Congo Crisis

Human Rights Watch says both rebels and government-backed militias have deliberately killed civilians in the town of Kiwanja in North Kivu province in the past two days.  HRW’s Anneke van Woudenberg says UN peacekeepers are unable to protect civilians.  HRW’s statement says “Peacekeepers with MONUC, the UN peacekeeping force in the Congo…did not take adequate measures to protect civilians and carried out only a few patrols to limit the abuses.”

Refugees International also issued a report today saying the UN peacekeeping force MONUC is badly overstretched. It’s already the largest p.k. force in the world but advocates say there aren’t enough troops deployed in North Kivu where the violence is happening and they don’t have the equipment, translation capabilities or training they need to provide adequate protection for civilians. Refugees International says many of the p.k. troops “have almost no understanding of the historical or political dynamics of the conflict.”   On top of that MONUC’s mandate is confusing; it’s supposed to be neutral but it’s also supposed to support the Congolese national military which RI describes as “a weak and often criminal partner.”   RI wants the UN Security Council to clarify and focus MONUC’s mandate, give MONUC the resources and high-level political backing to match that mandate, and, in the short-term, supplement MONUC with a European Union rapid reaction force to quell the current violence.

Doctors without Borders also chimed in today to say that “widely publicized armed convoys of relief assistance…are an inadequate response to the humanitarian crisis facing the Democratic Republic of Congo’s troubled North Kivu region. ”   The relief organization is also worried that military-escorted convoys could blur the lines between humanitarian and political-military action.

Everyone emphasizes that hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the recent fighting and urged both a humanitarian and political response.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was on his way to a summit on the crisis in Nairobi. He’s expected to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo in the next few days.  He issued a statement today calling for an immediate ceasefire.  The president of the DRC Joseph Kabila and the President of Rwanda Paul Kagame who is believed to have sway with Congolese Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda will be at the Nairobi summit but Nkunda was quoted today saying the talks won’t help solve the problem inside Congo unless he’s involved. He’s demanding direct negotiations with Kabila who so far has refused.  Here’s the latest from Reuters and the BBC.

For substantial background on the conflict check out this Council on Foreign Relations report: Congo: Securing Peace, Sustaining Progress.

I’m curious to see the makeup of Obama’s foreign policy team and whether it might approach a “humanitarian crisis” like the one in Eastern Congo any differently from the Bush Administration. 

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