/ 10 November 2009

UN concerned at plight of civilians in eastern DRC

The United Nations Security Council expressed ”deep concern” on Monday about the humanitarian crisis in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where civilians continue to suffer at the hands of government troops.

The 15 council members ”expressed their deep concern about the humanitarian crisis in eastern DRC and the impact of the military activities in eastern DRC on civilians since the beginning of 2009”, said Austria’s UN ambassador, Thomas Mayr-Harting.

The powers also ”expressed their support for [UN mission in the DRC] Monuc’s recent decision not to work with units of the FARDC [DRC army] implicated in grave human rights violations,” added Mayr-Harting, who occupies the council’s rotating presidency for November.

His comments came after the council heard a report on the situation from Olusegun Obasanjo, UN special envoy for the Great Lakes of Africa.

The UN has lent military support to the FARDC since March for the Kimia II (”Peace II”) operation against Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

But for months, international and Congolese NGOs have called for the operation in eastern DRC to be suspended due to atrocities against civilians blamed on regular troops.

Last January and February, the Rwandan army joined the FARDC in an offensive against the FDLR, but the Congolese troops have since fought on their own, apart from the increasingly controversial help from the 17 000-strong Monuc.

The operation has come increasingly under fire over the price paid by civilians, victims of looting, arson, rapes and killings.

Despite the shortcomings, Obasanjo insisted that ”Operation Kimia II is achieving reasonable success”. He pointed to ”widespread support” in eastern Sud-Kivu province for the operation, which ”most people recognise has helped in weakening the FDLR”.

The former Nigerian president said that ”while we should not downplay the humanitarian consequences of those operations, it is important that we continue to support the Congolese government in its resolve to rid the Kivus of the FDLR, while encouraging the government to remain mindful of the protection of civilians”.

In mid-October, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, described Kimia II as a ”catastrophe” in human rights terms and called for a ”change of strategy” by the UN and FARDC.

But on October 16 in New York, the UN special envoy to the DRC opposed the suspension of the operation and said that it was vital to fight the rebels, while avoiding atrocities.

Alan Doss conceded that despite efforts by the FARDC and Monuc to improve and extend civilian protection, ”it is obviously not possible to protect everyone, everywhere, all of the time in the Kivus, an area the size of California with a population of eight million”. — Sapa-AFP