Crimes in the Congo

Human Rights Watch released a chilling report about alleged abuses committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by both rebel militias and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). The report alleges that at least 1,400 people were killed, some in very brutal fashion, in the context of two FARDC offensives.  For the United Nations the most disturbing part of the report concerns the fact that the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Congo (MONUC) provided logistical support to the same FARDC units that were complicit in committing atrocities.      

This is clearly troubling.  

There are a couple of things to explain here.  First, the Security Council has given MONUC the mandate to support the FARDC in their effort to fight militias of ex-genocidaires that have molested eastern Congo for a decade. MONUC was not “going rogue” by supporting the FARDC.  Second, since these allegations first surfaced, MONUC has suspended its cooperation with the offending units.  

Beyond that, the report raises a number of important questions regarding the proper relationship between a country’s armed forces and UN Peacekeeping units deployed in that country.  Historically, there was no question: peacekeepers were simply deployed to post-conflict zones to act as buffer between two sides during a cooling-off period. (Think Cyprus, Kashmir, or more recently, El Salvador and Bosnia.)  This changed over the past half decade or so.  Rather than being tasked with simply keeping the peace, the Security Council has viewed peacekeepers as potential enforcers of the peace.  That is, rather than being a neutral party to the conflict, they have taken on the role of implementing peace agreements. 

This is a profoundly new phenomenon for UN Peacekeeping.  Joint operations with the FARDC  have been one manifestation of this transition.  Another has been joint operations between Haitian police and peacekeepers against urban gangs in Port-au-Prince.  But it is not something limited to the UN experience.  Key to American exit strategies in Afghanistan and Iraq are building up those countries’ military and police forces.  This is called “capacity building” in UN-speak and it is the only way that the UN will ever be able to extricate itself from the DRC.   (This is not to excuse what happened. I’m merely trying to explain the context in which these decisions are made.) 

The allegations of atrocity, however, beg the question: should the United Nations suspend its cooperation with all units of the FARDC?  This Washington Post piece incorrectly states that the Human Rights Watch report says that it should. The report actually  says that MONUC should immediately suspend cooperation with units involved in the offensive, which it has.   

 Interestingly enough, Susan Rice addressed this point during her meeting at the Holocaust Museum last week.  

The U.N. has taken a decision, which we support, to suspend any support to or cooperation with units of the FARDC that have engaged in atrocities. We’re in the process in the Security Council as we speak of reviewing the mandate of MONUC. And we are working with others to identify very specific conditionality for when support to the FARDC can be allowed and when it can’t.

But I think people need to understand that this is a very difficult issue. It’s not black and white. If the U.N., for example, were tomorrow to say, “We’re not providing anything else to the FARDC. We’re having nothing to do with it, no food, no support, no assistance,” that’s not going to solve the problem.

The FARDC will do what it is inclined to do on a much greater scale, which is to rape and pillage and steal from a population to acquire what it needs. And it will become that much more rapacious.There’s a huge dilemma here of dealing with those that have committed genocide and are continuing to kill and having only undisciplined, if not worse, of an armed force to — to go after them. [emphasis mine]

Given recent trends, the DRC will probably not be the last time that the UN will be tasked to work with national security forces on an operational level.  The key, it would seem, is to set guidelines that stipulate the circumstances under which UN Peacekeeping can partner with these forces.  In the meantime, it goes without saying that there should be no immunity for FARDC units involved in these attacks.  


Photo: MONUC