Amnesty’s Solution to DRC is…More Guns??

I was asked today about Amnesty International’s increasing calls for the UN Security Council to act to reinforce the peacekeeping force currently in DRC (acronym MONUC…it’s French and I can’t find the circumflex character to spell it out). Given the awful situiation in the East of the country, calling on the Security Council to, in his words, “put more guns” in the Kivus was “not going to help in the long run,” he offered. After quickly noting that Amnesty’s call is to strengthen the ability of MONUC to protect civilians…which include more police and armed personnel, but also trucks, aircraft, training to help victims of sexual violence, and a whole slew of logistical support, I gave it a little thought.

Like Amnesty’s support for the UN Mission in Darfur, the calls for increasing support for MONUC—already the largest (most expensive) peacekeeping mission in the world—may seem a desperate recommendation to some. But aside from the obvious and pressing needs of the most vulnerable of people in Eastern DRC—the war affected, the starving, and the displaced—there is no doubt that the humanitarian crisis itself is a policy problem. While Amnesty’s call is surely motivated primarily by the need to address human suffering, there is longer term wisdom to that call.

The roots of the current crisis in DRC can be traced back to the broader “Great Lakes” refugee crisis following the Rwandan genocide. We can trace the general instability of the Kivus and eastern DRC more broadly to the displacement of millions at the borders of Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi. That is, we can trace the current political and security situation in DRC back to the displacement and human insecurity of nearly 15 years ago and years since.  

Rwandan refugees setting up camp in E. DRC, 1994

Rwandan refugees setting up camp in E. DRC, 1994

This displacement destroys communities, shreds political fabric, militarizes local commerce, invites predation, increases incentives to take up arms, and destabilizes displacement-receiving communities and countries. The number of people displaced from the Kivus in the past couple months is about equal to the total number of Darfuris who’ve fled to neighboring Chad over the past 5 years. MONUC must be strengthened because civilians will suffer even further if it is not. But the wisdom of strengthening the UN’s thus-far ineffectual presence in the Kivus extends to a generational metric. If the spiraling human security situation in the Kivus isn’t soon slowed, we’ll be citing the international community’s failure to act in 2008 as a key cause of another yet-avoidable catastrophe years down the road.

Yes, securing vulnerable people now is just and necessary (see Mr. Koettl’s post from earlier today). But it has the added advantage of allowing future generations a chance to live in relative peace.


DRC: Protect Civilians NOW!

(c) Michael Graham/USHMM, July 2008

(c) Michael Graham/USHMM, July 2008

While African and UN leaders today discuss the recent spike in violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, civilians continue to suffer on the ground. The unraveling of the fragile ceasefire over the last hours further increased the urgency for the international community to step up its effort to help.

The UN peacekeeping force MONUC remains the last hope of hundreds of thousands of affected civilians, mainly women and children. However, the force is thinly stretched and cannot enforce its mandate of stopping attacks against civilians, protect humanitarian operations and enforce the UN arms embargo. The absolute priority for world leaders now must be to strengthen the peacekeepers’ capacity. And the absolute priority for us is to urge them to act.

Tensions in DRC Remain High

The situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo remains fragile, after rebel forces and local militia clashed north of Goma. More than 250,000 people have been displaced by the recent fighting and the humanitarian situation remains catastrophic. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is currently trying to find out what happened to the 50,000 people that were previously housed in the area. “As we feared, three internal displacement sites run by UNHCR near the town of Rutshuru in eastern DRC (…) have been destroyed and emptied,” David Benthu Nthengwe, UNHCR external relations officer, told IRIN “We and our partners are now trying to determine the whereabouts of tens of thousands of IDPs from the camps.”

The fighting in eastern DRC represents only a recent spike in violence in a country plagued by years of war. One of the underlying causes of the conflict is the ongoing impunity for perpetrators of the most egregious human rights violations, including sexual violence against women and recruitment of child soldiers. Despite having the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world, the question remains: what else can the international community do to bring lasting peace to the people of the DRC?