By Alan Doss
The UN's special representative sets out what can be done to end the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Bad news travels fast: my BlackBerry has become the messenger from hell. With growing frequency, UN teams in the Kivu provinces of eastern Congo report vicious attacks on remote, undefended communities. Houses are being burned with children trapped inside; wives and daughters, and sometimes fathers, are being raped and murdered in front of their families.
Most of these brutalities are the work of the Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a group with roots in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. But humanitarian groups also point to crimes committed by Congo's national army (FARDC). Some observers have even urged the UN to withdraw from all joint operations against the FDLR until the government puts its military 'house' in order.
But such a move would not end the brutality and might well perpetuate it. Time and time again, warlords and armed groups have re-emerged when they sensed hesitation and vulnerability.
So what is to be done to end the violence?
First, the government must ensure discipline and end impunity within its own forces. The government promised action last month. The UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC) and other partners are helping to improve military justice. Prosecutions have begun. They must continue, and they must be transparent so that victims see justice done.
But army discipline will not improve if soldiers are left to live off the land. So, second, the government must improve conditions for troops in the field. This means barracks, sufficient food, and wages paid in full and on time. Unfortunately, though, plunging mineral prices have caused a dramatic drop in the state's revenues. Donors need to dig deeper to help fund reform of the army.
Third, the international community must take urgent action against FDLR leaders based outside the country. UN experts recently presented the Security Council with evidence that some leaders – some of them in the West – are directing operations from abroad, communicating via satellite phones to commanders in the Kivus. These leaders may include individuals implicated in the Rwandan genocide.
The FDLR today includes many young people who were not involved in the genocide and do not want to spend the rest of their lives as outlaws. Already this year more than 1,100 FDLR combatants have quit and been repatriated. We should ramp up incentives, to encourage others to follow suit.
MONUC itself needs more help. The Security Council mandated MONUC to protect civilians, and it is doing so every day in the highest-risk areas of the Kivus, often in very remote areas. But we are thin on the ground. The reinforcements authorised by the Security Council last year are urgently needed. Our teams are working to prevent and not just react to violence. They are working with traditional chiefs, community groups and NGOs to promote reconciliation and to resolve grievances, many of them long-standing and many not solely related to the presence of the FDLR.
Part of MONUC's task is economic, because the absence of economic opportunity is the best recruiting sergeant for armed groups. So MONUC, government authorities and donors have committed themselves to a recovery and stabilisation package to repair roads, re-build schools and clinics, create jobs, and expand the police presence in the east of the country. Early action and quick funding is vital.
The international community has long wanted action taken against the FDLR. Late last year, the presidents of the DRC and Rwanda took decisions that ended one rebellion – by Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) – and started concerted action to deal with the FDLR. It was a breakthrough that must not be squandered. Vigorous intervention against the FDLR both in the Congo and abroad, backed by credible reform in the national security forces, could make that breakthrough lasting.
Alan Doss is the UN special representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo.