DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: PROTECTION OF CIVILIANS IN NORTH KIVU MUST GO BEYOND MONITORING
23 July 2007
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN Security Council has given a clear mandate to MONUC, its peacekeeping mission there, to protect civilians; Directive 01/07 issued by the MONUC force commander is equally clear about this duty. Mechanisms to collect information, monitor needs, and develop recommendations are impressive, yet these improvements have not led to action in the volatile province of North Kivu. While the presence alone of peacekeepers might give hope to the population and deter abuse, MONUC must be more proactive in protecting civilians.
()Mechanisms exist for reporting abuses and making recommendations to protect civilians. MONUC publishes regular reports on human rights, and teams from the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) travel throughout the territories to talk with villagers about their concerns and then share recommendations with MONUC and other agencies. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has made much progress in establishing a working group on protection under the new Cluster Leadership Approach to gather information and advocate for an end to attacks and abuse of civilians.
The results of these efforts, however, are disappointing: recommendations go unimplemented and attacks continue. In some cases MONUC or NGOs may not be able to conduct protection or assistance activities; insecurity, bad roads, and insufficient operational capacity limit the amount of work that can be done. Nevertheless, MONUC and humanitarian agencies must develop creative solutions to protect the population of North Kivu from attack.
MONUC must mainstream gender concerns through all of its work, as required by Security Council Resolution 1325. Given that violence against women is one of the greatest protection problems in the DRC, and that MONUC has a protection mandate, there should be systems in place to bring women peacekeepers and translators to talk with Congolese women about their concerns and to implement protection activities. Forces loyal to Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda have used rape as a weapon of war in North Kivu, yet in areas where his troops are deployed, very little is done to protect women who walk to the market, to church, or to get firewood. MONUC should work with Congolese women and gender experts to develop protection strategies such as firewood patrols and deploy in areas of known abuse such as market routes and military checkpoints.
Unaccompanied women and children, the elderly, orphans, and people with disabilities are especially vulnerable. In a site where thousands of displaced had recently arrived, people reported that those with disabilities and some of the elderly had not been seen since the violence started. Women reported that they must sometimes walk for an entire day to find firewood, clearly a risk in such a highly militarized area. A community leader stated that she could think of six children in the camp from different families who were separated from their parents. The government of the DRC has the primary responsibility to protect its civilians, and international agencies have the responsibility to do so when the government cannot, yet there are very few programs to support those who are especially vulnerable to abuse.
()The main request of the people in areas controlled by the most abusive force, the Bravo Brigade, is to have these troops transferred elsewhere. Nkundas forces, the majority of which are Tutsi, must be fully integrated into the national army and moved from the majority-Hutu areas in North Kivu. To further defuse the situation, the Government of the DRC must mitigate inter-ethnic tension and deter violence by deploying more government civil servants to North Kivu, supporting local conflict resolution efforts, providing social services, and investigating and prosecuting all perpetrators of violence.
In the near term, however, the only force capable of stopping attacks on civilians and protecting them from abuse is MONUC. While supporting the government, it must take immediate steps to secure the main roads in Rutshuru and Masisi, and protect women during their daily movements. Recommendations to safeguard the people of North Kivu are plentiful; the time has come for MONUC and the rest of the international community to act. ()
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