Friday, May 21, 2010

DRC: The perplexities of UN-DRC relations

By Jerome Mwanda
Republished courtesy of
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

NAIROBI (IDN) – The situation in the strife-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Central Africa is becoming increasingly perplexing, not the least because of uncertainty about its relations with the United Nations, which maintains the world’s largest peacekeeping mission (MONUC) in the country.

The DRC, known until 1997 as Zaire, is Africa’s third largest and fourth most populous country that is endowed with resources of vast potential wealth.

MONUC’s current mandate expires on May 31, 2010 and the DRC Government is keen that the 20,000 soldiers begin a drawdown by June 30, the date on which the former Belgian Congo will celebrate 50 years of independence. The DRC Government has proposed a total withdrawal of the peacekeeping forces by August 30, 2011.

Reports said that MONUC’s head, Alan Doss, had announced to the staff his intention to retire by the end of this month.

In a report to the Security Council in April 2010, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN disagreed with the DRC Government’s proposed date of August 2011 for the withdrawal of the 11-year-old force, which has helped restore a measure of stability and democratic process to a country torn apart by years of civil war and revolts that led to the greatest death toll since World War II – 4 million people killed by fighting and the attendant starvation and disease.

Against this backdrop, the Security Council highlighted on May 19 the simmering tensions and continued instability in both the Horn of Africa and the DRC. The meeting discussed peace and security in Africa 16 days after the top United Nations humanitarian official ended a five-day visit to areas of the DRC that have witnessed some of the worst atrocities against civilians.

Ambassador GĂ©rard Araud of France, who led a recent Security Council mission to the DRC from May 13 to 15, told the Security Council that he had carried out an intense but useful mission to the DRC.

Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the UN, said that since the Council would soon have to take a decision on the future of the MONUC, the mission had discussed with President Joseph Kabila, other Congolese leaders and members of civil society, means by which to achieve the common objective of restoring State sovereignty over the national territory and restoring stability.


The role that the UN could play in support of that objective could only be carried out through a stable relationship with the Congolese authorities, he emphasized. One of the lessons that the mission had drawn from its numerous meetings was that conditions in the country had evolved in a positive way, though they remained fragile.

The humanitarian and human rights situations were particularly worrying, he said, underlining also the importance of addressing impunity on the part of the perpetrators of sexual violence.

Another lesson was that any decision on the UN presence in the country should take into account the situation on the ground, so as to prevent new instability, he said, and underscored that security-sector reform was a crucial challenge in that regard, because the country still lacked an effective army.

Taking responsibility for that situation, the Congolese authorities had confirmed their desire to professionalize the army through bilateral cooperation. However, they still required United Nations support on other issues of security-sector reform, such as the training of police and reforming the judicial sector.

The authorities also expected MONUC to provide logistical support for the holding of elections in the coming months, he said, recalling the magnitude and costs of electoral support in 2006.

Members of the Security Council mission had expressed their wish to work with the DRC Government on reconfiguring MONUC, while acknowledging that the mission would not remain in the country indefinitely.

A transition should take place, in cooperation with the Congolese authorities, after a common analysis of the situation, he said, and it should aim to restore State authority over the national territory. France was preparing a draft resolution on extending MONUC’s mandate.

Speaking in his national capacity, Araud said the discussions with the Congolese authorities had been carried out in an open manner. Although the Congolese authorities were considering MONUC’s departure, they had not presented an ultimatum. A basis for dialogue between the Council and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been laid, he added.


The Security Council mission’s observations in fact confirmed those of the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes.

“The situation in the DRC remains complex, and the humanitarian needs very high, with grave protection concerns continuing to affect people in the eastern, north-eastern and north-western parts of the country, causing large-scale suffering to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people,” said Holmes.

Fresh from visits to the strife-torn Kivu provinces in the east, Orientale Province where he denounced “horrific” atrocities committed by the notorious Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and north-western Equateur Province where he condemned the decapitation and other brutal killings of civilians in inter-communal strife, Holmes stressed on May 3 to President Joseph Kabila the need for the continued presence of the UN Mission in the DRC.

“In many areas, MONUC is a deterrent against those who terrorize and attack civilians and humanitarian actors alike and their support, especially in Orientale Province and Equateur province, but also in the Kivus, is very important for the continued delivery of life-saving assistance to those in need,” Holmes said today in Kinshasa, the capital of DRC.

“I am confident that cooperation between the Government and the United Nations in this domain will continue,” he added, stressing to President Kabila and Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito that the humanitarian needs in the DRC remained considerable. “We are committed to respond to the acute needs of the population, but we also need to tackle the underlying root causes.”


He also emphasized the importance, for the sake of protecting civilians, of accelerated security sector reform because of the continuing humanitarian consequences of abuses by the Government’s armed forces themselves.

Holmes also visited the town of Dongo in Equateur province which was attacked in October 2009 when inter-communal violence in long-standing disputes over fishing and farming rights intensified into an armed insurgency, with 200,000 people driven from their homes, mostly seeking refuge in the neighbouring Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic (CAR).

“I was particularly distressed by accounts of how local inhabitants suffered at the hands of armed individuals,” he said. “The attackers showed utter disregard for civilians. Many were decapitated or otherwise brutally killed, while parts of the town were looted and burned.”

He also visited the Orientale province, near the border with Sudan and CAR, and where more than 300 civilians were reportedly killed in December 2009 in one of the LRA’s worst recent massacres. Another 250 people, including at least 80 children, were kidnapped in the same attack. In the town of Niangara he heard first-hand accounts from survivors, including one woman whose lips and ear had been torn off two days earlier in a typically barbaric and inexplicable attack.

Earlier in the Kivus, where some 1.4 million people have been internally displaced by fighting between the national army and the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), as well by local armed militias and bandits.

As well as conferring with Government leaders in Kinshasa on May 3, Holmes also met with representatives of donor countries. The UN and its partners have requested $828 million for humanitarian action this year, 27 per cent of which has been received so far. In 2009, out of a requested $946 million, $686 million was received.

“We are trying to help people survive and, to the extent possible, live a dignified life,” he said. “I hope that donors will continue to be generous in helping us achieve this, because of the extent of the continuing needs.”

* Comment on this situation will appear later in Mike Hitchen Unleashed

See also Sydney Irresistible and Mike Hitchen Unleashed
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