Which is Deadlier: The Terminator or a Lack of Political Will?

Writing at The Wonk Room, the Enough Project’s Maggie Fick cites a recent massacre in the eastern Congolese town of Kiwanja as a particularly stark example of UN peacekeepers failing to protect endangered civilians in the region. Maggie’s colleagues, Rebecca Feeley and Colin Thomas-Jensen, describe with horrifying accuracy in Enough’s latest report just what happened at Kiwanja:

child kiwanja.jpg

On November 4 and 5, as people all over the world witnessed the historic victory of President-elect Barack Obama, Congolese civilians in Rutshuru territory, North Kivu, were running for their lives…

What happened next is a chilling example of what war means for civilians in eastern Congo. the CNDP [rebels] ordered the town’s population of roughly 30,000 to leave. However, as the population fled, many men were stopped at CNDP roadblocks and told to return to Kiwanja. Then on November 5, in what is perceived as retaliation for its losses, the CNDP allegedly sought out and killed civilians, particularly young men, it accused of being members of or providing support to the [pro-government] Mai Mai militias. It remains unclear as to how many civilians were executed by the CNDP or caught in the cross-fire, and the CNDP officially denies deliberate attacks against civilians. When confronted by the Enough Project, one CNDP major stated, “Killing civilians is not in our vision.” At least 50 civilians were killed on November 4 and 5, and perhaps scores more.

Worse, the rebel leader — and indicted war criminal — known as “The Terminator” has been spotted on the scene.

What happened in Kiwanja, unfortunately, was not an aberration, and the exacerbation of violence in the region can be traced largely back to the inconsistent and painfully ad hoc ways in which the international community has engaged (or failed to engage) with the problem over the past year. Maggie rightly diagnoses MONUC’s struggles as pre-eminently symptoms of flagging international interest and political will, and Feeley and Thomas-Jensen’s report provides a welcome critique of the “untenable” situation into which MONUC — starved of resources, unsupported by serious political initiatives, and expected to perform an expanding role in ever worsening conditions — has awkwardly been thrust.

A “special negotiator” for the region would certainly help, but MONUC will need a lot more support than that to prevent more Kiwanjas.

(image of child from Kiwanja camp, from flickr user Julien Harneis under a Creative Commons license)