When the killings and other abuses began in Kiwanja and Rutshuru, MONUC lacked the capacity to actively go out and protect the civilian population under attack. All it proved able to do was offer shelter to those who came to cluster in and around its bases.
Senior MONUC military officers focused on protecting Goma from attack had nothing to spare for the towns to the north. The Congolese army meant to collaborate with MONUC fled, having in earlier weeks instigated the local population against the peacekeepers. The MONUC force was small and ill-equipped, divided between two different national units of command, lacking capacity to gather intelligence and even to communicate with the Congolese population.
After establishing a local administration in Kiwanja, the CNDP responded to a Mai Mai attack by killing raping, and terrorizing civilians in Kiwanja. As this occurred, MONUC forces did not go out to the neighborhoods where CNDP rebels were committing atrocities, but stayed in their base.
The most MONUC could do then-and now-was to offer sanctuary in the immediate vicinity of the base for those most at risk. Yet even just outside MONUC's gates, security is limited.
MONUC urgently requires additional troops with rapid response capabilities to enhance protection of civilians and prevent future killings and rapes. The Security Council has authorized more troops but estimates that it could take up to four months before reinforcements arrive. In the meantime, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has asked the European Union (EU) to urgently provide a short-term bridging force to protect civilians until more UN troops are in place.
Human Rights Watch urges the EU to quickly deploy such a force in eastern Congo. EU troops would free up MONUC peacekeepers to strengthen bases in more remote areas, such as Kiwanja, and could help prevent further abuses. The people of eastern Congo have suffered far too long. The international community cannot wait for another killing spree and more rapes and recruitment of child soldiers before giving the UN the support it needs to protect civilians.