Monday, July 13, 2009

Just End It

Alan Doss offered a limp defense of Kimia II last week at a briefing before the Security Council and in the pages of the Washington Times, even as evidence continued to mount that his decision to launch a military operation to extirpate the FDLR has been an unmitigated disaster for the people of Congo. After the briefing, the Security Council published a feeble statement of support for Doss patched up with enough caveats to cover their ass in the event anyone ever asks them why they allowed this debacle to continue.

Background for newbies: Early this year, UN peacekeepers in the Congo launched an ill-considered counter-insurgency campaign against a militia group in eastern Congo. To help field an operational Congolese army, Monuc, the UN mission to the Congo, 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 infrequently paid Congolese soldiers. Then, without any serious effort to integrate or train these forces for a complex counter-insurgency campaign, it set them loose against the one remaining militia in the region, the ex-genocidaires.

These were the 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 participated in the genocide--most were children of the 1994 killers--they were led by men with an indisputable record for indiscriminate physical and sexual violence.

The results were disastrous. In the temperate language of Human Rights Watch, "The attacks on civilians from all sides have resulted in a significant increase in human rights violations over the past six months." And in a region already known for its high incidence of rape, the Congolese army has now become the primary perpetrator of sexual violence against women.

What makes these results particularly distressing is that they were entirely predictable. Indeed, many observers warned against the operation, including the Spanish General Vicente Diaz de Villegas, who late last year resigned his commission as Monuc force commander after learning what he would be asked to do with the resources available to him. Furthermore, there was an example readily at hand of the disasters that could ensue if the operation went awry. In December 2008, the US supported a Ugandan attempt to round-up the Lord's Resistance Army, the cult-like militia that has terrorized northern Uganda for the past two decades. When it failed, the LRA went on a killing spree, slaughtering more than a thousand people as the LRA fled into northeast Congo. And that operation, by contrast, was relatively well-organized.

In this case, Monuc greenlighted and set in motion an operation that required an entirely undisciplined army, in collaboration with known war criminals, to hunt down a murderous and vindictive militia, one that had already lived off the land for fifteen years. 

A host of NGOs have called upon the operation to be terminated, including Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, and the International Crisis Group. And Dutch Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former commander for Monuc, recently said that current events in eastern Congo are "shameful" and "destroy the reputation of the UN and of MONUC." No doubt their collective voice, as well as reports from other UN departments such as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, helped bring these concerns to the Security Council, thus precipitating Doss's appearance.  

It would be reassuring to report that Doss's defense of the operation was at least well-thought through. It is not. He begins by suggesting that humanitarian organizations are sputtering naifs, "struggling to find words equal to their anger," and offering "well-meaning" recommendations that would only perpetuate the violence:  "Time and time again we have seen warlords and armed groups re-emerge and flourish when they sense hesitation and vulnerability." 

So what is to be done? Well, first says Doss, "the Congolese government must ensure discipline and end impunity within its own forces." To which one can only reply: well, yes. But what should we do in the meantime, and what if the Congolese government never does get a handle on its army? Come to think of it, shouldn't you have made sure you had a disciplined force in place before launching the operation?  If your child were being held hostage, would you entrust her rescue to drunken, unpaid, ill-equipped and poorly trained men with a propensity for rape? Or would you hold off until you had some reasonably capable force? 

Doss goes on to suggest that the Congolese soldiers haven't been paid because of the sudden drop in world commodity prices: Donor nations must "dig deeper to fund reforms that can help the army gain the confidence of the people." This is disengenuous. Doss knows perfectly well that the soldiers aren't being paid because the Congolese government is utterly corrupt. They weren't being paid regularly even during the commodity boom. Even if the international community could somehow ensure that the Congolese soldiers were paid on time, that would hardly be enough to make up for their lack of training and discipline.

And what of Monuc's mandate to protect civilians? "We are doing so every day across the Kivus," says Doss. "But we are thin on the ground and the reinforcements authorized by the Security Council last year are urgently needed so we can extend our protection network." Again, this begs the question: why didn't you wait for those reinforcements? And are you now implying that these extra 3,000 or so troops, nearly all of them to be drawn from second-tier armies such as India's, will be sufficient to guarantee civilian lives? It is hard to see how, given the extent of the field of operations and the limitations of these troops.

Doss ends by promising that a cornucopia of aid is in the works: "government authorities and donors have committed to a recovery and stabilization package to repair roads, rebuild schools and clinics, create jobs and expand the police presence..." These projects will give young men an alternative to banditry, says Doss. Never mind that the government has so far demonstrated zero interest in rebuilding the country's infrastructure elsewhere in the country.  Some "early action and quick funding" will get these projects rolling. 

Meanwhile, back on planet earth, a new Oxfam survey finds that "rape, forced labour, reprisal attacks and torture are surging in eastern Congo as the result of the recent UN-backed military offensive.''

The survey of 569 civilians living in 20 conflict-ridden communities across North and South Kivu shows that the Congolese government's military operations against the rebel Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) are resulting in escalating insecurity for civilians, who are being attacked by all sides. Many in the Congolese army are committing abuses, with the FDLR increasing its retaliation against civilians for the offensive, the agency said. 

Some 800,000 people have been displaced in North and South Kivu since the offensive was launched at the beginning of the year, according to the UN.
What is needed now is for the operation to be brought to an end, for the senior Monuc leaders who planned and authorized this operation to be fired, and for an investigation to begin into the decision-making process that led to this disaster.

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