Faced with widespread reports of massacres and other serious human rights abuses by Government soldiers and rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Security Council today again called on United Nations peacekeepers to “use all necessary means” to protect civilians from threats from any party.
In a unanimous resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter authorizing the use of force, the 15-member body stressed that ensuring effective protection of civilians is the first priority of the UN mission in the DRC (MONUC), which has been aiding the national army (known as FARDC) with logistics and firepower to keep rebels from reclaiming areas previously under their control.
Extending the 10-year-old mission’s mandate at a strength of some 22,000 military and police personnel until 31 May, with the intention of renewing it then for a further 12 months, the Council called on MONUC to work “in close cooperation with the Government” to continue its coordination of operations with FARDC brigades in the strife-torn east “premised on the protection of civilians as a priority.”
Such operations are aimed at disarming foreign and Congolese rebel groups to ensure their participation in previously signed agreements for their demobilization and reintegration into the national army or civilian society, holding cleared territory to ensure civilian protection, helping the Government restore its authority, and enhancing efforts to end smuggling of the country’s vast natural resources, such as gold and tin, that fund the illegal armed groups.
MONUC has been aiding the so-called Kimia II offensive launched in eastern DRC by Congolese and Rwandan troops against the mainly Rwandan Hutu rebel group know as FDLR with helicopter lifts, medical evacuation, fuel and rations, as well as firepower support to FARDC, but the operation has been seriously tarnished by allegations of widespread human rights violations.
Noting the “dilemma” of MONUC’s mandate to protect civilians while at the same time working with FARDC, which includes elements responsible for killings, widespread rape and the recruitment of child soldiers, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative in DRC Alan Doss last week asked the Council for “clear guidance in this respect.”
At the same time UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston, citing two FARDC commanders, Innocent Zimurinda and Bosco Ntaganda, said it was “a contradiction of basic UN principles for UN peacekeepers to cooperate with a military operation led by individuals who stand accused of war crimes and grave human rights abuses.”
Today’s resolution stressed that MONUC support for FARDC-led operations against rebels “is strictly conditioned on FARDC’s compliance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law,” and that the mission must withdraw support from any suspect units.
It “demands that the Government… immediately take appropriate measures to protect civilians, including women and children, from violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses, including all forms of sexual violence,” and calls for full implementation of its proclaimed “zero-tolerance policy” on FARDC abuses, including sexual and gender-based violence.
The Council called on MONUC to help the Government with security sector reform based on setting up “a core, well-vetted, multi-ethnic force.”
It demanded that the FDLR, the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) blamed for massacres and other abuses in eastern DRC, and other armed groups “immediately cease all forms of violence and human rights abuse against the civilian population,” stop recruiting child soldiers, and lay down their arms pending reintegration under a MONUC-backed process.
“MONUC shall deter any attempt at the use of force to threaten the Goma and Nairobi processes [signed by some rebels for their reintegration] from any armed group… and undertake all necessary operations to prevent attacks on civilians and disrupt the military capability of armed groups that continue to use violence in that area,” it added.
Since its inception MONUC has seen a return to relative stability in much of the vast country, culminating in the first democratic elections in more than 40 years, but fierce fighting has persisted in the east, particularly in North and South Kivu, where Hutu militants blamed for the Rwandan genocide of 1994 have fled, compounding hostilities in a region already beset by ethnic tensions.