Despite Congo's peace deal and recent national election, armed groups—both national forces and non-governmental militias — continue to destabilize large swathes of the East. Earlier this year, for example, Congolese militia leader Laurent Nkunda and the Congolese government made peace and agreed to mix their troops, in part to break down Nkunda's command structure and dilute his power. Instead, this integration or "mixage" process has reinforced his strength, rebels of the FDLR (the Rwandan militia which includes elements that committed the 1994 genocide in Rwanda) continue to prey on local Congolese populations, and civilians are paying the price.
The army and police — both because of a lack of sanctions for abuses and because of the inhumane conditions in which soldiers live — have not behaved much better. The integrated army units, formed out of former warring factions as a result of the 2002 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, stay in squalid quarters and receive little food and support from their government.
Why does the international community allow these conditions persist? The fact is that Congo is a political backwater; few western countries have vested strategic interests there, and the constituency of people that care about the Congo is much smaller than the groups pushing for peace in Darfur. In the absence of a domestic lobby or overriding national security concerns, no strong engagement with the country exists, with most donors giving money for humanitarian and development projects without taking the strong diplomatic and political actions necessary to deal with the root causes of violence.
Concerned citizens and activists, however, can increase policymakers’ awareness of the plight of civilians in eastern Congo and can press them to make the right policy decisions to end the suffering in the region.
The main challenges that must be overcome in the Congo are neutralizing the militias and creating an army that respects human rights. In order to achieve these objectives, the "3Ps" of crisis response — peacemaking, protection, and punishment — are needed:
The U.S. should work with its allies and the UN to press the Congolese government and other governments in the region to develop plans and devote the necessary resources to neutralize the Congolese, Rwandan, and Ugandan militias that terrorize eastern Congo. Concurrently, the U.S. and other donors should provide funding and technical assistance to local reconciliation efforts.
The U.S. must maintain its support for a robust UN military presence and promote the deployment of a multinational mission to reform the Congolese army. The U.S. and other donors should also provide the equipment and training required to enforce the existing UN arms embargo.
The international community should develop a plan with the Congolese government to strengthen military court prosecutions of human rights violations. At the same time, a joint UN-Congolese vetting program should be launched to exclude officers who have committed serious abuses from the security forces. In addition, further support should be given to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to support its gathering of evidence and preparation of indictments to prosecute war criminals in the Congo.
Crisis Group Analysts In The Field For ENOUGH
On March 9, army commander Colonel Makenga was on his way from a routine inspection of his troops in Buramba, North Kivu province. The town had been the victim of numerous looting sprees by Rwandan militia of the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), and the villagers explained these raids to the commander.
As Makenga left the village, his convoy was ambushed by the FDLR. What exactly transpired is not clear — the villagers ran to hide in the bushes and their huts — but Makenga later came back into town and accused the villagers of supporting the Rwandan rebels. His troops proceeded to ransack the village and round up some men, whom he tied up and shot. When UN investigators arrived several days later, they found bodies mutilated and thrown into pit latrines.
A local villager told ENOUGH staff: "We are doubly cursed. The army accuses us of harbouring the FDLR, and the FDLR says that we provide the army information about their whereabouts. Both of them pillage and rape here."
Makenga epitomizes the brutality of the Congolese army as well as its failure to deal with militia. Makenga himself belonged to a militia led by General Laurent Nkunda, a Congolese from the ethnic Tutsi community who has been fighting with the national army for years and now leads a rebel operation in North Kivu. In January, Nkunda and the Congolese government made peace and agreed to "mix" their troops. According to the regional army commander, General Ngizo, "This 'mixage' process was supposed to dilute Nkunda's control by breaking down his command structure. Every Nkunda commander would have one of my men as his deputy, and vice versa."
Unfortunately, by March 2007, these efforts had produced the opposite effect. Instead of diluting Nkunda's power and reining in his abuses, they reinforced his strength. His soldiers were all given new uniforms and received salaries, but they remained largely independent of the government army. Nkunda's command over his troops remained more or less intact — Makenga, for example, as a subordinate of Nkunda, conducts his operations independently of national army troops. And as the inhabitants of the village of Buramba can testify, their abuses have not diminished.
As there is no facilitation and no written agreement between the two sides, the "mixage" process could collapse. Nkunda wants positions for himself and his commanders, and he hopes to link the process to larger reconciliation efforts with the Tutsi community. The government sees the process as purely military and has until now refused to discuss political matters. However, rather than reassessing the situation and the effectiveness of mixing troops, the government has now decided to extend the strategy of "mixage" to South Kivu province.
For as much criticism as Nkunda receives, the army and police have not behaved much better. In February, the UN peacekeeping mission released its biannual report of human rights abuses, and the results were grim: the Congolese security forces were responsible for roughly half of all violent crimes reported in the Congo. The actual numbers available are misleading since many victims don’t report crimes committed by the national government forces for fear of reprisal. But the real figures — the deaths due to malnutrition and displacement as a result of government abuses and government-militia fighting — are what make Congo's silent crisis one of the deadliest in the world.
These abuses have continued unchecked. On February 2, army units engaged in operations against a militia in north-eastern Congo called the FNI (or Front for National Integration); they went on a rampage, reportedly burning 12 villages and forcing locals to flee into the bush. A day earlier, in South Kivu, a group of soldiers broke into a house in Ciburi and tied a man to the ceiling before raping his daughter. In the north-eastern province of Ituri alone, 4,943 rapes were registered between April 2006 and January 2007, many of them committed by the army and police.
The army's indiscipline stems from both a lack of sanctions for abuses, as well as from the inhumane conditions in which soldiers live. The integrated brigades, formed out of former warring factions as a result of the 2002 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, stay in squalid quarters with scarce food and little support from their government.
ENOUGH visited the army barracks in Rumangabo, close to the eastern border with Rwanda. Wives of soldiers complained that they have had to feed their children with two cups of maize meal and beans a month. Their husbands are supposed to be paid an additional $20 each month, but even when delivered as promised, the wage is not sufficient to feed their families. "Our husbands should pillage and steal! They have no other option!" said one woman, echoing the comments of many women who said they encourage their soldier-husbands to loot and prey on neighbouring populations in order to survive. Conditions in the barracks were horrid, with no working latrines or other means of sewage disposal.
FDLR rebels still prey on the local population and are engaging regularly with the mixed brigades in North Kivu, but these operations usually have a worse impact on the local people than on the rebels. Meanwhile, the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels remain safely concealed in Congo's Garamba National Park.
Policy Challenges And Opportunities
The two main challenges that must be overcome to secure eastern Congo are the creation of an army that respects human rights and the neutralization of the many militias in the region.
The reform of the army and the police has been neglected by both donors and the fractious Congolese government. International efforts have been largely limited to sending trainers to army camps, but have done little to rebuild military justice, administration and the largely non-existent military infrastructure.
Neutralizing the militias requires targeting them through a mixture of sticks and carrots. Since the Congolese army is weak and abusive and the UN mission in Congo, or MONUC, does not want to conduct counterinsurgency operations in the jungle, the sticks thus far have been elusive. As a result, the Congolese army has in fact rewarded abusive militia commanders with high-ranking positions.
Unfortunately, the scale of the problems in the Congo dwarfs the international community’s response. The U.S. could certainly be doing much more to help. In its budget request to Congress for 2008, the Bush administration asked for $80.2 million in foreign assistance to the Congo, $10 million less than the U.S. spent in 2006. Nearly half of this funding—$39.9 million — is for humanitarian assistance programs, while only $6.6 million is for a small military training program, with nothing given to support the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of ex-combatants. Humanitarian aid is critical to dealing with the immediate needs of Congolese, but humanitarian band-aids do not and will not address the root causes of their suffering.
If the problems in Congo are so massive, why don't the U.S. and others dedicate the resources needed to resolve them? Politically, the Congo is a backwater; few western countries have vested strategic interests there, and the constituency of people that care about the Congo is much smaller than the groups pushing for peace in Darfur. In the absence of a domestic lobby or overriding national security concerns, there is no strong engagement with the country and most donors limit themselves to giving humanitarian and development funds without taking the strong diplomatic and political actions necessary to deal with the root causes of violence. Concerned citizens and activists, however, can increase policymakers' awareness of the plight of civilians in eastern Congo and can press them to make the right policy decisions to end the suffering in the region.
ENOUGH Policy Recommendations
Peacemaking:The U.S. should work with its allies and the UN to press the Congolese government and other governments in the region to develop plans and devote the necessary resources to neutralize the Congolese, Rwandan and Ugandan militias that terrorize eastern Congo. Concurrently, the U.S. and other donors should provide funding and technical assistance to local reconciliation efforts.
The priority must be targeting armed groups that commit atrocities through a mixture of sticks and carrots. Where there is no easy military solution, such as with Nkunda’s troops, the government should negotiate clear terms for military integration that are acceptable to both sides and that will promote the creation of a unified army. The UN mission in the Congo (MONUC) must play the role of mediator in these conflicts with the weight of the international community behind it.
How to deal with the FDLR – A peacemaking example
The Rwandan FDLR rebels are a serious threat to civilians, with their mere presence in eastern Congo serving as a pretext for the Congolese army and other armed groups to commit mass atrocities—as the razing of the village of Buramba illustrates. Thus, a strategy needs to be constructed to push and pull them back to Rwanda so that they no longer torment Congolese civilian populations. In order to deal with the FDLR as part of a larger strategy to end the conflict in the East, three diplomatic and military initiatives need to be re-launched:
- Top-ranking FDLR commanders not yet charged by Rwandan courts — reportedly 80 percent of all officers — must be clearly identified and provided incentives to return to positions in the Rwandan army.
- The Rwandan and Congolese governments should screen FDLR soldiers to determine who was not involved in the 1994 genocide.
With the screening results in hand, a joint Congolese-Rwandan delegation, including high-ranking demobilized FDLR returnees, should visit the FDLR and offer the following terms:
- Those not involved in the 1994 genocide, in particular those born in the Congo or married into the community, should be allowed to surrender their weapons and apply for citizenship or residency in the Congo, or else should have their return to Rwanda facilitated with support for reintegration.
- Those who committed crimes against Congolese civilians should be captured and tried by Congolese courts.
- Those who refuse to return or demobilize will face joint MONUC and Congolese military operations.
Protection:The U.S. must maintain its support for a robust UN military presence and increase its funding and technical assistance to reform Congo's military forces. The U.S. and other donors should also provide the equipment and training required to enforce the existing UN arms embargo.
Although a great step forward for the country, the 2006 elections did not significantly reduce the threat of atrocities in the eastern provinces; the problems of predatory militias and Congolese security forces were not voted out of existence. The UN Security Council must maintain MONUC's troop level at 17,000 and UN peacekeepers must conduct more robust operations against rogue militias in the East. Furthermore, the international community must strengthen the UN arms embargo by increasing MONUC's civilian and military staff tasked with monitoring compliance and providing the necessary equipment for this task force, including electronic surveillance, aerial reconnaissance, and water-borne units to patrol Congo's rivers.
The U.S. must also help to reform the Congolese police and army by providing funding and technical support to create functional institutions and competent units. The Congolese army in particular needs specialized training and equipment for mountain and forest guerilla warfare and electronic intelligence to precisely locate and isolate militia hideouts.
Punishment: The international community should develop a plan with the Congolese government to strengthen military court prosecutions of human rights violations. At the same time, a joint UN-Congolese vetting program should be launched to exclude officers who have committed serious abuses from the security forces. In addition, further support should be given to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to support its gathering of evidence and preparation of indictments to prosecute war criminals in the Congo.
Appropriate accountability mechanisms will help to deliver some degree of justice for the victims of violence and can act as a deterrent against future crimes. Because Congolese soldiers themselves present such a serious security threat, the international community must do the following:
- Pressure the newly elected Congolese government to conduct regular audits of the Congolese army and push for the prosecution of officials guilty of embezzlement and corruption. In addition, military police and prosecutors should conduct investigations into abuses committed by their soldiers.
- Support an effort by the Congolese army to launch a comprehensive vetting program to establish a list of 50 to 100 of the most serious human rights abusers in the police and army. These officers would then be excluded from civil service. The United States should also push the UN Security Council to impose travel bans and asset freezes on these individuals.
Beyond efforts to create more accountability within the military, it is crucial for the international community to build the capacity of the ICC to further its efforts to prosecute war criminals in the Congo. Intelligence should be declassified and shared with the ICC in order to accelerate the preparation of cases against the worst abusers of human rights.
ENOUGH Activist Agenda
In the Spotlight
Join Congo Global Action: Congo Global Action is an international alliance of humanitarian, human rights, environmental, and faith-based organizations, students, members of the Congolese Diaspora, and other grassroots movements.
The alliance was formed to advocate with one voice for increased local and international support for security, stability, and reconstruction in the Congo. Together, the Congo Global Action coalition forms a movement to promote action, policy change and increased funding to help the people of Congo.
Congo Global Action will be holding three grassroots conferences within the next year. Each conference will feature keynote speakers to teach people about the Congo, help participants become advocacy leaders, and will include a Lobby Day and a major media-attracting event to raise awareness about the Congo. The conferences will be held in:
- Brussels, Belgium—March 2007;
- Washington, DC—October 2007; and
- Nairobi, Kenya—January 2008.
Read recent Crisis Group reports and briefings on Congo.
Visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's online exhibition, Ripples of Genocide: Journey Through Eastern Congo, featuring Angelina Jolie and John Prendergast.
Get the latest information about the UN peacekeeping mission
Read about the appalling mortality rates and the study done by the International Rescue Committee
Lead Your Leaders
Your voice can help bring an end to the suffering in Congo. Schedule meetings, make phone calls, and write letters to your elected officials to express concern over the continued violence in Congo, and demand that the U.S. devote additional resources and attention to:
- Spearheading a multilateral regional approach to dismantling the remaining local and foreign militia, in particular the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda, or FDLR, rebels – led by commanders involved in Rwanda's 1994 genocide. The U.S. must provide the political and financial backing commensurate to the gravity of the conflict and human suffering.
- Supporting the creation of a functional and disciplined national army that protects rather than abuses the local population.
Call your Senators and member of Congress at 1-202-224-3121 (9:00am – 6:00pm Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday) and tell them to:
- urge President Bush to increase U.S. financial and technical support to help the Congolese government create a functional and disciplined national army. The Congolese army is often a threat to the civilians it should be protecting, and Congolese will not be safe absent a comprehensive, multilateral effort to reform Congo's security forces; and
- hold hearings on providing diplomatic and financial backing to a multilateral regional approach to dismantling the remaining local and foreign militia in eastern Congo — in particular, the FDLR, a Rwandan rebel group led by commanders involved in Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Working closely with the Congolese and Rwandan governments and UN peacekeepers, the U.S. can help isolate those FDLR responsible for the Rwanda genocide and offer incentives to bring the remainder out of the bush. At the same time, the U.S. and other donors should provide funding and technical assistance to local reconciliation efforts.
Call the White House at 1-202-456-1414 or e-mail at email@example.com, and tell President Bush to:
- increase U.S. financial and technical support to help the Congolese government create a functional and disciplined national army; and to provide diplomatic and financial backing to a multilateral regional approach to dismantling the remaining local and foreign militia in eastern Congo, in particular the Rwandan FDLR.