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The international response to the catastrophic human rights situation in Congo has been grossly incommensurate with the scale of a problem that has reportedly cost over 2.5 million lives. There have been important efforts towards peace and a rhetorical commitment to accountability, but such initiatives have been undermined by the ongoing violence as well as by contradictory and sometimes misguided policies by donor governments and the United Nations. There have been no effective efforts to address severe human rights violations, including sexual violence against women and girls. The profound impact of such crimes on the victims and their larger communities, combined with the rapidly growing threat of HIV/AIDS in the region, demand a prompt and focused international response.

International actors treat the Lusaka accord as the key to peace in Congo, including its three interlinked elements, 1) disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement, and reintegration (DDRRR) of armed groups, 2) withdrawal of foreign forces, and 3) the Inter-Congolese Dialogue. The assumption that disarmament has to precede troop withdrawal has led to increased pressure on all parties to disarm rebel groups despite the considerable difficulties associated with this process.

The United States

From the start of the war, the United States has professed a commitment to maintaining the national integrity of the Congo but has at the same time given political backing to Rwanda and Uganda, which both field troops of their regular armies in eastern Congo and so threaten that integrity. In the wake of the 1994 genocide and its failure to respond, the U.S. did not question Rwandan claims that its security required Rwandan troops to make war in Congo against remnants of the genocidal forces. It also gave free hand to the Ugandan government, in part because an alliance with Uganda served its policy interests in the Sudan and the Horn of Africa. Even in the face of mounting evidence that Rwandan and Ugandan troops and their Congolese allies had committed war crimes, the U.S. remained largely silent. From the end of the Clinton administration and the beginning of the Bush administration, the U. S. began pursuing a more critical policy towards Rwanda and Uganda and more openly pressuring them to end abuses. But after the September 11 attacks in the United States, the U.S. government has subordinated other policy considerations, including ending human rights violations, to the "war on terrorism." The U.S. designated the Rwandan Hutu rebel group ALIR a "terrorist organization," a measure which has encouraged the Rwandan government to vigorously reaffirm its intention to remain in Congo until ALIR is defeated.258

Ineffective in dealing with the war and its attendant human rights abuses, the U.S. has tried to alleviate some of the resulting misery. During the fiscal year 2001, it spent some $98 million for humanitarian relief, including about $5 million under the Great Lakes Justice Initiative. It is now considering funding a program of humanitarian aid for victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo. In the fiscal year 2001, the U.S. devoted some resources to the problem of HIV/AIDS, spending $3.4 million on a program to train police in Bukavu about preventive measures within the police . In the coming year, the U.S. will expand funding for a program of prevention, control, and improved health services. In January 2002, a team from the U.S. Agency for International Development went to Congo to assess possibilities for expanded assistance on the HIV/AIDS problem.259

The European Union

The European Union has proved largely ineffective in influencing developments in Congo because the United Kingdom-generally supported by Germany and the Netherlands-has supported Rwanda and Uganda while France-often together with Belgium-has backed the Congo government.260 In 2001 Germany and the Netherlands moved towards a more critical policy towards Rwanda, responding to concerns about its continued occupation of eastern Congo and its exploitation of Congolese resources.

In January 2002, the French and British Foreign Ministers made a joint mission to the Great Lakes, meant to promote peace in the region as well as to foster the impression of a unified E.U. policy on the area. In February 2002, Belgium's Foreign Minister made a visit to eastern Congo, during which he expressed deep concern about the human rights situation, including violence against women.

In December 2001 the E.U. decided to resume aid to Congo, after considerable debate between Britain, France, and Belgium; the European Development Fund is going to provide $108 million aid to Congo for development projects. In late January 2002, the European Commission adopted a new Global Plan for the Congo worth 32 million euros in humanitarian assistance to focus on health and nutrition/food security as well as relief assistance to the least accessible areas.261

The United Nations

    The Security Council, Secretary-General, and MONUC

Both Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Security Council have devoted much attention to ending the Congo war and frequently denounced human rights abuses and the humanitarian crisis spawned by it. They have also repeatedly stressed the importance of protecting women in armed conflict. But the strong language of the resolutions ordinarily lacked any effective mechanisms for implementation.

In October 2000, the Security Council held an Open Session on Women and Armed Conflict in which women's NGOs played an instrumental role. It adopted a resolution calling for documenting the impact of armed conflict on women and the role of women in peace-building. Since then the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has undertaken a major study on the impact of armed conflict on women in more than ten countries around the world, including the Congo. In September 2001, a team of three women visited the Congo in conjunction with this study.

The council was unable to mobilize the political will to launch a major peace-keeping mission in the Congo. In February 2001 the Security Council decided to deploy 2,300 MONUC troops, about half the number originally foreseen, and with no express mandate for civilian protection. The council extended the mandate for MONUC for a year in mid-June and itself affirmed in Resolution 1355 the importance of accountability. But MONUC is not charged to halt violations of humanitarian law and restricts itself to monitoring the implementation of the Lusaka peace accord.262 MONUC can act only in accord with the local authorities-whether the Congo government or the respective rebel force-which makes independent verification of violations extremely difficult.

    Sexual Assault and Peacekeepers

In late December 2001 a Congolese woman reportedly delivered an eleven-year-old girl to a Moroccan soldier of the MONUC Peacekeeping force based in Goma who then assaulted the child sexually. Authorities subsequently arrested the woman but the MONUC soldier continues at his post.263 The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations has told Human Rights Watch that several internal investigations are currently under way, and has confirmed that the soldier remains in the mission area while these are going on. It has also stressed that the U.N. has a "zero-tolerance policy" regarding assaults by U.N. peacekeepers on women and girls.264

The Security Council has stated repeatedly its commitment to include a women's rights component in the work of peacekeeping forces. Although the induction program for U.N. military officers includes training in gender awareness and a gender advisor was recently appointed to MONUC, there does not appear to be any specific training for the peacekeeping force on sexual violence. The recent case of alleged rape by a MONUC soldier illustrates the need for effective programs on women's rights and HIV/AIDS within the peacekeeping force.

    U.N. Commission for Human Rights

The U.N. Commission for Human Rights has drawn attention to the grave situation in the Congo, though it has been severely under-funded. Roberto Garretón, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Congo until October 2001, issued damning reports on abuses by government and rebels alike. He briefed the Security Council several times on human rights abuses in the Congo and in the speech marking the end of his tenure he too called for accountability for past crimes in Congo. His successor Iulia-Antoanella Motoc from Romania visited the Congo in early 2002. The Field Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (HRFOC) effectively monitored human rights conditions in the capital and several other locations around the country, assisted the government in implementing reforms, and supported local rights groups. But the work of this important office is hampered by severe lack of funds and personnel.

International Action on HIV/AIDS

The international response to HIV/AIDS in the form of bilateral and multilateral grants and loans for AIDS programs in Africa falls pitifully short of the effort needed to address the pandemic that has cost the lives of over 22 million young adults. In fact the pace of international donor support in terms of assistance per HIV-infected person actually declined by over 50 percent between 1988 and 1997.265 This decline mirrored a general and dramatic drop in official development assistance from most bilateral donors to all social sectors (not only health).266 In an effort to mobilize increased donor support for the fight against HIV/AIDS, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan established a global fund in 2000 through which donor states and private sector donors are being encouraged to channel large grants to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. The secretary-general has set U.S. $7 to $10 billion per year as a target for the fund.267 At this writing, pledges to the fund total about $1.6 billion. The fund is planning to support countries with well-developed national plans for HIV/AIDS, and as a result Congo is unlikely to be a priority. The U.N. organizations and NGOs doing health work on the ground in eastern Congo are interested in doing more to combat HIV/AIDS, but have very limited resources to deal with a vast array of life-threatening problems.

In July 2000, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1308 which calls on countries to address HIV/AIDS in the context of human security. The resolution targets armed forces and peacekeepers for education, training, and prevention efforts and urges voluntary and confidential HIV/AIDS counseling and testing for all national uniformed forces, especially those deployed internationally. Following adoption of the resolution, the U.N.'s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has begun examining how conflict situations raise the risk of HIV infection.268 In further recognition of the importance of ensuring preventive measures among peacekeepers, the General Assembly meeting in a special session on HIV/AIDS in June 2001 called for inclusion of HIV/AIDS awareness and training into guidelines for peacekeeping personnel.269

The World Bank

In December 2001 the World Bank proposed establishing a Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP) and an associated Regional Multi-Donor Trust Fund (RMDTF) to promote regional peace and stability and to facilitate funding for this program.270 Preliminary plans for the demobilization phase include voluntary HIV/AIDS screening and counseling and plans for the reconciliation phase include providing information and counseling about HIV/AIDS. At this writing, the plan did not address gender violence or the broader humanitarian and human rights effects of the conflict.

258 Terrorism Exclusion List Designees: December 5, 2001. See website of the U.S. Department of State (accessed May 23, 2002). The list names the "Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALIR) - AKA: Interahamwe, Former Armed Forces (EX-FAR)." It also lists the Ugandan rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) which are fighting the Ugandan government.

259 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mikaela Meredith, Desk Officer for the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi, U.S. AID, Washington, D.C., January 24, 2002.

260 There are considerable differences between the approach of the two relevant ministries, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Department for International Relations. The All Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes and Genocide Prevention of the House of Commons recently completed a mission to Congo and followed this up with a series of recommendations to the British government.

261 European Commission, "Aid package for the Democratic Republic of the Congo," January 24, 2002, ref: ECHO02-0005EN.

262 This is also in contradiction with the Report of the Panel on U.N. Peace Keeping Operations, the so-called Brahimi Report, which suggests that "United Nations peacekeepers - troops or police - who witness violence against civilians should be presumed to be authorized to stop it, within their means, in support of basic United Nations principles," (accessed May 23, 2002).

263 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with human rights organization in Goma, January 15, 2001; IRIN report, January 11, 2001.

264 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with staff of U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, January 28, 2001.

265 Amir Attaran and Jeffrey Sachs, "Defining and refining international donor support for combating the AIDS pandemic," The Lancet 357 (2001):57-61.

266 "Aid to poor countries falls again," Monday Developments 16, 12 , July 6, 1998.

267 Associated Press, "African leaders back less costly AIDS drugs, more spending," April 27, 2001.

268 UNAIDS press release, "AIDS now core issue at UN Security Council," New York, January 19, 2001.

269 UNAIDS press release, "UN Security Council welcomes Declaration," New York, June 28, 2001.

270 The World Bank press release, "Greater Great Lakes Demobilization and Reintegration Program and Trust Fund," Brussels, December 19, 2001.

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