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Slow On The Uptake: UN Drops Support for Congo Army Units

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Slow On The Uptake: UN Drops Support for Congo Army Units

Posted by Laura Heaton on November 3, 2009

Slow On The Uptake: UN Drops Support for Congo Army Units

Amid strong criticism accusing the U.N. mission in Congo of being complicit in shocking abuses against civilians, the U.N. announced yesterday that it would suspend some support for a Congolese military operation that rights groups, including Enough, deem to be doing more harm than good.

Criticism of the U.N. has been escalating up for months as reports  emerged that Congolese soldiers were responsible for massacres, decapitations, and widespread rape, while the United Nations turned a blind eye. A military operation by the Congolese army and aimed at rooting out the notorious Rwandan rebel group FDLR began in January and continued with U.N. support beginning in March. MONUC provides logistical and operational support, and yet, in spite of this direct involvement and its robust mandate centered on civilian protection, has remained startlingly silent about the army’s routinely egregious behavior.

In a statement issued yesterday by Human Rights Watch, (which should be commended for the important role it played in getting MONUC to reexamine its support for the Congolese army’s operation) senior researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg didn’t mince words when describing the severity of the situation:

Some Congolese army soldiers are committing war crimes by viciously targeting the very people they should be protecting. MONUC’s continued willingness to provide support for such abusive military operations implicates them in violations of the laws of war.

According to HRW, the Congolese soldiers killed at least 505 civilians between March and September of this year and an additional 198 during January and February. HRW compiled the figures and details of these massacres and abuses during 21 fact-finding missions to the region this year.

Unfortunately, the U.N.’s decision only confronts part of the problem by only suspending support for the army units responsible for a massacre in mid-August in which 62 civilians died. Speaking to the Washington Post’s Stephanie McCrummen, a U.N. spokesman sounds commendable when explaining the rationale behind MONUC’s decision to withdraw support:

"By taking this position, it’s a statement that [the U.N. mission] will no longer tolerate the Congolese army’s violations of human rights against civilians.”

But while the decision is prudent (if a little late in coming), it’s difficult to not be cynical about how much of an impact the move will have, so long as the U.N. continues backing the notoriously undisciplined Congolese army and tacitly allows an indicted war criminal like Bosco Ntaganda to man the helm of the military’s offensive. As my colleagues pointed out back in May, the army’s offensive would produce Congo’s next catastrophe. It’s distressing to see how the past eight months have played out, especially in light of all the early warning signs.


Photo: Women pass Congolese soldiers on the road. (AP)