IX. The Role of the International Community

Like the Congolese government, the international community and MONUC found no effective way of dealing with the crisis in North Kivu in the first half of 2007. In principle still committed to assisting the government to reassert full control over its territory, no international actor appeared to offer the government the support it needed to deal with the issue decisively. Rwanda, most involved in facilitating a political arrangement at the end of 2006, also allowed the recruitment of soldiers—including child soldiers—for Nkunda, thus further complicating the crisis.

With a growing realization of the extent of the humanitarian crisis, Belgium, the UN Security Council, and MONUC sought political solutions more vigorously after mid-year. On September 26, key members of the international community including senior representatives from the USA, UK, France, Belgium, and South Africa met in New York to discuss ways to resolve the growing crisis in North Kivu. The “road map” they developed set out steps to improve the security situation including: renewed action by MONUC against “negative” forces, in particular the FDLR; facilitating the return of refugees from Rwanda and Burundi in collaboration with UNHCR; encouraging political dialogue in the Kivu provinces; encouraging full diplomatic relations between Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo; and fighting the culture of impunity.220 Following the meeting, Belgium announced the appointment of a high-level facilitator to help initiate dialogue between the warring factions, though at this  writing no one had been identified to take on this role.221 

MONUC, praised for its generally useful role during the elections but embarrassed by revelations of abuses within its own ranks (see below), struggled to find the appropriate balance among contending political actors while still implementing its mandate to protect civilians. Although many residents of North Kivu appreciated its assistance, most felt the force needed to do more to protect civilians, and sometimes sharply criticized the conduct of its troops. Throughout the summer months, MONUC moved additional peacekeeping troops to eastern Congo to deal with the crisis.

Like UNHCR, MONUC hesitated for some time to speak openly about the human rights problems linked with mixage and the recruitment of child soldiers. While its human rights officers documented many of the abuses, the senior leadership within MONUC failed on at least two occasions to publish the results of the investigations.222 The UN high commissioner for human rights, the special rapporteur on violence against women, and the special representative of the secretary-general for children and armed conflict all contributed significantly to raising public awareness of human rights abuses in Congo among diplomats and the public in general.

The Donor Community

The international community provided significant financial and diplomatic capital to the election process in the DRC. Since the installation of the new government, diplomats and international donors have said little about human rights abuses, whether in North Kivu, Bas Congo, or Kinshasa. This relative silence may be in part due to reluctance to tarnish the declared success of the elections themselves, but may have reflected as well a decrease in cohesion among important international actors.

Before the elections, donors agreed on the overriding importance of ending the transition period and getting a successfully elected government put in place. With general accord on this objective, the leading actors cooperated relatively effectively in the International Committee to Accompany the Transition (CIAT). With the installation of Kabila’s government, CIAT dissolved, perhaps signaling an erosion in the commonality of goals of international actors. Although all continued to pursue such objectives as reform of the security sector, improved governance, economic recovery, and support for the judicial system, they may have found it more difficult to agree on how to achieve these ends. Different national interests reasserted themselves, sometimes linked to expectations of benefiting from Congo’s vast wealth. Some diplomats raised the justification of not interfering in the affairs of the newly established authorities as a reason for relative inaction.

Immediately after the conclusion of the electoral process, international donors flocked to Kinshasa to sign agreements for economic development programs.223 Very few expressed concern about ongoing human rights abuses and none conditioned aid on improvements in human rights, in the security situation, or in enhanced protection for civilians. In June 2007 major donors agreed on an 18-month coordinated program of assistance, indicating perhaps greater willingness to cooperate once again.224

Donors recognize that reform of the armed forces is essential to assuring stability in Congo and hence pushed the Congolese government to come up with a program of security sector reform. Presented by the government on July 12, the plan included completion of disarmament and demobilization and formation of an integrated army to serve as a defense force as well as an organized work force for reconstruction; creation of a rapid reaction force of five to six brigades to replace MONUC by 2009; and creation by 2011 of a main defense force to defend the country’s borders. Donors welcomed the government plans but voiced skepticism that the goals could be achieved in the timeframe set out.225

As in the past, donors continued to talk of the need to reestablish the judicial system. Building on the earlier success of a pilot program to revitalize the courts in Ituri, the European Commission, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands in June launched REJUSCO, an expanded system of aid to the judicial system in Ituri and the two Kivu provinces.226

Since the growing humanitarian crisis attracted the attention of the donor community and of the UN, diplomats of several countries, most notably Belgium and the United States, have stepped up efforts to find a longer-term political resolution to the current crisis, including the development of a roadmap as described above.227

Rwanda and South Africa

Rwanda and South Africa have figured among the most active governments involved in the crisis in eastern Congo.

Rwandan authorities appeared to have played a positive role in bringing military conflict to an end by facilitating discussions between Nkunda and Congolese officers at the end of 2006, but they have since been less than helpful on the question of recruitment of child soldiers for Nkunda in Rwanda.  When the issue was initially raised discreetly by UNHCR, Rwandan authorities did nothing. When it was raised publicly in April 2007, authorities dismissed the allegation although they eventually agreed on a plan with UNHCR to attempt to stop the recruitment.228 As mentioned above, the UN secretary-general in a June report to the Security Council called on Rwanda to end that recruitment immediately.229

Hundreds of Rwandans have joined Nkunda’s units and then become soldiers in the Congolese army, as mentioned above. Furthermore, according to Congolese and MONUC officers, several soldiers currently active in the Rwandan Defense Forces have been captured in Congo, fighting with Nkunda’s forces.230

According to Rwandan military officers and Nkunda, representatives of the South African government observed the talks facilitated by Rwanda that led to the mixage compromise. According to some of these sources, South Africa agreed to receive Nkunda in South Africa for a year of study (although, as noted above, other sources dispute this detail of the agreement). It is unclear whether the South African government expected the arrest warrant against Nkunda to be withdrawn in order to make it easier to receive him in South Africa.231 

In discussion with diplomats in New York in late September, President Kabila claimed that South Africa continued to facilitate dialogue between Nkunda and his government to bring an end to the crisis, though neither Nkunda nor South African government representatives interviewed by Human Rights Watch researchers were able to confirm such facilitation.232  Some diplomats involved in drafting the roadmap expressed a desire to see a South African appointed as the high-level facilitator.

The United Nations: Security Council, MONUC, and UN Agencies

The Security Council

The UN Security Council, like the Congolese government and the donor nations, reacted slowly to the crisis in North Kivu. It was preoccupied initially with the Kabila government’s problems taking power and with renewing the mandate of MONUC, accomplished only on May 15, 2007, after two temporary extensions.

During a brief visit to Congo in June, members of the council were made aware of the humanitarian consequences of military operations in the east and of the collapse of the attempted political solution to the integration of Nkunda’s troops into the Congolese army.233 Just over a week later, the secretary-general reported to the council on the continuing grave abuses against children in the conflict zones of Congo, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

The council first expressed serious concern about the deteriorating situation in the east in a presidential statement on July 23. Distressed by the reported readiness of high-ranking MONUC officers to support the Congolese government against challengers, including particularly Nkunda, the council stressed the need for a political solution. The diplomatic representative of one of the nations involved said frankly that this statement represented the council’s directive that MONUC was not to attack Nkunda without coming back to the council for authorization. The council also echoed the concern of the secretary-general about the recruitment and use of child soldiers, especially in mixed brigades. It called for further action against the FDLR.234


MONUC had to redefine its role after the election to take account of the newly elected government. This process was particularly complicated in eastern Congo where Nkunda’s troops, officially part of the Congolese army, were engaged in military operations against the army, and where the FDLR was said to be a negative force to be eliminated, yet sometimes benefited from the tacit support of Congolese army soldiers. While trying to negotiate the political complexities of this situation, MONUC was also facing reports of corruption in its own ranks, both in Ituri and in North Kivu, where MONUC soldiers had reportedly traded military information to the FDLR and other armed groups in return for gold.235

Mandate to protect civilians

Observations and conversations of Human Rights Watch researchers with residents of North Kivu during 2006 and 2007 showed that most residents appreciated the protection afforded civilians by MONUC. In February, for example, MONUC peacekeepers escorted some 100 civilians to safety, sandwiched between two tanks, after Nkunda’s forces had attacked Katwiguru.236 Opinion surveys organized by international NGOs confirmed a general popular appreciation for MONUC efforts at protection. The people of the Kivus generally believed MONUC needed to do more to protect them, however, and they were quick to criticize MONUC in those instances when they believed the force had failed to provide the necessary protection. 237

When Nkunda’s soldiers attacked the town of Sake on November 25, 2006, Congolese army soldiers defending the town fled. MONUC troops did not intervene to prevent the town from falling into the hands of the insurgents, despite MONUC’s having a base at Mubambiro, just two kilometers from Sake. Local residents who had had to flee their homes later expressed their anger by throwing stones at vehicles belonging to MONUC.238

Two days after the fall of Sake, however, MONUC troops responded robustly to an impending assault by Nkunda’s men on Goma, capital of North Kivu province. MONUC officers apparently understood that serious loss of life might result if Nkunda took the town, and ordered the peacekeeping troops to push Nkunda’s forces back to their original positions. 239

When combat between Nkunda’s troops and the Congolese army resumed in August 2007, residents of Goma took to the streets to demonstrate against MONUC which, they claimed, had not done enough to tackle the problem of Nkunda.

Relations with Nkunda’s forces and the Congolese army

Following its military intervention against Nkunda’s forces in November 2006, MONUC did not move to defeat Nkunda but rather favored a negotiated settlement. MONUC was not a party to the discussions resulting in the mixage arrangement and made no public statements approving the process, but on several occasions the peacekeeping force did appear to send a tacit message of approval by attending ceremonies linked to the launching of the new mixed units.240

As MONUC human rights investigators reported the violations committed by the newly mixed troops in their military operations against the FDLR, MONUC sought explanations from President Kabila about the government’s official position in relation to mixage and about the deadline for full integration of the mixed units into the army. With no clear answers from Kabila forthcoming, MONUC overcame its reluctance to criticize the policy of a sovereign government and in April and May 2007 began calling attention to the humanitarian consequences of the military operations of the mixed units.241

Yet even while deploring the humanitarian consequences of operations carried out by the mixed brigades, MONUC showed continued reluctance to speak openly about human rights violations. MONUC investigated crimes of sexual violence perpetrated by Nkunda’s troops in Kibirizi in January 2006 and the massacre in Buramba in April 2007 but has not yet published either report. According to one human rights officer in February 2007, he and his colleagues feel less able to investigate and publicly denounce human rights violations than in the past.242

MONUC troops are not charged with training soldiers of the integrated units of the Congolese army, but sometimes carry out joint operations with them. Given the high incidence of human rights abuses by these Congolese troops, MONUC forces frequently find themselves in a difficult position to implement fully their mandate to protect the civilian population. Questioned about this problem, MONUC commander Gen. Babacar Gaye told reporters that MONUC reported any such violations to the appropriate Congolese army authority. He added too that when MONUC engaged in joint operations with Congolese army soldiers, they provided them with the necessary supplies, obviously to attempt to limit the extent to which those troops would loot from the civilian population.243 

MONUC also was slow to speak out on the question of child soldiers, waiting for months before publicizing information about children recruited and being used for military service in mixed brigades. Perhaps concerned with the political sensitivity of publicizing information that would be seen as critical of Rwanda, they did not make public what they knew about children and adults being brought across the border from Rwanda to join Nkunda’s ranks.

In June MONUC increased the numbers of troops in North Kivu, transferring 800 extra troops from elsewhere in the country. On July 26 General Gaye said that North Kivu had become the focus of MONUC concerns.244 As tensions increased and the Congolese army and Nkunda’s forces both appeared to be preparing for renewed combat in August, General Gaye appeared next to Army Chief of Staff General Kayembe at the press conference where the latter announced firmly that all soldiers must go to brassage (see Chapter III, above). General Kayembe also insisted that the Congolese army and MONUC would settle the problem of the FDLR and that this armed group must be eliminated and its members returned to Rwanda.245

When Nkunda’s troops and the Congolese army fought again in late August and September, MONUC pushed for an immediate ceasefire and urged for a negotiated solution to minimize further harm to civilians.  While refusing to be drawn into joint operations with the Congolese army against Nkunda, MONUC did provide logistical support to the Congolese army, transporting soldiers and supplies into and around North Kivu.246


Heavily involved in attempting to provide humanitarian aid to the residents of North Kivu, UNHCR initially expressed hope that the mixage compromise would bring greater security and permit both refugees and displaced persons to return home.247 However, as the numbers of displaced people increased and the humanitarian situation worsened, UNHCR—acting on behalf of the Protection Cluster of NGOs and UN agencies—wrote to North Kivu FARDC commander General Ngizo on March 2, expressing concern about the serious human rights consequences of mixage, including forced displacement, forced recruitment, and the use of child soldiers.248

UNHCR still suffers from Rwandan anger at the agency’s support for refugee camps in Congo in 1994 when the formerly genocidal forces used some of the camps as a base to rearm and reorganize. Given the difficult nature of its relationship with the Rwandan government, UNHCR hesitated to speak openly about the military recruitment of adults and children in the two camps it supervised in Rwanda. Similarly, the agency did not monitor the return of hundreds of refugees who voluntarily returned to Congo, although it had the mandate to do so. For this reason, it was unable to know whether all the returnees were indeed Congolese civilians.249 Given Nkunda’s determination to have refugees return to Congo from Rwanda, UNHCR is under heavy pressure to sign an agreement with the Congolese and Rwandan governments to begin assisted returns, yet agency staff understand that doing so would be to put returnees at risk of further suffering and displacement, given the current insecurity in North Kivu.250


In Congo the United Nations Children’s Fund plays a broad humanitarian role in the cluster approach of humanitarian agencies. Child protection is equally part of UNICEF’s mandate, and UNICEF has worked with local partner agencies and MONUC child protection to attempt to secure the liberation of child soldiers, with limited success. UNICEF has acted independently and in consort with the protection cluster to draw attention to the serious resistance encountered on the ground from officers in the mixed brigades against the demobilization of children. Such efforts, however, moved slowly and produced relatively little.

UN spokespersons for human rights

The UN high commissioner for human rights, the special representative of the secretary-general for children and armed conflict, and the special rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on violence against women all gathered data in Congo and did effective advocacy on human rights in Congo in the first months of 2007.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour drew attention to the problem of impunity and persuaded President Kabila to agree to a UN investigation to establish sites of war crimes, the first step to making possible accountability for the decade of crimes in Congo. Both Commissioner Arbour and the special rapporteur on violence against women raised awareness of violence against women and spoke strongly about the need for justice and practical assistance to survivors of crimes of sexual violence. The special representative of the secretary-general for children and armed conflict assembled the essential data for the secretary-general’s June report to the Security Council, thus making it possible for the UN’s highest official to speak forcefully and knowledgably about the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Congo.

220 Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomats, New York, September 26-28, 2007.

221 Ibid.

222 Human Rights Watch interviews with MONUC officials (names withheld), Goma, February 16, 2007 and Kinshasa, August 2 and 3, 2007.

223 For example, in March 2007 France renewed aid to Congo for the first time in 17 years, with a pledge of €235 over five years; in the same month Belgium increased its aid for 2007 from €79 million to €109 million and promised long-term assistance of €195; and in April the United Kingdom pledged £70 million but did make this dependent on progress in certain areas of governmental performance. “235 million euros from France for health, environment and education” (“235 millions d’euros de la France pour la santé, l’environnement et l’éducation”), Radio Okapi, March 25, 2007, (accessed August 20, 2007); ”Assessment of Minister Armand De Decker, Minister for Cooperation and Development since July 2004” (“Bilan du Ministre Armand De Decker, Ministre de la Coopération au Développement depuis juillet 2004”), Belgian Ministry of Cooperation and Development press release, May 22, 2007, (accessed August 20, 2007); “Providing aid in the Congo,” United Kingdom Department for International Development, May 11, 2007, (accessed August 20, 2007).

224 ”The joint Board of Directors of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund adopts the poverty reduction strategy paper for the DRC” (“Le conseil d’administration conjoint de la BM et du FMI adopte le DSCRP de la RDC”), Digital Congo, June 11, 2007, (accessed August 23, 2007).

225 MONUC, “Kinshasa: Contact group workshop on reform of DRC army,” July 13, 2007, (accessed August 23, 2007).

226 Human Rights Watch interview with Dirk Deprez, Rujusco, Goma, May 9, 2007.

227 Human Rights Watch interview with diplomat posted to Kigali (name withheld), Kigali, July 25, 2007.

228 “Kagame Castigates Human Rights Watch,” Rwanda News Agency; Human Rights Watch interview with UNHCR representative (name withheld), Kigali, July 25, 2007.

229 UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, S/2007/391, June 28, 2007, paras 22-27, 74.

230 Human Rights Watch interviews with MONUC political affairs officer (name withheld), Goma, May 12, 2007, and officers of the FARDC 9th brigade, Rutshuru, May 14, 2007.

231 Human Rights Watch interviews with Gen. James Kabarebe, July 27, 2007; Joseph Nzambamwita, July 26, 2007;a Rwandan military officer who requested anonymity, July 26, 2007; and Laurent Nkunda, Nyamitaba, July 31, 2007.

232 Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomats, New York, September 25 and 26; telephone interview with Laurent Nkunda, September 30; and telephone interview with South African official (name withheld), October 1, 2007.

233 “UN mission urges political solution in east Congo,” Reuters, June 20, 2007, (accessed August 21, 2007).

234 UN Security Council, Statement by the President of the Security Council, S/PRST/2007/28, July 23, 2007.

235 "Indian peacekeepers in DRC accused of gold trafficking with rebels," Agence France-Presse, July 13, 2007.

236 Human Rights Watch interview with internally displaced person, Kiwanjda, May 15, 2007.

237 Oxfam GB, “Beni Protection Assessment,” February 2007.

238 Human Rights Watch interview with human rights activist from Sake (name withheld), Goma, November 26, 2006.

239 Human Rights Watch interview with MONUC human rights officer (name withheld), Goma, November 27, 2006.

240 Human Rights Watch interview with MONUC military officer (name withheld), Goma, February 10, 2007.

241 MONUC, ”Transcript of press conference, May 2, 2007” (“Verbatim point de presse 02 mai 2007”), May 3, 2007, http://www.monuc,org/News.aspx?newsId=14493 (accessed August 25, 2007).

242 Human Rights Watch interview with MONUC human rights officer (name withheld), Goma, February 16, 2007.

243 Transcript of joint news conference given by Gen. Kayembe Mbandakulu Tshisuma, FARDC commander in chief, and Gen. Babacar Gaye, MONUC force commander, Goma, August 21, 2007, sent by email from MONUC officer to Human Rights Watch, August 22, 2007.

244 ”North Kivu is the focus of our concerns”, MONUC press office  interview with Gen. Babacar Gaye, MONUC force commander, July 26, 2007, (accessed September 8, 2007).

245 Transcript of joint news conference by Gen. Kayembe Mbandakulu Tshisuma and Gen. Babacar Gaye, August 21, 2007.

246 UN Department of Public Information, “Press Conference by force commander of Democratic Republic of Congo mission,”  New York, September 7, 2007.

247 “DRC-RWANDA: UN official welcomes deal with dissident general”, IRINnews, January 18, 2007, (accessed June 7, 2007).

248 Letter from Barbara Colzi, UNHCR protection officer, Goma, to Gen. Ngizi Siatilo Louis, commander of the 8th military region, FARDC, Goma, March 2, 2007.

249 UNHCR, “Comprehensive Approach to Resolving Refugee Situations and Providing Appropriate Durable Solutions,” (accessed July 4, 2007).

250 Human Rights Watch interview with UNHCR staff member (name withheld), Kigali, July 25, 2007.