UN denies complicity in DRC war crimes

The United Nations head of peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Wednesday rejected accusations that the organisation is complicit in war crimes Congolese troops allegedly committed in an offensive against rebel groups.

Alan Doss, the head of the mission in DRC (Monuc), said such charges misrepresented the UN force’s role and risked undermining efforts to help the Congolese government end the people’s suffering.

Monuc has come in for strong criticism from human rights and aid groups for providing operational and logistical support for an army offensive, Kimia II, against Hutu militias from neighbouring Rwanda. UN forces have provided military firepower, transport, rations and fuel for government troops as they seek to disarm the militias, who call themselves the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

Human Rights Watch last week called on Monuc immediately to suspend its support to the Congolese army or risk being implicated in further atrocities. Human Rights Watch said it had documented the deliberate killing of at least 270 civilians in a remote part of North Kivu province since March, when the offensive began.
Most of the victims were women, children and the elderly, it said.

“Some were decapitated. Others were chopped to death by machete, beaten to death with clubs, or shot as they tried to flee.” According to Human Rights Watch, army soldiers have killed a total of at least 505 civilians from the start of Kimia II to September.

Other groups, such as Oxfam, have described the human cost of the attempt to defeat the FDLR as “unacceptable and disproportionate to the results it has achieved”. Eastern DRC has been ravaged by war and conflict since the 1990s, when perpetrators of the genocide in Rwanda fled across the border and local guerrillas and foreign armies battled for control of lucrative mineral deposits.

Doss, who spoke at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank in London, acknowledged the moral and practical dilemmas involved in supporting an army that is frequently accused of human rights violations.

“By extension, any Monuc support for the FARDC [Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo] is criticised as condoning such abuse,” Doss said. “And yet I believe that the women and the children of eastern DRC would probably suffer more should we give up and walk away from the FARDC.”

Doss pointed out that Monuc’s support for the army was not without preconditions, and that it had made clear that, where there was evidence of troops committing human rights violations, Monuc would withdraw its support.

He added that more than 30 army personnel had been prosecuted for crimes against civilians this year, and more such cases were being prepared.

The head of UN peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, last week said Monuc would suspend support to army units it believes killed at least 62 civilians during the operations. But he stressed the move would not affect the UN’s broader support for the army.

About 1 300 FDLR fighters have been disarmed and repatriated to Rwanda since the offensive began, according to the UN. During that time, more than 7 000 women and girls have been raped, and more than 900 000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

With a budget this year of $3,1-billion and 20 000 peacekeepers, Monuc is the world’s largest UN peacekeeping mission.—guardian.co.uk

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