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Blue helmets protect thousands daily, says top UN envoy

UN News - December 28, 2009
Alan Doss

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) upholds the human rights of thousands of people every day, the top UN envoy to the African nation said today, rejecting criticism from a non-governmental organization that blue helmets are “complicit” in abuses committed by the Congolese army.

In its report on the mission, Human Rights Watch “brushes aside the crucial role that MONUC plays in protecting tens of thousands of civilians every single day, often in very remote areas,” Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special-Representative, wrote in an op-ed in today’s The Washington Times.

The mission has been aiding the national army, known as FARDC, with logistics and firepower to keep rebels from reclaiming areas previously under their control.

Faced with widespread reports of massacres and other serious human rights abuses by Government soldiers and rebels, the Security Council last week reiterated its call on MONUC to “use all necessary means” to protect civilians from threats from any party.

The Human Rights Watch report, Mr. Doss said today, “alleges that UN support makes its peacekeepers complicit in atrocities committed against the population by FARDC elements that are undisciplined or exacting revenge.”

Earlier this month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that MONUC has suspended its logistical and other support for FARDC units when there are sufficient grounds to believe their operations would violate human rights.

MONUC’s human rights office – which also reports to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – has investigated and publicly reported on incidents of FARDC wrongdoings and criticizes deficiencies of command and control.

Mr. Doss noted that DRC President Joseph Kabila has declared a zero-tolerance policy for human rights abuses committed by security forces, adding that MONUC has been supporting FARDC and Government efforts to hold offenders accountable.

“Like much else that the international community is trying to fix by helping the DRC Government, this is a work in early gestation,” the envoy emphasized.

The FARDC, he said, “with all their failings, are the only instrument the democratically-elected Government has to neutralize the FDLR. In the absence of any other international actor able or willing to take on the task, MONUC has the job of helping government forces perform to a much higher standard.”

The “attack” by Human Rights Watch is shortsighted and jeopardizes the very ‘leverage’ the group wants MONUC to use with the Congolese,” Mr. Doss wrote. “It undermines the goals that Human Rights Watch and the UN both seek to attain.”

In a related development, MONUC reported today that its troops have helped carry out patrols in the far west of the DRC, the scene of recent tribal clashes that have sent 100,000 people fleeing from their homes, to ensure that civilians were able to celebrate Christmas in peace.

Blue helmets, the FARDC and the Congolese police have been carrying out joint patrols to reassure people in Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur Province, that they are safe.

Inter-ethnic clashes between the Enyele and Munzaya tribes erupted in Equateur in November over farming and fishing rights. The UN refugee agency reported earlier this month that 84,000 people have crossed the border into the Republic of the Congo to escape the violence.

MONUC’s military presence in the area has been growing, with 700 troops situated in South Ubangui district and more blue helmets expected to arrive in the coming days.

The UN mission is also stepping up its protection for civilians from possible attacks by armed groups, including the mainly Rwandan Hutu rebel group know as FDLR and the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), in the DRC’s volatile far east.

In South Kivu province, blue helmets focused on guarding major churches, with quick reaction forces and helicopters on standby in several locations.

In nearby Province Orientale, MONUC and FARDC have established a plan to expand their patrols following two LRA attacks last week. Civilians have been advised to restrict their movements after 10 p.m. to ensure that they are not mistaken for rebels.

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