In a damning and stunning statement today, Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged that the United Nations peacekeeping force (MONUC) in the Democratic Republic of Congo "knowingly supports abusive military operations" by the regular Congolese Army (FARDC). "Congolese armed forces have brutally killed hundreds of civilians and committed widespread rape in the past three months in a military operation backed by the United Nations," HRW said. Operation Kimia II, which began on March 2 was supposed to disarm the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan Hutu militia group, some of whose leaders participated in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. MONUC provides substantial operational and logistics support to the soldiers, including military firepower, transport, rations, and fuel.
The litany of abuse can be found in reams of blogs posted on the Congo Page of the Huffington Post. How long will this continue, how many times must we independent writers repeat ourselves, now that HRW has firmly laid the blame for the slaughter, maiming and torture of innocents squarely at the door of the United Nations? Senior researcher at HRW, Anneke Van Woudenberg, said "MONUC's continued willingness to provide support for such abusive military operations implicates them in violations of the laws of war."
What has happened to the innocent goes far beyond anything that rational minds can comprehend. Is this, perhaps, why the United States has turned such a blind eye to what is happening in Congo?
How does the rational mind make sense of the fact that in early August at Mashango hill, 15 kilometers from Nyabiondo where UN peacekeepers have a base, 81 civilians were killed when Congolese army soldiers attacked five hamlets within a few kilometers of one another, only one of which contained rebel combatants?
In one of the hamlets, Katanda, Congolese army soldiers decapitated four young men, cut off their arms, and then threw their heads and limbs 20 meters away from their bodies. The soldiers then raped 16 women and girls, including a 12-year-old girl, later killing four of them.
Where is the outrage? Where is the $17 million Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised to provide some protection for the Congolese people who have been savagely and inhumanly brutalized? What good does it do for Eve Ensler to build a city of hope for rape victims, complete with meditation gardens in the safe confines of Bukavu when this is happening in the villages? Where is Heal Africa in all of this? I have been told that rape and maiming is now "big business" for the NGO's in Congo. Do US donors have their heads in the sand, or somewhere else?
Neither the Congolese government nor the international community have removed well-known abusers of human rights from the army's ranks. Bosco Ntaganda, wanted on an arrest warrant for war crimes from the International Criminal Court, remains a general in the Congolese army and plays an important role in operation Kimia II.
General Laurent Nkunda of the CNDP was ousted in a coup organized by the Rwandan government, which was in collusion with the Congolese government, and replaced by Ntaganda. This happened in January 2009, paving the way for the five-week joint operation, known as Umoja Wetu. Congolese army soldiers and their Rwandan army allies deliberately killed another 198 civilians during late January and February. Nkunda has not been granted due process in Rwanda, a government the United States holds up as a model of democracy in Africa. The truth is far, far from reality.
The Rwandan Constitution has been dragged through mud drenched by the blood of innocents as Nkunda remains in "detention." He has been charged with nothing, as there is nothing to charge him with. But that is another story.
The rule of law appears to have been thrown to the wind in this region, but HRW maintains that there are options.
The peacekeeping mission's mandate, however, requires it to attach "the highest priority" to protecting civilians. According to a January 13, 2009 note from the UN Office of Legal Affairs, and two subsequent legal notes from the same office on April 1 and October 12, shown to Human Rights Watch, MONUC has an obligation, in advance of agreeing to support any military operations with the Congolese army, to ensure that such operations are planned and conducted in accordance with international humanitarian law. MONUC may not participate in any operations in which there are substantial grounds to believe that the Congolese army units involved might violate international humanitarian law.
We obtained a restricted United Nations internal memo for the week of October 28, 2009. The "All Staff Weekly Threat Assessment" (WTA) is a list of threats that face MONUC, not the local populations MONUC is mandated to protect. Its existence is a damnation of MONUC's inability or sheer malfeasance to step up to their moral responsibilities in DRC. The WTA includes some telling assessments of the corrupt Congolese army, and what MONUC knows but is not saying publicly is an indictment of the United Nations.
Meanwhile a large number of extractions, such as looting, were perpetrated by the FARDC and the FDLR especially in the Walikale territory, but also in the Rutshuru and Masisi territories.
At the same time the non-payment of FARDC salaries continues to cause several problems of indiscipline. In Lubero territory, an increase of harassment towards the local population is recorded in several towns...In Kashugo, the 112th FARDC Brigade completely looted the town and fired into the air the whole nightlong. It should be recalled that a captain had embezzled the salaries of the brigade and disappeared.
How many more of these reports to we have to see before we all enter the third circle of hell known as DR Congo? Knowing is everything.