The UN in Congo: The failure of a peacekeeping mission

Posted in UN , Other | 10-May-04 | Author: Mvemba Dizolele| Source: The New York Times

WASHINGTON - The charter of the United Nations is to ensure world peace, but this mandate is being sorely tested in Congo, where the organization has 10,800 peacekeepers.

The United Nations Mission in Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC, embodies the failure and all the contradictions that have characterized the organization worldwide in the last decade.

In eastern Congo, where rape and insecurity are the daily lot of hopeless civilians, the mission has, in fact, become the symbol of impunity.

The UN troops were sent to Congo in 1999, in the midst of a civil war that killed more than 3.3 million people. The war drew in many of Congo's neighbors, including Uganda and Rwanda - which accused President Laurent Kabila of supporting the Rwandan insurgents who had participated in genocide.

In a 2002 agreement that established a power-sharing government in Kinshasa, the foreign troops were supposed to withdraw while the UN and Congo pledged to send home the insurgents.

Rwanda, however, saying that Congo hasn't held to its part of the agreement, has repeatedly violated the agreements with impunity, sending troops in and saying they are searching for rebels that stage raids on Rwandan villages. A run-in between UN troops and hundreds of Rwandan soldiers in eastern Congo last month underscores the mission's ineffectiveness.

In the confrontation, on April 21, the Rwandan Army ordered UN troops to withdraw from the area, and in a shocking reversal of roles, they complied - even though under their mandate they can use force to protect the peace. This incident, which is denied by Rwanda, is the latest to leave Congolese wondering what exactly is the purpose of the UN troops.

In addition, in the last three months, several weapons caches have been found in areas in the eastern provinces that are controlled by Rwandan and Ugandan proxies.

As far as is known, the UN has neither seized these weapons nor arrested anyone in connection with them, even though they signal another war on the horizon.

Instead, the UN seems reluctant to disturb the status quo.

But the trading of accusations about insurgents is merely a front for the real issue at stake, Congo's natural resources.

A report last year by a UN expert panel led by Mahmoud Kassem, Knight-Ridder newspapers reported, accused both Rwanda and Uganda of prolonging the civil war so that they could illegally siphon off Congo's wealth with the help of Western corporations.

While neither Uganda nor Rwanda have gold or diamond deposits of significance, both countries have become important exporters of these minerals.

The Security Council, however, refused to publish the report in its entirety.

By classifying the most damning portions of the report, the United Nations has become an accomplice to those who are guilty of atrocities and human rights violations so they and their patrons can continue to plunder Congo. Warlords will continue to endanger the peace process as long as their patrons go unchallenged and unrecognized.

Rwanda and Uganda have no incentive to stop the financing and arming of their proxies.

The UN needs to take a stand by pushing for sanctions, like an arms embargo and the withholding of financial aid from international institutions, on Rwanda and Uganda and by using force, if necessary, to keep their troops out of Congo.

Today, the Congolese disillusionment is all too obvious.

Children throw rocks at the UN mission trucks as they pass on the road.

The current transitional government in Kinshasa includes several officials who have been accused of war crimes.

For the frightened civilians in eastern Congo, neither the so-called transitional government nor the UN matters.

They face mass rape and violence on their own.

The United Nations must take an active and forceful role in its Congo mission. Their passive presence has become a mockery of peace.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele is co-chairman of En Avant Congo!, an advocacy group.