- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Atoki Christian Ileka has represented the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the United Nations since 1999, when the country was still called Zaire. He sat down recently with The Washington Times’ U.N. correspondent, Betsy Pisik, and spoke candidly about why it has been so difficult to bring peace to his country. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Question: Experts praise new laws against sexual abuse and torture, particularly the mandatory jail sentences for civilian and military rapists, but it appears that few people seek redress through the courts. Why is that so?

Answer: It is difficult. If you want to see a national judge, you have to walk 100 kilometers (62 miles) to find one. There are no roads. We do not have the manpower to administer justice. Youngsters don’t want to go into the law because it doesn’t pay well. And another problem, our economic system leads to corruption.

Q: In Kinshasa this spring, I was charged $200 for my press pass, a bribe that came with a receipt!

A: I am sorry to hear about that, but, yes, that is what I am talking about. There is little accountability, regardless of the crime.

Q: How can Congolese men unlearn the rape habit? Surely some have been nurtured with empathy or at least a sense of right and wrong.

A: This is not even in our culture. Congo men are not known to be violent. On the contrary. … What happens … is that they see it as payback for their own attacks [by rival groups]. What I think is that after 10 years of warfare, we will need special help for the population. A man, 25 today, if he is from the east, his reality is war. Those teenagers, new adults, they have not known school, they need some kind of education. They have to be sensitized, learn compassion.

Q: How can you instill respect for law when the Congolese people seem to have contempt for the Congolese police, as well as the national army, which now includes insurgents?

A: To form the FARDC [the Congolese army], we had to have some give and take, and we had to accept the CNDP [a Rwanda-backed rebel group] and others … . We know this is going to be difficult, especially after the attacks that began under [CNDP Gen. Laurent] Nkunda. The citizens are right to be concerned.

Q: How big is the army now?

A: To be quite fair, nobody knows. Maybe between 300,000 and 500,000. You hear estimates of 50,000 to 135,000, but that is what we want to do with the army. We call them soldiers, but most of them are not trained. They are from the bush. And we have tried to be careful during the integration to screen out the human rights violators and the children. That is very complex, as some [children] were combatants, but others were cooks and porters.

Q: There doesn’t seem to be much love either for MONUC, the U.N. peacekeeping mission. Why is it so little respected after a decade in the country?

A: MONUC is certainly part of the solution in Congo, but it can also be part of the problem. We have to address these concerns. Also, MONUC does not communicate well, not with the government, nor other persons.

Q: What more does Congo need from the United Nations and other international institutions and donors?

A: The U.N. has spent on MONUC, let’s say, $7 billion to $8 billion over the last nine years. The World Bank and IMF and bilateral donors, such as England, have spent $20 billion, directly or indirectly. But we still don’t see the end of the tunnel. The answer is to have peace restored in the country.

Q: A Congolese human rights activist described the situation with Rwanda as “a man eating a fish in front of a hungry cat.” How do you deal with a hungry neighbor?

A: We say it is a mouse wanting to eat an elephant! See, Kigali [Rwanda] has an interest that eastern [Congo] stays how it is. We have land and mineral wealth, and much of that is leaving to Rwanda. They have the most to benefit [from instability].

Q: What will it take to forge a reliable peace with Rwanda?

A: Democracy. Let me be very clear here. Democracy is the rule of the majority and the protection for the minority. We are committed. We are moving slowly, but we’re on the right track. If we still have the support of the international community, we will prevail. At the same time, we would like to see democracy in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda. That is a pre-condition [for peace].

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