Tag Archives: rwanda

Alarm Signals are Flashing Red (yet again): Burundi

burundi

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned on January 15, 2016 that deeply worrying new trends are emerging in Burundi, including cases of sexual violence by security forces and a sharp increase in enforced disappearances and torture cases. He also called for an urgent investigation into the events that took place in Bujumbura on 11-12 December,2015  including the reported existence of at least nine mass graves.

“We have documented 13 cases of sexual violence against women, which began during the search and arrest operations that took place after the December events in the neighbourhoods perceived as supportive of the opposition. The pattern was similar in all cases:  security forces allegedly entered the victims’ houses, separated the women from their families, and raped – in some cases gang-raped – them,” Zeid said…

“Despite these allegations of large-scale arrests, my Office is finding that only a small proportion of them appear to be in official places of detention,” said the High Commissioner. “The increasing number of enforced disappearances, coupled with allegations of secret detention facilities and mass graves is extremely alarming,” he said……In addition, he said, witnesses had reported the existence of at least nine mass graves in Bujumbura and its surroundings – including one in a military camp –containing more than 100 bodies in total, all of them allegedly killed on 11 December 2015. …“My Office is analysing satellite images in an effort to shed more light on these extremely serious allegations,” Zeid said. “All the alarm signals, including the increasing ethnic dimension of the crisis, are flashing red,” he added.

According to information gathered from inhabitants of various neighbourhoods, some of the victims of human rights violations during the search operations that followed the 11 December, 2015 events were targeted because they were Tutsis.

Excerpts from Press Release, Alarming new patterns of violations emerging in Burundi – Zeid , Jan. 15, 2016

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UN Force Intervention Brigade: offense better than defense

Rwandan_Genocide_Murambi_skulls. Image from wikipedia

U .N. peacekeepers in Democratic Republic of Congo and government forces have attacked Rwandan Hutu rebels based in eastern borderlands, U.N. and Congolese official..The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels have been involved in nearly two decades of conflict that spilled into eastern Congo after neighboring Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

Government troops, backed by a United Nations brigade with a robust mandate to eradicate Congo’s myriad eastern armed groups, won a rare victory last year against M23, a Congolese Tutsi rebel force that had been the FDLR’s principal enemy.  Colonel Felix Basse, military spokesman for the Congo mission, known as MONUSCO, said U.N. troops had deployed in the Virunga National Park in North Kivu province and were backing a Congolese offensive against the FDLR.  Basse said the 3,000-strong U.N. Intervention Brigade, made up of troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi, was taking part in the joint offensive. “These operations will continue. We have a mandate to protect the population and restore the authority of the state,” he said.

The FDLR is made up in part of former Rwandan soldiers and Hutu militia who fled to Congo after taking part in the killing of 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus 20 years ago. They are accused of civilian killings and rapes by rights groups.  While their numbers have dwindled to a few thousand in recent years, previous attempts to disarm the rebels have failed. They are considered one of the principal obstacles to durable peace in the mineral-rich zone.

Rwanda twice invaded Congo in the late 1990s to try to wipe out Hutu fighters, helping ignite two regional wars and countless smaller conflicts that killed millions of people.  Kigali has been accused of backing armed groups in eastern Congo, most recently by a panel of U.N. experts who say Rwanda armed and organized M23. Rwanda has denied this and says Congo’s army is collaborating with the FDLR.  At the height of its 20-month rebellion M23 took control of Goma – eastern Congo’s largest city – in the most serious threat to President Joseph Kabila’s regime to date.  A U.N. experts’ report in January said there were credible reports that the M23 continued to recruit fighters in Rwanda.

U.N. and Congolese troops attack Rwandan Hutu rebels, Reuters, Mar. 13, 2014

 

The UN Intervention Brigade and Drones in Congo

falco drone. Image wikipedia

The recent approval by the UN Security Council of two extraordinary measures to deal with the situation in that country—the use of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to provide reconnaissance (pdf)of militia activity, and the deployment of an intervention brigade to take offensive measures against the militia groups—is being hailed by most observers as a potential turning point in the country’s recent unhappy history. Though the UN has been careful to present the measures as purely temporary and confined to the DRC, they do indeed constitute a turning point in UN peace missions. Their success—if they do succeed—will undoubtedly lead to their being hailed as “best practice,” and radically change the hopeless trajectory of the Congo.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the measures as a “comprehensive approach aimed at addressing the root causes of instability in the eastern DRC and the Great Lakes region.” But optimism has necessarily to be tempered, analysts believe.   The 24 February 2013 “Framework for Peace, Security and Cooperation for the DRC and the Region,” which provides the basis for the intervention brigade, does indeed offer a comprehensive approach to the problem. The framework, which the African Union assisted to put together, was signed in Ethiopia by leaders from the DRC, Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, in the presence of Mr. Ban, who acted as one of the guarantors. The framework speaks of the suffering in the country engendered by “recurring cycles of conflict and persistent violence by armed groups, both Congolese and foreign.”

The current path, the framework says, is untenable. It sets out an agenda for the consolidation of state authority and the prevention of outside support to armed groups. It also contains a pledge by the DRC to respect “the legitimate concerns and interests” of neighbouring countries, an implicit reference to Rwanda’s long-held security concerns about the operation of anti-government Hutu militants based in eastern Congo.

Mr. Ban raised the issue of the intervention brigade in the Security Council shortly after his return from Ethiopia last March. He told Security Council members that the envisaged brigade would operate under the command of the UN mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, and would cost $140 million (in addition to the $1.4 billion it costs MONUSCO to maintain 19,815 troops annually). On 27 December, Mr. Ban also wrote to the Security Council requesting approval for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, by MONUSCO for “advanced information collation, analysis and dissemination to enhance situational awareness and to permit timely decision-making.”

On January 22, 2013, the Security Council approved the request to use UAVs in the Congo  [selected vendor is the Italian company SELEX ES. The UAV is known as the “FALCO”] “without prejudice to the ongoing consideration by relevant United Nations bodies of legal, financial and technical implications of the use of unmanned aerial systems.”   The trigger for these measures was the brutal occupation of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in eastern DRC, by the M23 in November of last year. The event was a serious setback to both the Congolese and the UN.  Two days after the fall of Goma, the government suspended its commander of ground forces, Gen. Gabriel Amisi Kumba, who had been accused several times of atrocities by human rights groups—in addition to being accused by the UN Panel of Experts a few months before of selling weapons and ammunitions to illegal armed groups.  The occupation of Goma underlined two perennial problems: the weakness of the DRC to exist as a nation and the readiness of armed rebel groups to exploit this weakness.

The intervention brigade was approved by UN resolution 2098 of 18 March, 2013, which states that the intervention brigade will be a rapid reaction force that will conduct “targeted offensive operations” against rebel groups in the country.  The brigade, consisting of 3,069 troops, is led by a Tanzanian general, and is organised into three infantry battalions, one artillery unit, one Special Forces unit and a reconnaissance company. Crack troops from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi have already been contributed to it, and its mission is to “prevent the expansion of all armed groups, neutralize these groups, and disarm them.”

Excerpt, Lansana Gberie, UN peacekeeping task enters a new phase, Africa Renewal, Aug. 2013

UN and the Rape of Women in Congo

Congolese soldier.  Image from wikipedia

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo has threatened to stop supporting two Congolese army battalions unless soldiers accused of raping scores of women in an eastern town are prosecuted, said a senior U.N. official.  The United Nations said 126 women were raped in Minova in November 2012 after Congolese troops fled to the town as so-called M23 rebels briefly captured the nearby provincial capital of Goma.

The senior U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two Congolese battalions had been told to start prosecuting soldiers accused of raping the women in Minova this month or they would lose the support of U.N. peacekeepers, Reuters reports.  “Many rapes were committed. We have investigated, we have identified a number of cases and we demand that the Congolese authorities take action legally against those people,” said the official. He did not say how many soldiers had been accused. “Since nothing sufficient has happened at this stage we have already put two units of the armed forces of Congo on notice that if they do not act promptly we shall cease supporting them,” he said. “They have to shape up.”

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said in December that alleged human rights abuses were committed in and around Minova between November 20 and November 30, including the 126 rapes and the killing of two civilians. Nesirky said at the time that two soldiers were charged with rape, while seven more were charged with looting.  The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, has a mandate to protect civilians and supports operations by the Congolese army. There are more than 17,000 troops in Congo – a country the size of Western Europe.

Peacekeepers have been stretched thin by the M23 rebellion in the resource-rich east of Congo and the U.N. Security Council is considering creating a special intervention force, which one senior council diplomat has said would be able to “search and destroy” the M23 rebels and other armed groups in the country.  M23 began taking parts of eastern Congo early last year, accusing the government of failing to honor a 2009 peace deal. That deal ended a previous rebellion and led to the rebels’ integration into the army, but they have since deserted.

African leaders signed a U.N.-mediated accord late last month aimed at ending two decades of conflict in eastern Congo and paving the way for the intervention force

U.N. threatens to stop working with Congo army units accused of rape, Reuters, Mar. 8, 2013

See also Why the UN is Failing Congo

The State of Women in War

Why UN is Failing Congo? the purpose of Rwanda covert action

monusco

The United Nations said it had launched a comprehensive review of its Congo peacekeeping mission, which suffered a severe blow to its image last month after it stood aside and let rebels seize control of a major eastern city.  But U.N. Security Council diplomats and officials said any changes in the U.N.’s largest peacekeeping force would matter little if authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo did not improve their own army, and neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda continued to finance, equip and train rebel groups in mineral-rich eastern Congo.  U.N. officials have defended the U.N. Congo force, MONUSCO, for not preventing the well-equipped M23 rebels from taking the eastern city of Goma last month.  They said any attempt to have done so would have put Goma’s civilian population at risk. But they are painfully aware of the damage to the image of the mission, which U.N. officials say has been quite effective over the years, in Congo and across Africa.  “MONUSCO’s reputation has been severely damaged in the DRC and the region,” a U.N. diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “The U.N. is looking closely at MONUSCO now to consider whether there can be changes.

U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer said the United Nations was launching a comprehensive assessment of MONUSCO, and diplomats said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would present the results to the Security Council early next year…

One idea U.N. officials are considering is the creation of an “enforcement wing” of MONUSCO, that would take a more robust approach to dealing with insurgents in eastern Congo, U.N. diplomats and officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.  “The idea would be to create a wing of MONUSCO that would do more than simply support the FARDC (Congolese army) but could take on more difficult battlefield tasks,” an envoy said.   Details are sketchy, since the review has just begun. But the idea is that the enforcement wing and the international neutral force could deploy along the Rwandan border, possibly with a separate, beefed-up mandate from the rest of MONUSCO, though they would all be part of the same overall mission.  Diplomats said the idea would have to be approved by troop-contributing countries and the Security Council.

A U.N. panel of experts has said M23 rebels are getting money, sophisticated equipment, training and reinforcements from Rwanda, as well as some additional support from Uganda. Analysts, diplomats and U.N. officials say Rwanda and Uganda have been interfering in eastern Congo for many years.  Rwanda and Uganda deny the charges….

It is not the first time Goma residents have felt let down by blue-helmeted U.N. troops. In 2008, the Security Council increased the size the peacekeeping force by 3,000 troops to help Congo’s weak army confront Tutsi rebels in eastern Congo.  At that time, angry displaced people and residents rioted and hurled stones at the peacekeepers, accusing them of failing to protect them from raping and pillaging Tutsi rebels led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda.  Despite recent setbacks sparked by the M23 rebellion and political instability in Congo, U.N. officials and diplomats say MONUSCO has done much good in Congo, which has seen five different peacekeeping forces over the last five decades…One problem in eastern Congo is that the army itself is in shambles. Not only is it widely seen as incapable of providing security in the region, it routinely faces accusations of rape and other atrocities.  Another problem is the weakness of President Joseph Kabila’s government, which has virtually no control over eastern Congo, an area the size of France. U.N. officials have spoken of Rwanda’s de facto annexation of Congo’s eastern provinces.

By Louis Charbonneau, U.N. launches review of Congo force with battered reputation, Reuters, Dec 13 2012