Thursday, July 2, 2009

Doss Must Go

Human Rights Watch issued a damning indictment of the UN's military operation in the Kivus today, saying it has been a disaster for the people of the region:
United Nations-backed Congolese armed forces conducting intensified military operations in eastern and northern Democratic Republic of Congo have failed to protect civilians from brutal rebel retaliatory attacks and instead are themselves attacking and raping Congolese civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. The attacks on civilians from all sides have resulted in a significant increase in human rights violations over the past six months.
Human Rights Watch joins a growing chorus of organizations, including Amnesty International, Oxfam, Enough Project, and the International Crisis Group, in detailing the massive failures of the operation, known as Kimia II.*

It is time to end this fiasco, confine the Congolese troops to their barracks, and fire Monuc chief Alan Doss. The failure of this operation was foreseeable by any well-informed observer. Indeed, many warned against it, including the Spanish General Vicente Díaz de Villegas, who resigned shortly after his nomination as Monuc force commander once it became apparent what he would be asked to do with the resources available to him. The Congolese army was in no condition to take on a complex counter-insurgency campaign. From the get-go it was obvious they were not only inadequate to the task but a serious threat to local civilians. For their part, Monuc troops are chronically under-equipped and poorly officered. They have never demonstrated any offensive capacity. Their only utility has been to occupy territory previously claimed by militia--and even on that score, their record is mixed.

It was also clear that the ex-genocidaires would retaliate against civilians at the slightest provocation. The 10,000 to 15,000 members of the FDLR active in eastern Congo were remnants of the genocidal regime responsible for the murder of 500,000 to 800,000 Rwandans in the summer of 1994. While only a fraction of them had participated in the genocide--most were children of the 1994 killers--they were led by men with an indisputable record for indiscrimate physical and sexual violence. There was, furthermore, an immediate and cautionary precedent for Kimia II. In December 2008, the US aided an operation by the Ugandan army against Joseph Kony and his small band of followers known as the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda. The operation, known as Lightning Thunder, failed to capture Kony, and the militia fled across the border in small groups that, as the New York Times reported, continued "to ransack town after town in northeastern Congo, hacking, burning, shooting and clubbing to death anyone in their way." The consequences of that operation's failure ought to have raised a big red flag to anyone considering taking action against any militia in the region.

Given that record, it was essential for any operation against the FDLR to be well-prepared and well-executed. If those conditions could not be met, no operation should have been undertaken. Yet it is obvious by now that even the most minimal standards were not in place. To help field an operational Congolese army, Monuc bundled various enemy militias--including one under the command of a war criminal known as the terminator--together with a rag-tag group of poorly trained and rarely paid Congolese soldiers. Then, without any serious training or effort to integrate the forces, it set them loose on a hunt against the one remaining militia in the region, the ex-genocidaires. The results were entirely predictable. To be sure, the Congolese army bears responsibility for the abuses they commit. But Monuc greenlighted the operation, despite knowing exactly what it could expect from the monumentally undisciplined Congolese army. That is why Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former commander for the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC), last week said that recent events in Eastern Congo are "shameful" and "destroy the reputation of the UN and of MONUC."

What is needed now is for the operation to be brought to an end, for Doss and other senior Monuc leaders to be fired, and for an investigation to begin into the decision-making process that led to this disaster.

Then we need to fashion an international response commensurate with the scale of the crisis unfolding in the Congo. The number of Congolese who have died over the last decade as a result of the war is approaching six million. Countless women have been raped. Indeed, rape requiring surgical repair has become the war's signature contribution to the litany of the world's horrors. President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Rice: Where are you?

*The origin of the name remains a mystery, at least to me. Georgianne Nienaber says that Kimia means peace in the local Lingala dialect, although Lingala is neither local nor a dialect. But Eve Ensler says it comes from the Swahili expression for shushing someone. A 1996 report from Amnesty agrees it means silence--but in Lingala. (Swahili is common in the east, Lingala in the West.) Interestingly, the first Operation Kimia in 1996 was also an attempt by the Congolese (then Zairian) army to quell uprisings in the Kivus. It too was characterized by large-scale human rights abuses committed by often unpaid soldiers, and it too ended in failure.

1 comment:

  1. Kimia - or as it is spelled in classical Swahili - means quiet, calm, silence - so none of the things that the operation is accomplishing.

    Love the blog - I am hoping to launch one when I move to Goma in October.