Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Action for Congo

Since I'm full of concern but not many original ideas on the situation in the DRC, I'm reposting this blog post by Fred Robarts, for more information please visit http://www.ir2p.org

The last time eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had this much media attention, it was full of refugees from Rwanda who had arrived intermingled with the extremist officials and militia groups that had orchestrated the 1994 genocide. (People who are armed or have committed crimes against humanity aren’t eligible for refugee status under international law, but neither the Congolese authorities nor the UN prevented the genocidaires from keeping their weapons and running the camps.) There were stories of cholera outbreaks and a massive relief operation, but then the news moved on. There was very little coverage or outcry when the same exiled genocidaires staged gruesome raids on Rwanda, or when in 1996 the new Rwandan army crossed the border and carried out massacres of its own, hunting down Rwandan Hutu rebels and refugees alike before sending some 600,000 back to Rwanda.

That was the opening act of two really nasty wars, followed by a power-sharing agreement and a transition to democracy. But these achievements were built on flimsy foundations, and were not shored up by meaningful reforms and effective nationally-led efforts to improve security, end impunity and improve living conditions. All manner of foreign and home-grown armed groups flourished in the security vacuum and profited by selling Congo’s fantastic mineral and timber wealth to the highest bidders.

Now the international press is back in Goma in numbers that seem remarkable, given stiff competition from the financial markets and the US elections. So there is much more material than usual to draw on for the background material and news articles below. But some humanitarian workers are also uniquely-placed to report on the consequences of the violence, as Helen O’Neill of MSF does here (audio):

“One week there is a bustling village and the next week our mobile medical teams return to discover it’s completely empty - a ghost town. Thousands are on the move - a constant stream of humanity on the road. Who knows where all these people will end up? The families settle in inhospitable areas, many of them in the bush, where there is no chance of accessing healthcare… Malaria is endemic in the country, as is cholera, which increases whenever people are on the move like this or crowded into unsanitary camps… The people I met are also hungry, as they can’t go to their fields to harvest. It’s just too dangerous. If you are out alone trying to get to your land you can be shot or raped.”

Policy recommendations

The following 10 steps have been taken from a variety of sources (listed below) and consistent with ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine:

1. Apply sustained, coherent and even-handed international pressure to ensure dialogue between the protagonists to work on acceptable problem-solving mechanisms instead of seeking to profit through dangerous alliances with proxy forces.
2. Strengthen the UN mandate and answer UN requests for more, better-equipped troops (preferably including Special Forces) for MONUC, including through rapid deployment of a UN-mandated European Force.
3. Maximise efforts to help impartial specialist agencies like MSF and the ICRC get humanitarian assistance to those who need it.
4. Regroup the Congolese army (FARDC) and bring it under firm control and new leadership as a matter of urgency. Senior officers must be vetted; no national army can succeed if it is led by war criminals and racketeers. The troops need better training and discipline, but also better conditions.
5. Through political, economic and military pressure, isolate, diminish, disarm and disband all foreign and local militia groups.
6. Enable more inclusive dialogue in DRC and Rwanda to address deeper problems including citizenship, property rights, management of natural resources and the return of refugees. In the process, listen to and inform the rural population and multiple minorities of the Kivus.
7. Examine and control the mineral trade, including through more intrusive sanctions monitoring (e.g. flight inspections) and instruments such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Global Compact.
8. Investigate and prosecute human rights abuses and war crimes through the DRC courts and the International Criminal Court.
9. Monitor, challenge and prosecute hate speech from politicians and the media in DRC, the Great Lakes region and the Diaspora
10. Review development assistance programmes to ensure that they abide by Do No Harm and OECD principles for engagement in fragile states while helping to build democracy and uphold the Rule of Law in DRC (and Rwanda).

Sources of policy recommendations, with sample quotes:

* Council on Foreign Relations: “The problem in eastern Congo is analogous to the problem Sierra Leone faced in 2000, when a British intervention stabilized the country.” (With audio)
* The Economist: “Plainly, the peacekeepers need reinforcing fast, with the right sort of troops. Instead of wringing its hands, the UN Security Council must resolve to send a robust force of extra troops forthwith.”
* Human Rights Watch: “It’s up to the Congolese government, not Nkunda, to protect its Tutsi citizens.”
* Minority Rights Group: “The grievances of the Tutsi cannot justify the abuses committed by the CNDP.”
* UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes: “We should not return to the status quo. This crisis should be the occasion to redefine the international commitment to the Congo so that there can be a more effective effort to address the causes of the conflict. If we leave the fundamental problems to fester under the surface, all our other efforts – and the UK’s laudable investment in helping the Congo – will be built on sand.”
* Amnesty International: “Deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians and peacekeepers carrying out their duty of protecting civilians is a war crime, punishable under international law.”
* Enough: “All sides must be held to account for the crimes committed, and the International Criminal Court must work with MONUC to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity by all sides”
* The Guardian (Comment Is Free): “Unless sufficient determination can be mustered to follow up with more inclusive dialogue to address deeper problems including citizenship, management of natural resources, government legitimacy and return of refugees, violent instability will continue to plague eastern Congo and unsettle the entire region.”

Further action

If you agree, the following are some actions you could take. (No doubt you can think of other ideas, perhaps inspired by other campaigns - please let us know.)

* Write to your elected representative. Better still, ask to meet them. Bring a persuasive friend. (For those in the UK, there is likely to be a special parliamentary debate this Thursday. Refer to They Work For You to get your MP’s contact info.) Ask them what they think about these proposals, and ask if they have any links with the Congolese Assembly or the Rwandan Parliament. Find out if your country is currently a member of the UN Security Council. Ask how your government is responding to the humanitarian emergency, and whether this is proportionate to the needs.
* Most news sites, blogs and radio shows encourage you to comment on the big stories. Add your voice, and draw on the material on this page and the links (please send us a link to your comment as well).
* Media coverage will slip during the US Elections. Why not write to the editors (and your MP again) to let them know you want to know what happens next?
* Find out which humanitarian and human rights organisations are doing valuable work in the Congo. Join one of them.
* If you are already a member of a club or organisation, consider how events in the Congo may be relevant to them. Discuss it.
* Find and get to know any Congolese people in your school, college, workplace or neighbourhood. They may be surprised to know you care about what is happening there.
* If you have a blog or website, link to this page and use the resources to write your post.
* Email the link to this page to friends and colleagues, with a personal message from you to introduce it.

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