UN ‘ignored Congo rape warnings’
Pressure grew on the UN over its peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo yesterday after claims that it ignored appeals for protection just days before more than 240 villagers were raped by rebel forces.
Human rights groups said the UN was still failing to safeguard civilians after 11 years in Congo and demanded an urgent review. A British MP said the best solution now lay in seeking military support from Congo’s neighbour, Rwanda.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has sent his assistant secretary general for peacekeeping, Atul Khare, to investigate the alleged lack of action from the Congo stabilisation mission, Monusco, the world’s biggest peacekeeping mission, which costs .35bn (£865m) a year.
The attacks took place between 30 July and 4 August, and the number of reported victims is now 242, ranging from a month-old baby boy to a 110-year-old woman. Survivors have accused the FDLR rebel group – which is led by perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide who fled to Congo – along with Congolese Mai-Mai militia.
Charles Masudi Kisa said his Walikale Civil Association sounded the alarm on 25 July, telling local authorities that the withdrawal of soldiers from several outposts was putting people in danger of attacks from rebels. The military had abandoned every post from Luvungi to just outside Walikale for unclear reasons, he said.
On 29 July, acting on information from motorcycle taxis, he warned the UN civil affairs bureau in Walikale, the army and the local administration that rebels were moving in on Luvungi. “We told them these people were in danger,” he said.
Lyn Lusi, programme manager of the Heal Africa hospital in Goma, which treated many of the rape victims, said appeals had gone unheeded. “There was a warning it was going to happen,” she said. “They took it to the FARDC [Congolese army] and nothing was done.”
Lusi said Khare had announced that the UN would clarify its rules of engagement so that peacekeepers could intervene more aggressively. The UN was unable to confirm this.
Monusco insists it was not told of the attacks for more than a week, despite having a base just 20 miles from Luvungi.
Roger Meece, the UN mission chief in Congo, said UN peacekeepers in the area did not learn about the rape and looting spree until 12 August. Two UN officials in Kinshasa told the Associated Press they heard it from media reports, even though the UN’s small civil affairs office in Walikale is charged with protecting civilians.
Ellie Kemp, Oxfam policy head in Congo, said she understood there was no community liaison interpreter for the Monusco unit based near Walikale, making it difficult for villagers to convey warnings. She said one had since been assigned.
“There is a whole series of problems that the UN has been aware of for years,” Kemp added. “Soldiers on the ground don’t know what’s needed of them.”
She called for the UN to launch a public inquiry into the mission. “It shouldn’t take this kind of incident to make the UN listen to its own advice. Why the hell hasn’t it happened?”
Others joined the criticism. Sipho Mthathi, the South Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said: “Civilian protection has remained one of the biggest problems in the DRC and has been one of the biggest failures by the UN as well as the Congolese military. The UN lacks capacity to gather enough intelligence to act proactively. They often feel that if they come in they will be outnumbered by the FDLR. If the UN missions and Congolese army are not capable of protecting civilians then there has to be another way.”
Erwin van der Borght, the Africa programme director at Amnesty International, said: “[We call] for an immediate review of the failures of the DRC government and the UN to protect civilians during the mass rape and other sexual violence committed in the Walikale region of North Kivu between 30 July and 2 August, specifically in light of media reports that the UN might have received information at an early stage that civilians were at risk of violence by armed groups.”
Congo’s army and Monusco have been unable to defeat the few thousand rebels responsible for the conflict in eastern Congo, fuelled by the vast mineral reserves. Monusco has been accused of supporting army units responsible for grave atrocities. The Congolese government wants it to withdraw next year.
Eric Joyce MP, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the Great Lakes Region, said: “Monusco seem completely and utterly impotent,” he said. “They do their best under constraints, but they are thinly spread and don’t have fighting troops as Rwanda could provide. The international community needs Rwanda to do something about the FDLR.”
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