Indian peacekeeper in the DRC. (Photo: Julien Harneis)

How the Security Council Can Support the Protection of Civilians in DRC

Indian peacekeeper in the DRC (Photo: Julien Harneis)

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUSCO, has a lot to deal with on a good day. MONUSCO trains the Congolese army on human rights and sexual violence prevention, works with the national “DDR” commission on the demobilization of child soldiers, deactivates mines and provides assistance for victims of mines, helps public officials address electoral disputes from the recent election, and much more.

Earlier this year, an army mutiny led to the formation of the M23 rebellion in the east. This complicates MONUSCO’s work with the Congolese and the Ugandan armies on conducting operations against the ADF-NALU and the LRA, two Ugandan rebel movements with a destabilizing presence in eastern Congo. The mutiny also poses a challenge to the disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement, and reintegration (DDRRR) of foreign armed groups, also in the east; the ADF, LRA, FNL, and FDLR.

MONUSCO has a hefty Chapter VII mandate, which includes the protection of civilians, but the mission has been criticized for failing to fulfill it. On Friday, the Security Council released a statement after a Council meeting that said members had “expressed strong concern” over recent developments, “strongly condemned” the killing of civilians, and “appreciated the quick response both from the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and [MONUSCO] to these serious attacks against the civilians.” The statement also said “The members of the Council urged the full investigation of credible reports of outside support to the armed groups.” (This last bit led to some confusion and controversy over the weekend, as the UN Group of Experts on the DRC has already conducted such an investigation but the Security Council does not want the report to be released. The Council is scheduled to discuss DRC sanctions on June 26.)

MONUSCO’s current mandate is set to expire at the end of this month, and the Security Council is expected to begin discussing the terms of its renewal this week. In anticipation of this, the International Crisis Group has issued an open letter to the Security Council, signed by ICG President and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, and the Enough Project has formulated three recommendations for the protection of civilians by MONUSCO.

The ICG letter stresses the importance of credible elections and security sector reform. In terms of protection of civilians, the upshot is: “Durable protection of civilians will only come through an enhanced political process and the establishment of accountable state institutions.”

The Enough Project’s recommendations for the mission’s next mandate are more directly geared toward the issue of civilian protection based on its current mandate, saying MONUSCO is “too fixed in its bases to give adequate protection” and only finds out about massacres when it’s too late. The three recommendations are, in brief:

1) Deploy an early warning system in vulnerable communities that will report incidents in real time to MONUSCO; the UNHCR Protection Monitors already in place are a good first step but are inadequately resourced.

2) Patrol the most vulnerable communities where attacks are probable, and which lie beyond the main roads the mission already patrols.

3) Deploy rapid reaction Joint Protection Teams that can be dispatched to rural areas from nearby bases immediately after an incident is reported.

Enough says the ideal amendment to MONUSCO’s mandate would be “to empower and support it.” MONUSCO has indeed been described as being under-resourced and under-staffed; and this is, unfortunately, old news. So the question is not just whether the Security Council will significantly alter or broaden MONUSCO’s mandate, but whether Council members will then allocate the resources and personnel necessary to execute that mandate.

In his memoir about Rwanda, Lieutenant General Rómeo Dallaire, head of the peacekeping mission there, said:

Member nations do not want a large, reputable, strong and independent United Nations, no matter their hypocritical pronouncements otherwise.  What they want is a weak, beholden, indebted scapegoat of an organization, which they can blame for their failures or steal victories from.  [pp. 89-90.]

There are a couple of reasons I’m tempering my optimism in terms of MONUSCO’s renewal. One is that the UN Secretary-General has already warned that the African Union/US military force going after Joseph Kony of the LRA is “short of equipment, training, food and transportation.” That is an operation which, I would imagine, would have access to support and resources from the US air bases and intelligence networks established by the US military in central and east Africa in recent years. The likely explanation for this is that the US is prioritizing operations of direct national interest, such as combatting Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). But if the US’ own force going after the LRA is under-resourced, that does not bode well for the even less popular idea of supporting a peacekeeping mission like MONUSCO, which is not under its command.

There is also the less-than-inspiring response of the US Ambassador to the DRC, quoted by Voice of America, when asked if he expected any changes in MONUSCO’s mandate. In his opinion, its mandate is “just about where it should be in terms of tasks” and MONUSCO is “doing its best to protect the civilian population.” MONUSCO needs the support of the US, as it is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council.

This month we shall see if Security Council members have the diplomatic get-up-and-go to make sure MONUSCO has the mandate it needs. But it may take a bit longer to see if any UN member states can be bothered to find the resources for it to carry that mandate out, or if continued violence against civilians will just provide more fodder for the argument that the UN is irrelevant or ineffective. This is even more important in terms of the Congolese themselves, who look to MONUSO for protection but cannot always trust the mission to provide it.