The pitfalls of supporting the Congolese army

Believe it or not, despite the headlines of UN failures, there have been some modest gains within the UN on the issue of protection of civilians. The UN Policy Committee, (which is presided by the Secretary-General and composed of UN Under-Secretaries-General and leaders of UN agencies) agreed last month that any form of UN support to non-UN security forces shall be conditional to respect for human rights international and international humanitarian law. That means anywhere in the world. This is a result of the Congo fiascoes, but also of the growing criticism of the conduct of AMISOM troops in Somalia – see for instance this, as well as the investigations into the World Food Program’s contracts with Somali businesses linked to Al Shabaab. The impact of this policy will be far-reaching. It also applies to development aid, and requires every UN entity to develop its own operational directive to be in compliance with fundamental principles of international law. This also includes sanctions, and MONUSCO is expressly requested not to provide any support to the individuals included in the Security Council black list, including our man Bosco Ntaganda. Although an important step, the policy is at an early development stage. The Policy Committee agreed to set up a panel of senior UN officials to draft a framework policy. As for the Congo, MONUSCO has begun – at last hesitantly – to show its teeth. It has been refusing logistic support to a number of FARDC requests due to the presence of problematic commanders, and also stopped a few FARDC commanders for boarding their planes, including Baudouin Ngaruye, who the UN Group of Experts has implicated in the massacre of Shalio in 2009, as well as other officers. A cell within MONUSCO has also begun to put together a list of the most serious human rights offenders within the Congolese security forces to serve as a reference for the UN and donors. However, MONUSCO still has a relatively vague policy on how to support the FARDC in the Kivus, especially as much of the aid it provides – water, food, medicine, fuel and perhaps even ammunition – is fungible and the real capacity to monitor both the troops behavior and the distribution chain is very limited as the Mission’s resources are overstretched. Conditionality is also easily circumvented, in light of the chaos which reigns among FARDC deployments and parallel chains of command. This is compounded by blue helmets who are unfamiliar with their surroundings and the FARDC units they deal with. So far MONUSCO have just laid out the ground rules of their cooperation with the FARDC. They have an elaborate set of conditions that their collaboration with FARDC units is based on. Has it had an impact? Hard to say. Reported word is spreading – albeit slowly – among FARDC troops that human rights violations are no longer a free ride and that their conduct towards the civilian population is “being monitored by the international community”. We need to make sure, however, that the policy is not just a means for the UN to avoid complicity. The real aim of the policy should be to pressure the FARDC into much-needed reforms. Abusive units could thus be marginalized, sending a clear message. For this to happen, conditionality alone isn’t enough. It should be linked to security sector reform – the chimerical beast – and support to the justice sector. Then there is the issue of taking more aggressive action, such as arresting Bosco Ntaganda and pressuring the government to suspend or prosecute officials who are well-documented criminal records (Innocent Zimurinda comes to mind, as does Lt Col “Shetani,” a Munyamulenge commander reportedly involved in the 1998 Kasika massacre). This will ruffle some feathers – MONUSCO has spoiled the Congolese by providing free services to the Congolese government for the last 10 years with few string attached, and the international community is ever fearful of rocking the boat. Posted by Jason Stearns