a public conversation now centered on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and MONUC, the U.N. peacekeeping mission there. Human Rights Watch has called on MONUC to withdraw all support from the Congolese army (FARDC), which is fighting a rebel insurgency that has been raping and pillaging in communities across eastern Congo for the past 15 years.
The Human Rights Watch report brushes aside the crucial role that MONUC plays in protecting tens of thousands of civilians every single day, often in very remote areas. It alleges that U.N. support makes its peacekeepers complicit in atrocities committed against the population by FARDC elements that are undisciplined or exacting revenge. It details gross human rights violations by the FARDC and the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and insists that the U.N. condition any future support on full compliance by the government’s forces with human rights, humanitarian and refugee law.
What could possibly be wrong with that? On the face of it, nothing, if the DRC enjoyed a stable environment where the rule of law was firmly in place, and government institutions were well-established and adequately resourced. But the DRC falls desperately short on all of the above. The country is still clawing its way back from a conflict that caused some 4 million war-related deaths. The conditions and ingredients to spark another war - deep-seated ethnic and economic rivalries, and vast ungoverned natural wealth - are ever present. This is an environment where evil thrives and Human Rights Watch acknowledges that savage reprisal raids on communities by desperate FDLR forces are central to the group’s strategy to weaken the resolve of the international community to defeat them.
The mineral-rich eastern provinces of the DRC are a cauldron of self interest and intrigue, fueled by abundant resources sought after on world markets. The players in the illegal extraction and cross border sale of these resources include Congolese and internationals as far afield as the United States, Europe and the Far East. An investigative report released last month by a U.N. group of experts revealed much about the forces that drive the bloody conflict and the atrocities recorded in the Human Rights Watch report.
DRC President Joseph Kabila has declared a zero tolerance policy for human rights abuses in the security forces. MONUC has been supporting FARDC and government efforts to hold offenders accountable. Investigation of crimes by FARDC personnel and prosecution of the perpetrators is the only way to implement “zero tolerance.” Like so much else that the international community is trying to fix by helping the DRC government, this is a work in early gestation.
Human Rights Watch’s choice to label MONUC as ‘complicit’ in crimes committed by the FARDC is unjust and counterproductive. The crimes attributed to some units of the national army are indeed horrific. MONUC’s human rights office - which also reports to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights - has investigated and publicly reported on incidents of FARDC wrong doings and criticized deficiencies of command and control. As recently as October, MONUC suspended support to a brigade implicated in targeted killing of at least 62 civilians. We continue to monitor the FARDC to the best of our ability, and will respond in similar fashion if further abuses are uncovered.
The Human Rights Watch report also catalogues numerous atrocities committed by the FDLR. The U.N. Security Council has called for the elimination of this threat. Peaceful relations between the DRC and Rwanda - a prerequisite for peace in the region - are riding on effective military operations against the rebel group. The national security forces of the DRC, with all their failings, are the only instrument the democratically-elected government has to neutralize the FDLR. In the absence of any other international actor able or willing to take on the task, MONUC has the job of helping government forces perform to a much higher standard.
The Human Rights Watch attack on MONUC this week is shortsighted and jeopardizes the very “leverage” the group wants MONUC to use with the Congolese. It undermines the goals that Human Rights Watch and the U.N. both seek to attain.
Alan Doss is special representative of the United Nations secretary-general in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.