August 26, 2010

The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) is on the defensive since the NGO International Medical Corps revealed early this week that rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and members of a local Mai Mai militia, raped at least 154 women in North Kivu, a few kilometers from a MONUSCO base.

 MONUSCO primary mission being the protection of civilians, many are wondering how such acts, and on such a scale, could have been committed not far from a MONUSCO base without its peacekeepers intervening to stop them.

The new head of MONUSCO, Roger Meece, addressing reporters in New York via video conference from Goma on Wednesday, said that two patrols of peacekeepers were never told by the population that the rapes were being committed, even though these attacks are said to have lasted over three days.

MONUSCO claims it was only aware that there were rebels in the area and that “this was not unusual, and seemed to resemble nothing that could suggest a possible launch of attacks.” One wonders what MONUSCO thinks when they learn that there are rebels who just invaded an area. Do they think that these rebels are there to play football? Does protecting civilians mean letting them roam around and see what happens? MONUSCO is authorized to use force to protect the population, even if it’s a pre-emptive action. Why did MONUSCO do nothing when it was alerted at the presence of rebels in the area?

The New York Times reports in today’s edition that humanitarians and other members of the UN staff operating in the region received email alerts on July 30, the day the attacks began, warning them of the presence of rebels in the region. The New York Times quotes a United Nations employee who says that these warnings would have been forwarded to the peacekeepers who should then have done everything in their power to protect the population.

With regards to Congolese authorities, who bear the primary responsibility for protecting civilians in the country, they have so far been “missing in action”. A deafening silence prevails on these events. You’d think that the authorities would be scrambling for action, or a response, after they learned that more than 150 women were raped in the span of a few days. But no, they seem to be taking their time; it’s inaction, silence,… The public will probably be treated in a few days with another press release announcing the launch of an “investigation”, as we have become used to for years (investigations which are never completed and whose results are never made public).

For years, the Congolese authorities have been scrabbling on the problem of armed groups. Nobody knows today what the “solution du jour” will be tomorrow and how many more times we will wake up only to learn (sometimes after weeks) that our children, our sisters and brothers, have been brutalized by these armed groups.

The Palmares reported a few days ago on the atrocities of the FDLR in the region and the insufficient number of Congolese soldiers in the area. While rampant corruption remains the norm amongst our leaders, the soldiers supposed to protect the population are not paid for months, do not receive adequate training, and therefore the military seems unable to settle once and for all the problem of the FDLR and other militia groups operating in the East.

While the authorities want to expel MONUSCO from Congo by the end of next year, they are still unable to protect the population against these barbaric and despicable attacks against civilians by armed groups. It is clear that their “efforts” to eradicate this scourge have so far remained utterly insufficient.