The recent incident of mass rape in the Walikali area of North Kivu followed by the release of a United Nations report on massacres in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has created a certain amount of discontent from various members of the international community. The Walikali incident has created intense concern, as has the UN report - albeit for different reasons.
The UN report mentions Ugandan, Burundian and especially Rwandan forces as perpetrators of violence and possibly genocide. The report could not have come at a worse time for the Eastern DRC where there are strained stabilisation efforts and where ensuring governance and the protection of civilians is already difficult.
The mass rapes near Luvungi occurring in August 2010 affected over 300 women and children. Mai-Mai and Forces Démocratiques de la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) groups committed these atrocities while a United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) unit was based not more than 15 km away in a Mobile Operational Base. This incident reaffirms the fact that stability in Eastern DRC is still an illusion.
The mandate of the new UN Mission, MONUSCO, has been specifically tasked with ensuring stability in Eastern DRC. The mandate outlines several key objectives to be pursued by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (GoDRC) and the United Nations mission:
• the completion of the ongoing military operations in the Kivus and Orientale Province, aiming to minimise the threat of armed groups and restoring stability in sensitive areas;
• an improved capacity of the GoDRC to effectively protect the population through the establishment of sustainable security forces with a view to progressively take over MONUSCO's security role;
• the consolidation of State authority throughout the territory, through the deployment of Congolese civil administration, in particular the police, territorial administration and rule of law institutions in areas freed from armed groups.
MONUSCO and the GoDRC has put in place two plans to ensure stability in the Eastern DRC, the United Nations Security and Stabilization Support Strategy (UNSSSS) for Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Congolese Programme de Stabilisation et de Reconstruction des Zones sortant des conflicts Armes (STAREC). These plans focus on the following key security issues:
• The strengthening of the emergency capabilities of the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC).
• Support for disengagement of armed groups.
• Enhanced protection of civilians in conflict areas and disengagement zones.
The implemented measures were designed to ensure that other role players could support the return of governance at local and provincial levels. It is unfortunate that these stabilization plans, which began in 2008, have been hampered by continuous incidents of conflict between, FARDC, FDLR, the Lord Resistance Army (LRA), and the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP), now integrated into the FARDC. The FARDC forces, now composed of various CNDP and other militia groups which have been integrated into the national forces, have been linked to serious human rights abuses of which rape features prominently as a weapon of war.
The underlying reasons for the ongoing fighting is a combination of Congolese and regional problems. Most important is the none-completion of the Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) of the Congolese armed groups as well as the FARDC. This scenario prevents the reform of the security forces, which ultimately results in abuses by the security forces targeting civilians. The ongoing FARDC military campaign, which is supported by MONUSCO, aims to forcefully complete the Disarmament Demobilization, Repatriation, Resettlement and Reintegration (DDRRR) of the FARDC and LRA. The campaign is contributing to the degeneration of the humanitarian situation in which violence against the population has become a daily occurrence. MONUSCO's support for the campaign jeopardises its position of impartiality due to the fact that the FARDC is one of the biggest violators of human rights.
Most armed groups control some part of the mining industry allowing them to generate funds and to pay for or exchange minerals for weapons from regional actors. The involvement of regional actors such as Rwanda, Uganda and to a lesser extent Burundi complicate the situation and hamper efforts towards stability. Both Rwanda and Uganda have rebel groups functioning in the DRC and have been know to get involved in operations against them. Uganda gained consent from the GoDRC to pursue the LRA in the Ituri area, but this has resulted in massive human rights abuses and displacement of people. Rwanda has in the past entered DRC with the consent of the GoDRC, which created massive tension within the DRC. Agathon Rwasa, the leader of the Forces Nationales de Liberation in Burundi (FNL) in Burundi is also alleged to be operating in the Eastern DRC, linking himself with Mai-Mai, FDLR and other disgruntled factions making an ‘unholy alliance'.
The burning question is how to ensure that the Eastern DRC does not fall into total anarchy. The most important issue now is how to deal with United Nations Human Rights Mapping Report on the Democratic Republic of Congo, and to ensure that a standoff between the governments of DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi do not result in further confrontation. Structures such as the UN, AU and even the Great Lakes Initiative might be used to find an acceptable way to deal with the matter rather than leaving the issue unresolved.
The second issue is to deal with the ongoing attacks on civilians and the use of rape as a weapon by the FARDC and armed groups. The mandate of MONUSCO is clear regarding the protection of civilians. It is important to put pressure on the Congolese government to fulfil its obligations in the protection of civilians. Incidents must be investigated and perpetrators must be prosecuted, impunity can continue no longer. The capacity of the police and justice system must be improved. This is an area where the international community can play a bigger role. The FARDC reform must be completed and soldiers must be trained in human rights and the protection of civilians. Regional organisations such as the AU and SADC can deploy military observers to ensure that it is implemented by the FARDC.
The biggest obstacle is the completion of the DDR process of the FARDC and armed groups as well as the DDRRR of the FDLR and LRA. As for the completion of DDR, a huge number of FARDC soldiers must still undergo the process. This process must be sped up, but will require political will from the GoDRC. Armed groups not yet demobilised must be brought back into negotiations, convincing them to demobilise using military action if needed. Well-trained FARDC soldiers, supported by MONUSCO through joint planning, however should implement the military action required.
It is suggested that regional military observers be deployed to ensure that guidelines on human rights and protection of civilians are followed. More emphasis must also be placed on the reform of the FARDC. The international community must use every possible opportunity to reform the FARDC into a force that will protect their citizens.
The solution to the FDLR and LRA lies within Rwanda and Uganda. Rwanda needs to open the political space to ensure the return of FDLR. The LRA case is more difficult and a regional solution is needed, for which a military operation is a possibility.
The most important is however the political will in DRC to address internal dynamics such as DDR, Security Sector Reform, impunity, protection of civilians and control over natural resources. The political will of regional actors to address issues as discussed is imperative. It is perhaps time for a deliberate effort from within the continent to address stability in the Great Lakes region.
Written by: Henri Boshoff, Head Peace Missions Programme