(New York) - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should ensure that the UN peacekeeping force in Congo focuses on protecting civilians and avoids supporting Congolese army operations that implicate peacekeepers in violations of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said today. The UN Security Council is expected to adopt a new resolution on the peacekeeping mission's mandate on December 23, 2009.
"The civilian cost of the current military operations in eastern Congo has been catastrophic," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The secretary-general should ensure that MONUC's new mandate is implemented in a way that ensures peacekeepers do not find themselves aiding those who are committing war crimes."
Human Rights Watch called for MONUC's conditionality policy that sets out conditions for the mission's support to Congolese army units to include the removal of Congolese army commanders with a documented track record of grave human rights abuses.
In the new resolution, which extends MONUC's mandate until May 31, 2010, with the intention to extend it for a further twelve months, the Security Council requests the secretary-general to establish an "appropriate mechanism" to assess how MONUC's conditionality policy is being carried out.
In line with this request, Human Rights Watch called on the secretary-general to urgently deploy an independent Civilian Protection Expert Group to eastern Congo to examine the implementation of MONUC's conditionality policy. Sending an expert group would be consistent with the UN Security Council Resolution 1894 to advance and ensure protection of civilians and the secretary-general's own recommendations from his March 2009 report to the UN Security Council.
Human Rights Watch also recommended that the independent group of experts report back to the Security Council before the end of MONUC's mandate in May 2010 with an account of major attacks against civilians committed over the past year in eastern Congo and an assessment of the system-wide strategy to protect civilians.
The expert group should also provide an analysis of how the conditionality policy was or was not applied during the peacekeepers' support of military operations in 2009 and offer concrete recommendations on when and how the peacekeeping mission can support Congolese army military operations, and effectively use its leverage while abiding by its legal obligations and top priority to protect civilians.
A 183-page report released last week by Human Rights Watch, "‘You Will Be Punished': Attacks on Civilians in Eastern Congo," documents in detail the deliberate killing of more than 1,400 civilians between January and September 2009 during two successive Congolese army operations against a Rwandan Hutu militia, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Since March, MONUC has supported the Congolese army in the second operation, known as Kimia II, through logistical and operations support such as intelligence and operations planning, fire support, air strikes, transportation, joint patrolling, and medical evacuations.
During the operations, government and rebel forces deliberately attacked civilians to "punish" them, chopping them to death by machete, shooting civilians dead while they fled, and burning them in their homes. Thousands of women and girls have been gang-raped, some so violently that they later died. More than 9,500 homes and other structures have been burned to the ground, and an estimated 900,000 people have fled for their lives.
In a speech to the Security Council last week, the head of MONUC, Alan Doss, announced that operation Kimia II would end on December 31. He also announced that a new force directive had been signed by MONUC's force commander and the Congolese army chief of staff, in which they agreed to move to a new phase of operations, focused on holding ground recovered from the FDLR, preventing attacks on civilians in areas where they are vulnerable, and undertaking focused interventions against FDLR centers of command and control.