Progress in bringing stability to the war-wracked east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is mixed, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a new report, noting the heavy humanitarian toll wrought by a military operation to flush out a notorious ethnic Hutu militia.
“The continued improvement in the relations between the country and its neighbours is to be commended, and I encourage the Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda to continue on this rights path,” Mr. Ban wrote in the publication made public today.
The DRC and Rwanda’s joint operation against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which has committed atrocities against civilians in eastern DRC, has achieved military gains, but “it was accompanied by a high humanitarian cost,” he said.
In response to the Congolese-Rwandan actions, supported by the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUC), the rebels carried out reprisal attacks against the population more brutally in areas where they had lost business partners.
“FDLR also continued to resort to banditry, kidnapping and hit-and-run attacks, often looking for food and medicine,” the report noted.
The Congolese armed forces (FARDC) have also committed human rights violations, including massacres, the Secretary-General said. In light of such “egregious” violations, some rights organizations and components of the UN system have called for an end to the operation.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston, who visited the DRC in October, labelled the joint military operations as “catastrophic.”
MONUC, for its part, has continued to press the Government to take action against impunity in the military and provide rations and assistance to troops to prevent them from living off of the population, Mr. Ban’s new report said.
Over 1.25 million people have been uprooted or re-displaced by violence in North and South Kivu provinces, and the volatile security situation has hampered aid agencies’ efforts to provide assistance.
MONUC supported the operation by providing logistical support, including helicopter lifts, medical evacuation, fuel and rations. It also provided firepower support to the Congolese armed forces, known as FARDC, making its support critical in keeping the FDLR from reclaiming some areas previously under its control.
“It is essential that urgent steps be taken to improve the protection of civilians, which, while it is the first priority of MONUC, is first and foremost the primary responsibility” of the DRC’s Government, the Secretary-General stressed.
The UN mission was set up in 2000 to help restore peace after years of civil war, and has helped the DRC achieve major milestones in the past decade, peace agreements and the country’s first free and fair elections in 40 years. With the exception of the country’s east, the DRC “is now largely a country at peace and is ready, almost 50 years after its independence, to embark on the next critical reconstruction and rebuilding phase.”
Therefore, MONUC and the UN will begin talks with the Government next year on the mission’s future in a bid to reach agreement on tasks that must be accomplished before it can begin a withdrawal.