Tag Archives: United Nations

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

The Rio+20 Earth Summit on the Sidelines

The United Nations chief, Ban Ki-moon, held out little hope on Thursday May 24, 2012) of an historic outcome at the Rio global development summit, now less than a month away, admitting negotiations had been “painfully slow”. …  The pace was so sluggish, in fact, that Ban prevailed on the international community to agree to an extra five days of talks, from 29 May to 2 June. The last-minute talks were aimed at getting at producing a face-saving outcome for a summit, which so far has failed to engage world leaders.  With Barack Obama focused on his re-election, and European leaders focused on the financial crisis, the advance work for Rio has been left to bureaucrats who do not have the political clout to make the kind of bold decisions that would allow a breakthrough.  Negotiations were bogged down on minor details and narrow national interests which, Ban said, had overwhelmed far more important issue of setting the world on the right track for sustainable growth.  At one point, the negotiating text ballooned to an impossibly unwieldy 6,000 pages Ban said. It was currently about 80 pages.  Other UN officials involved in Rio preparations have also rued the failure of world leaders to fully engage with the summit. But Ban added urgency to their concerns on Thursday.  “My message is that this is not the time to argue against any small, small items. Please do not lose (sight of the) bigger picture,” Ban said. “This is not the end. Rio+20 is just the beginning of many processes so they should be flexible. They should rise above national interests or specific group interests.”  He admitted the lack of urgency in the negotiations had drastically lowered expectations for Rio. “There is some scepticism about whether this conference will be a success,” Ban said. But he added that he remained optimistic.

Ban’s remarks mark the second time since mid-April in which he has tried to get world leaders to focus on the Rio+20 summit. For Obama, attendance at the summit would be politically toxic in an election year.  Nancy Sutley, a White House environmental advisor, on Wednesday said the administration had yet to decide which officials to send to Rio.

In his remarks, Ban said the summit had identified five main areas of concern including developing a global strategy for developing a green economy to putting in place the institutions that would encourage social development, such as improvements in health and education, along with economic growth.  But he indicated that the most progress could happen outside the government negotiations, with ten of thousands of business leaders, activists, and environmentalists descending on Rio to make their case for a greener and more equitable model of development

Ban Ki-moon calls Rio Earth summit negotiations ‘painfully slow’, Guardian, May 24, 2012