DRC: Violence in the Congo

Thursday, December 17, 2009
The Irish Times
Central Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

The UN Security Council faces a Srebrenica moment when it votes on December 21st to renew the mandate for MONUC, its largest global peacekeeping mission, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The morally compromised UN has 18,606 soldiers and civilian police in DRC charged with keeping the peace, protecting civilians and assisting Congolese and Rwandan troops in a bloody operation, Kimia II, against Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), many associated with genocide in Rwanda.

There is evidence, however, of widespread human rights abuses against civilians, murder and rape on a breathtaking scale, in which DRC troops are implicated. An authoritative Human Rights Watch (HRW) report this week documents the deliberate killing of more than 1,400 civilians in the first nine months of 2009 during Congolese army operations against the FDLR. The report attributes the killings equally to both sides and says 900,000 people have fled their homes since January, the sort of displacement that led to an estimated five million deaths from hunger and disease since eastern Congo's conflict began 15 years ago. Health centres also registered more than 7,500 cases of sexual violence against women and girls in the same period.

According to HRW, Congolese army soldiers and FDLR rebels have attacked civilians, accused them of being collaborators and “punished” them by chopping many to death with machetes. Both sides shot civilians as they fled or burned them in their homes. Some victims were tied together before their throats were, one witness testified, “slit like chickens”. The majority of victims were women, children and the elderly.

The text of the security council resolution to extend the mandate for MONUC says UN support for DRC military operations is “strictly conditioned to the respect for international humanitarian, human rights and refugee laws”, demands that the DRC's army “immediately take ... steps to protect civilians”, and calls for a government investigation into allegations of violence. And the UN last month halted support to one Congolese brigade that allegedly killed at least 62 civilians. But that is not enough. There is a real danger, despite reports the Kimia II operation will end shortly, that unless the MONUC mandate is far more robust in requiring proactive deployment to protect civilians, that the slaughter will continue and the UN itself will be seen to be complicit in crimes against humanity.