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MONUC – aiding and abetting?

Life is complex. In response to harsh criticism for supporting abusive Congolese army units last year, the UN peacekeeping mission was told by the UN Security Council in December that it had to condition its support on the behavior of these units. Specifically, the Council told them that any support is:

“Strictly conditioned on FARDC’s compliance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law and on an effective joint planning of these operations, decides that MONUC military leadership shall confirm, prior to providing any support to such operations that sufficient joint planning has been undertaken, especially regarding the protection of the civilian population, calls upon MONUC to intercede with the FARDC command if elements of a FARDC unit receiving MONUC’s support are suspected of having committed grave violations of such laws, and if the situation persists, calls upon MONUC to withdraw support from these FARDC units.” In clear terms, MONUC is not supposed to support any Congolese battalions led by officers listed in UN reports as being responsible for violations of international law. If there are reports of new violations being committed by troops supported by MONUC, they will be given a 3 week period to start judicial proceedings against the alleged perpetrators. If no action is taken, support will be removed for that battalion. In addition, if the operations in general are seen to be systematically violating international law, MONUC is supposed to bring all support to a halt. It isn’t very clear, however, what exactly “systematic” means here – is one attack on an aid convoy enough? One massacre? Of 10 people or 20 people?

The Congolese army is currently deploying 8 “strike battalions” in North Kivu in the Amani Leo operations. Last week, they gave MONUC the list of these battalions that MONUC will be supporting. All other battalions are supposed to be in holding positions or in barracks. MONUC is currently in the process of vetting this list to see if any of its commanders are on their blacklists. Two of the battalions are in the 23rd sector, currently commanded by Colonel Innocent Zimurinda, who has been found by the UN and Human Rights Watch to be involved in the Shalio massacre of last year, as well as the recruitment of child soldiers. Will MONUC protest and ask to have Zimurinda, a close associate of General Bosco Ntaganda, removed or will it consider that since they are providing support to the battalions and not the sector, it’s kosher?

Several weeks ago, the Congolese foreign minister told a top MONUC official that “if MONUC suspends support to one more Congolese battalion, we will ask MONUC to leave the country.” If this is true, it’s some pretty fierce posturing by the Congolese government. MONUC officials say they are trapped between a rock and a hard place – they want to have an impact and support the Congolese troops, but they don’t want to be complicit in abuses.

In Swahili, there is a saying: “Usiingie kwenye mashua yenye inatoboka” – don’t get into a sinking ship. Might be better to patch those holes before embarking.

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