Saturday, December 12, 2009

Rethinking MONUC

With nearly 20,000 troops and a yearly price tag of $1.4 billion, MONUC (a French acronym for Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo) is the largest and most expensive UN mission in the world. Yet it continues to represent the antithesis of successful peacekeeping missions. It's two previous mandates have instructed MONUC to support the efforts of the Congolese military - with food and fuel supplies and logistical support - to root out Hutu rebels in eastern Congo. Later this month, the UN Security Council will take up the decision on whether to renew MONUC's mandate. If it does, it will mark the third time the Security Council has voted to continue peacekeeping support for Congolese military operations over the objections of human rights-based groups worldwide.

In recent weeks, several damaging reports of have surfaced, including a leaked internal document by a UN-mandated Group of Experts. The leaked report revealed that despite efforts to provide transparency in the Congolese mineral trade, illicit trade in tin and gold continues to finance rebel groups. Additionally, the FDLR, which consists of remnants from the Hutu-based groups that carried out the 1994 Rwandan genocide, continues to receive support from regional and international networks, with FDLR executives operating freely in Europe and North American and small arms and financial contributions pouring in from states like Spain and Ukraine. Much more shockingly, the report concluded that the UN mission not only failed to neutralize the FDLR. It exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in eastern Congo.

According to various human rights groups, the Congolese army has committed numerous atrocities, including the murder of hundreds of civilians and the gang-rape of women and girls in the eastern provinces. Moreover, many these atrocities are being carried out in a brutal manner reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide, with victims being decapitated or hacked to death by machete. An effort to incorporate ex-rebels into the Congolese army has also backfired. Many former rebels don Congolese military fatigues but continue to operate as separate militias, preserving their former allegiances and chains of command. Moreover, these groups have been accused of committing a large number of the atrocities linked to the Congolese military.

With a chorus of condemnation over UN complicity in human rights violations emanating from watch groups, a recent New York Times article revealed that the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs warned of such an outcome. In April, the office informed the UN peacekeeping department that its participation along side the Congolese army risked violating international humanitarian law. However, faced with a no-win situations, UN officials chose to pursue the least-worst option, knowing that a pullout would have facilitated reprisals upon villages by returning rebels. Nevertheless, the UN has failed to resolve the inherent contradiction in a mission charged with protecting civilians while backing a military campaign widely accused of committing atrocities.

In the coming weeks, the UN Security Council must reassess it objectives in eastern Congo. Donald Steinberg of the International Crisis Group points out that the last UN Security Council mandate included 41 priorities, which essentially meant there were no priorities. Moreover, it must reconsider its relationship with the Congolese army and reevaluate its offensive operations. One option is to forgo its direct operational involvement and focus on protecting areas where the rebels have been driven out. However, such a mission would do nothing to address the ongoing abuses committed by all groups involved. On the other hand, if the Security Council decides to continue supporting the Congolese army, it must demand more MONUC involvement in the planning and implementation of operations in addition to demands that internal perpetrators of abuse are brought to justice. Whichever course it chooses, the UN Security Council is facing a monumental decision. Despite the failings of the UN mission in the DRC, it is difficult to imagine a peaceful resolution to this intractable conflict without the participation of the international community.

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