Within the span of a week, 130,000 people have been displaced from Goma, capital of the North Kivu province as a result of the 23 March Movement (M23) rebel group taking over the city. Laying siege to the city of one million, M23 has sent another 47,000 fleeing to South Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Violence in North Kivu
The DRC, situated in the heart of Africa is flanked by similarly troubled states such as Rwanda and Uganda. It is a mineral rich country, rife with instability and tribal and military violence for almost two decades. M23 is a group of soldiers that defected from the national army FARDC in April; it has been claimed there are continuing defections to M23 which is hampering the stability of the national army.
Since the takeover on November 20th, it has been established that Rwandan troops were seen aiding M23 in the seizing of Goma. Meanwhile, discussions between the government of Congo and M23 concerning the partial surrender of Goma back to the the national army have taken place in the capital of Uganda, Kampala.
It has taken almost a month for U.N. to engage in negotiations with M23 and to draft a plan how to handle the escalating crisis in the DRC. Currently, there is increasing civilian instability in the Kivu province according to MONUSCO Peace Keeping force, as well as widespread unconfirmed reports of human rights violations such as rape. MONUSCO is comprised of military personnel, military observers and police personnel and is tasked with providing security for the humanitarian aid workers, human rights defenders and civilians, ensuring stability in the area. However, since July there has been a reduction of MONUSCO troops from 19,815 to 16,966 for unspecified reasons.
The takeover of Goma represents the most prominent wave of insecurity that has hit the Kivu provinces and it has been stated that further recommendation must be made to the Security Council as to how to make MONUSCO more effective in its mandate. The need for a clarified mandate becomes in fact apparent as widespread human rights abuses and displacement are increasing at an exponential rate since the November attack by M23: the Mugunga III camp of 30,000 displaced people was looted on December 2nd with at least 70 rapes reported in the town of Minova.
The U.N. hands are tied
The issue of sovereignty has always been one of the primary problems for the U.N. as the organization is based on a respect for national sovereignty. This geopolitical aspect entails that involvement in domestic conflicts is only possible in the case where widespread violence against civilians has the potential to occur.
The peacekeeping mandates, including that of MONUSCO, clearly state that the protection of civilians against human rights abuse and violence is the main goal of all U.N. peacekeeping forces. But if bound to respect states’ sovereignty, peacekeeping forces cannot directly intervene in a country’s affairs.For this reason that U.N. mandates are kept vague and civilian orientated, resulting in a lack of strength and communication and in frustration for ground forces.
Whilst the protection of civilians is meant to be the main objective of peacekeeping missions, the recent statement of a U.N. representatives seems to put that very goal into question. Hervé Ladsous, head of the Department of Peacekeeping (DPKO) said that, “U.N. peacekeeping missions do not and cannot ‘own’ the concept of protection”. This casts U.N. peacekeeping mandates in shadow as it begs the question of how the U.N. plans to clarify its role as a peacekeeper not only in DRC, but in any global conflict.
The slow reaction time of the U.N. due to vague mandates and to a lack of military presence has resulted in increasing casualties and human rights abuse by M23 and other armed groups in DRC. It troubles many to think of what the next week will hold in store for the Congolese people in the Kivu provinces.
– Hiba Ganta
(Featured photo: Ars Electronica, Creative Commons, Flickr
Photo 1: United Nations Photo, Creative Commons, Flickr)