NAMIBIA – The United Nations Security Council authorized its first-ever offensive peacekeeping intervention on Thursday, approving a deployment of up to 3,000 peacekeepers to “neutralize armed groups” and “make space for stabilization” in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The intervention brigade will carry out targeted offensive operations — with or without the participation of […]
NAMIBIA – The United Nations Security Council authorized its first-ever offensive peacekeeping intervention on Thursday, approving a deployment of up to 3,000 peacekeepers to “neutralize armed groups” and “make space for stabilization” in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The intervention brigade will carry out targeted offensive operations — with or without the participation of the Congolese national army — against armed groups, including the main M23 rebel group that succeeded in temporarily capturing the regional capital, Goma, last year.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the resolution, “which sets out a new, comprehensive approach aimed at addressing the root causes of instability in the eastern DRC and the Great Lakes region,” said his spokesperson in a statement.
“He remains personally committed to helping bring peace and stability to the people of the DRC and the Great Lakes region and will keep working to ensure this remains a top priority for the international community,” the statement added.
The U.N. faced harsh criticism for failing to stop the M23-led rebellion last year, despite nearly 20,000 peacekeepers currently stationed in DR Congo. Roughly 800,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the movement began last April.
Resolution 2098, sponsored by the United States, France and Togo, will also employ surveillance drones to monitor an arms embargo along the DRC’s borders with neighboring countries, including Uganda and Rwanda, who are accused of backing rebels. Both countries deny the allegations.
The resolution extends the U.N. peacekeeping mission in DRC, known as MONUSCO, through March 2014.
DRC government welcomes U.N. forces with open arms
“The DRC welcomes this vote, which marks a decisive turning point for re-establishing peace and security in the Kivu” regions, Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo said in a statement, referring to the resource-rich eastern provinces of North and South Kivu that have been engulfed in conflict for more than two decades.
The resolution to launch an intervention brigade “is the beginning of the end of armed groups and sends a very clear signal to those supporting them,” Ponyo said.
Resolution 2098 comes as part of a new U.N. campaign to end regional conflict along the DRC’s border regions. Eleven African nations, including Rwanda, signed a Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework in February, pledging not to interfere in the affairs of neighboring countries.
Rwanda has been accused of meddling in Congolese affairs following the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu militias. More than 1 million Rwandan Hutus fled to DRC after the Tutsi-led rebel army took power; Rwanda has invaded DRC several times since then.
In March, Rwanda-born M23 leader Bosco Ntaganda surrendered himself to the U.S. embassy in Kigali to be turned over for trial at the International Criminal Court. One theory behind Ntaganda’s surrender is that Rwanda, once accused of having “command and control” of the M23 rebels in DR Congo, pulled its support from the infamous warlord.
Other theories say Ntaganda fled to the ICC after losing a fight with M23 factions loyal to military chief Sultani Makenga. Makenga remains in control of the M23 rebels after Ntaganda’s departure.
Bertrand Bisimwa, a spokesperson for M23, said the newest U.N. peace plan has chosen the “war option,” as opposed to promoting dialogue to end the decades-old conflict in the region.
Bisimwa said: “From now on, peacekeeping forces will wage war on groups of citizens who are demanding good governance in our country.” According to Bisimwa, the U.N. had “unfortunately chosen to wage war against one of the partners for peace,” instead of encouraging the M23 and government forces to engage in brokered talks to resolve the conflict.
Challenges to protecting human rights
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous remains optimistic that the newest U.N. resolution will be successful in addressing what he referred to as the root causes of the terrible cycle of violence witnessed in the DRC.
“I do very much think that today could be a significant turning point in the handling of the crisis that for many years the DRC has experienced,” he said. “And at the end of the day, it is about putting an end to the suffering of millions of people.”
Yet, despite Ntaganda’s surrender and the signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, fighting continues to plague the DRC. The day after the U.N. authorized its offensive mission, MONUSCO reported fighting in Kitchanga, North Kivu, which left 11 rebel combatants dead and one Congolese Army soldier injured.
Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), believes much more needs to be done to ensure human rights are protected with the implementation of the U.N. intervention brigade.
“The incorporation of such an offensive military force into a U.N. mission would mark an unprecedented change to the traditional United Nations peacekeeping model and require stronger human rights protection’s mechanisms to avoid increased harm to civilians,” said Belhassen.
The organization said in a press release that if the United Nations truly hopes to reduce the threat posed by armed groups, it must include provisions to mitigate against the increased risks that communities will face.
“Now more than ever, our organisations insist that the protection of civilians must remain the No. 1 priority of the U.N. mission in the DRC,” said Paul Nsapu, secretary-general of FIDH and president of Ligue des Electeurs.
“MONUSCO’s mandate should thus reaffirm this as a priority and specify the protection of human rights defenders and independent journalists, who continue to be targeted and are at risk of attack, especially in conflict areas,” he said.
On a humanitarian front, DRC must also protect against civilians crises. Since 1998, more than 200,000 people have been raped in the country — known as the rape capital of the world. M23 soldiers are accused of raping at least 36 women during their brief takeover of Goma last November.
Over the same 10-day period, 483 people were admitted to hospitals, and 126 people reported being raped by fleeing Congolese soldiers.
FIDH and its member organizations believe similar humanitarian and human rights abuses will continue with the anticipated escalation of confrontations between MONUSCO and rebel groups in the coming year.
“Our organizations call on the UNSC to mandate MONUSCO to continue monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in the DRC, and to support national and international efforts for the fight against impunity, including those of the International Criminal Court, to bring to justice perpetrators of serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law,” said Jean-Claude Katende, president of ASADHO, an organization working for human rights in DRC.
Groups like ASADHO believe that without genuine reforms implemented by the government of the DRC, the situation in the country will remain volatile. FIDH and its member organizations in the DRC urge the U.N. and the international community to monitor and enforce the implementation of the commitments made by the national government, including those outlined in the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework.
FIDH also calls on MONUSCO to collaborate with communities at risk to gain their trust and identify their needs in order to protect civilians from further humanitarian abuses as the first-of-its-kind U.N. offensive mission moves forward.