DRC: Congo Might Expel UN Officials in Dispute Over War, Envoy Says

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Central Africa
Congo (Kinshasa)
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
The Democratic Republic of Congo might expel leaders of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in retaliation for increased pressure on the nation's army to halt violence against civilians, the Congolese ambassador said.

The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution demanding that Congo's army “immediately take appropriate measures to protect civilians,” after reports of murders and rapes by soldiers. The measures would include enhanced training, enforcement of military discipline and steps to prevent the promotion of anyone associated with abuses.

“The Security Council has no right to do this,” Ambassador Atoki Ileka said in an interview today. “This is totally unacceptable. We will reject this resolution and we will have a crisis. We can expel the leadership” of the UN force.

The Security Council is scheduled to vote Dec. 21 on the resolution, which is still being negotiated and would extend the mandate of the peacekeeping mission for six months. Ileka also objected to the text's demand that Congo's army “immediately stop recruiting and using children.”

Ileka said such demands would violate Congo's status-of- forces agreement with the UN. The Security Council cannot make such demands of an elected government, according to Ileka.

Conflict in Congo has killed more than 5 million people since the violence from Rwanda's 1994 genocide spilled over the border. The UN has 18,600 soldiers and civilian police in the country, comprising the second-largest UN peacekeeping mission.

Deaths Cited

The expulsion threat follows the report yesterday by New York-based Human Rights Watch that a UN-supported military operation in the nation's eastern region has resulted in 1,400 civilian deaths this year, including 732 by Congolese and Rwandan troops fighting rebel militias.

Ambassador Ruhakan Rugunda of Uganda, a member of the Security Council, said that while he was aware of Ileka's concerns, the panel was obliged to address the issue of civilian deaths.

“There have been significant violations of human rights, so I see no problem at all in the Security Council demanding these things,” Rugunda said. “The Security Council has a right to express its views.”

Human Rights Watch urged the UN to immediately cease support for the operation known as Kimia II, a suggestion UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rejected.

“There is an overall mission” that the UN force must “carry out in accordance with the Security Council mandate to preserve peace and security and protect the civilian population,” Ban said at a news conference in New York. “I am not sure whether it is desirable to suspend all peacekeeping operations.”

Congolese Brigade

The UN halted support last month to one Congolese brigade that allegedly killed at least 62 civilians in the province of North Kivu. Ban said further such suspensions would be ordered when the UN has grounds to believe Congolese or Rwandan forces might violate human rights laws.

Protection of civilians is listed as the mission's first priority in the draft resolution, along with defeat of the rebels and government “security sector reform.”

Health centers in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu registered more than 7,500 cases of sexual violence against women and girls in the first nine months of this year, almost double the figure for 2008, according to Human Rights Watch. The report is based on interviews with almost 1,000 people, including victims of violence, their relatives and witnesses to the abuses, the group said.

Ileka said that while he respects Human Rights Watch, their opposition to the defeat of Rwandan rebels in eastern Congo is “prolonging the suffering of the Congolese people.” He said that “further collateral damage in a short period of time” was preferable to allowing the war to continue indefinitely.