The death and displacement caused by a Congolese army offensive in eastern Congo to root out the ruthless FDLR militia is an "unacceptable cost" of the military campaign. So says a group of 84 international and Congolese nongovernmental groups working in eastern Congo that have closely monitored the wake of the offensive against the FDLR that began in January.
More than 1,100 civilians have been killed and nearly 900,000 displaced since the offensive began, often due to retaliatory attacks by the FDLR, whose leadership fled over the border from Rwanda after taking part in the 1994 genocide. While disarming the FDLR is essential to stabilizing the region, civilian protection plans must be in place to prepare for the inevitable backlash. As Oxfam’s Marcel Stoessel explained:
“The human rights and humanitarian consequences of the current military operation are simply disastrous. UN peacekeepers, who have a mandate to protect civilians, urgently need to work with government forces to make sure civilians get the protection they need or discontinue their support.”
MONUC, the world’s largest U.N. peacekeeping mission, has spent well over $6 million to support the Congolese government’s Kimia II operations, according to the coalition statement. This expense alone should be a compelling reason for the U.N. to leverage its resources to ensure that the intended goal is achieved, as Human Rights Watch’s Anneke Van Woudenberg noted:
“With an investment this big, the U.N. has clout and should not remain silent when abuses occur. The U.N. needs to make it clear that if the Congolese government wants its continued military support, the army should remove abusive soldiers from command positions and its soldiers should stop attacking civilians.”
To illustrate this tragic cost-benefit, the group compiled some of the statistics from the operation and displayed them in a balance sheet. Some of the standouts include:
Achievement: 1,071 FDLR combatants repatriated
Cost: 1,143 civilians killed, including at least 10 local chiefs
Achievement: An estimated 250-300 FDLR combatants killed
Cost: 7,000 women and girls raped, the majority by the FDLR and FARDC soldiers deployed on military operations.
Achievement: FDLR partially cut off from revenue sources
Cost: 123 attacks on villages by the FDLR resulting in civilian deaths
As diplomats and U.N. officials gather in Washington this week for a meeting of the Great Lakes Contact Group, let’s hope they are heeding this urgent call for civilian protection in Congo. This stern statement from 84 organizations, with eyes and ears to the ground in Congo, should not be taken lightly.
Enough, a member of the Congo Advocacy Coalition, described the blowback from Kimia II in a recent strategy paper, available here.
Photo: Temporary shelters in camp for displaced people in eastern Congo. Enough/Laura Heaton