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The role of U.N. peacekeepers


Despite its mandate to protect civilians and its recently increased troop size, MONUC failed to protect civilians during the fighting described in this report.  In most cases MONUC peacekeepers failed to reach the conflict area until several days after fighting began. Even then they were unable to gather the intelligence necessary to accurately assess the situation and formulate a strategy to protect civilians. Sometimes lacking interpreters, MONUC peacekeepers were often forced to rely on MONUC civilian staff for information but, because of security considerations, the civilians are often unable to travel freely in areas of conflict.

In Buramba, MONUC learned almost immediately that fighting had begun on December 17 through telephone calls from displaced people.139  Ironically, a new contingent of Indians had begun arriving in Kiwanja, less than forty kilometers from Buramba, just days before.140  But, according to local sources, peacekeepers came to Buramba only on December 24, at which time troops linked to RCD-Goma were still occupying the town and preventing displaced civilians from returning.141  The peacekeepers nonetheless found the situation “calm” and did not intervene nor even speak extensively to the displaced at Nyamilima, just a few kilometers past Buramba.142 

Similarly a MONUC verification mission arrived at Nyabyondo on December 22, three days after the main attack, but left the same day.  A military presence was eventually set up there and at Masisi center, but did little to protect civilians. A small number of civilians who had been unable to flee the town did take refuge adjacent to the MONUC camp at Nyabyondo.143 

MONUC officials did play an important political role in putting pressure on the troops to withdraw from Nyabyondo more than a month later, a measure necessary for the return of the displaced.144  In late January, MONUC soldiers also prevented the withdrawing troops from forcing local civilians to transport their belongings – a simple but rare intervention that was greeted with enthusiasm by the local population.145

When fighting began at Kanyabayonga on December 12, MONUC had peacekeepers at Lubero, a short distance north of the area of combat, and quickly moved others to Kanyabayonga itself. Yet the MONUC forces failed to protect civilians from abuses by the retreating FARDC troops and by the advancing troops linked to RCD-Goma. At the time MONUC peacekeepers at Lubero told a Human Rights Watch researcher that they knew civilian property was being pillaged by retreating soldiers and that they wanted to help, but that they had received no orders to intervene.146  Within a week, MONUC created a “humanitarian buffer zone” between the belligerents to permit the delivery of humanitarian aid.  While this effort may have contributed to halting the fighting between the factions of the FARDC, it had a minimal impact on assistance to civilians. According to humanitarian organizations, the zone proved inadequate because it covered only a short distance on the main north-south road and did not prevent troop movements to the east and west of the zone.147

Human rights investigations

While MONUC military forces failed to protect civilians, a special investigation team, based in Kinshasa, promptly investigated crimes committed at Buramba, Nyabyondo and near Kanyabayonga and made public their results, as mentioned above.148  In press releases and briefings and in a letter to the North Kivu regional military commander, they laid out allegations of killings of sixty civilians and rapes of others by soldiers of the FARDC 11th brigade at Nyabyondo and of the killings of thirty civilians by the FARDC 123rd battalion at Buramba. The soldiers in the units were all linked to RCD-Goma. In addition, the MONUC investigators accused FARDC troops of various factions, including ex-ANC, ex-APC, and ex-MLC of raping 136 women in fighting near Kanyabayonga.149

Staff from the MONUC human rights unit also documented the distribution of arms in Buramba in early January.150  

[139] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Goma, December 19, 2004; Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, December 23, 2004.

[140] Human Rights Watch field visit to Rutshuru, December 14, 2005.

[141] Ibid.

[142] Ibid.

[143] Human Rights Watch field visit to Nyabyondo, January 18, 2005.

[144] Human Rights Watch field visits to Kibati (Walikale territory), January 18, 2005, and Masisi, January 26, 2005; and interviews, Masisi, Jan 26-29, 2005.

[145] Human Rights Watch interview, Masisi, January 28, 2005.

[146] Human Rights Watch interviews with MONUC personnel, Lubero, December 19, 2004.

[147] Human Rights Watch discussions with humanitarian personnel in Goma throughout December 2004 and January 2005.

[148] MONUC press release, January 7, 2005; MONUC press briefing, February 23, 2005; Letter from MONUC/ Goma head of office to General Gabriel Amisi, Commander of the Eight Military Region (North Kivu), February 25, 2005; Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches en Education de Base pour le Développement Intégré (CEREBA), “Rapport de Mission de verification et d’enquête sur la carnage de Buramba/Binza/Rutshuru”, Goma, January 8, 2005.

[149] MONUC press briefing, February 23, 2004.

[150] Electronic communication to Human Rights Watch, February 3, 2005.

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