12 November 2009 – The top priority for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the protection of civilians from abuse, be it from the Government forces that it is mandated to support or armed rebel groups, a senior official said today.
“Alas, we are not behind every banana bush,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator Ross Mountain told a news briefing in New York.
He noted that 10 years ago the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had over 40,000 troops to stabilize Kosovo, a territory of 10,000 square kilometres, while the UN mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, is only now moving up from 17,000 uniformed personnel to 20,000 to help bring security to a country of 2.4 million square kilometres.
“Frankly, there’s been extraordinary progress made in us utilizing innovatively the military that we have to do that [protect civilians],” when asked about recent allegations of atrocities committed by the DRC army and police. “Is that adequate? No,” he added, citing army and security sector reform as a major priority.
The issue of such abuse has been raised several times recently, and earlier this month Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy called for a probe into the targeted killing of dozens of civilians in the DRC’s strife-torn east by military elements.
In October the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, accused DRC troops of killing, raping or mutilating scores of civilians this year in what he called “catastrophic” joint military operations with UN peacekeepers to weed out mainly Rwandan Hutu rebels in the eastern Kivu provinces.
“Quite clearly the exactions that we hear about that are unfortunately at the hands also of the national army as well as the FDLR, the militia, does point to the importance of doing proper reintegration, slimming down the army to a core professional group that can actually protect the population, rather than so often preying on the population,” Mr. Mountain said.
“I think we’ve made enormous strides, but we certainly cannot pretend that we have been able to make sure that exactions by the military or by the other armed groups, the foreign armed groups, are eliminated. If we can reduce them… and I sincerely believe we’ve been able to do a certain amount of that, then we are saving lives.”
Mr. Mountain, who leaves his post this week after serving for five years as Humanitarian Coordinator and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Deputy Special Representative for the DRC, said that overall he wanted to paint a positive picture when considering the situation the war-torn country was in 10 years ago.
Since then, with MONUC’s help, democratic elections have been held and much of the country is more stable, although vast humanitarian problems remain, with 45,000 people dying each month – 1,500 each day, half of them under the age of five ¬– mostly from preventable diseases and dirty water.
“I’m certainly pleased that the United Nations system in general, and not just MONUC, has contributed significantly to progress, slow, inadequate, but progress over that period of time,” Mr. Mountain said. “This is not an unalloyed story of progress. I repeat, it’s been too slow… certainly those [among 26 million registered] who voted in the elections didn’t vote in a beauty contest, they voted for a better life. It’s been very slow in coming.”
But at least the country is moving in the right direction, he noted. “There needs to be hope that it can continue to progress, it’s not automatic, it’s not irreversible, but it is progress that needs to be sustained through the leadership of the country itself primarily, and the continuing support of the international community. There’s much to be done but it is heading in the right direction,” he added, stressing that he wanted to give a “slightly more upbeat approach” from his vantage point.
“It is a country that is enormously rich and the population dreadfully poor.”
spotted by RS