United Nations Security Council extends sanctions against Congo rebels

The UN Security Council renews its sanctions against rebel groups in the eastern DRC. Indian government announces plans to reduce troop levels in Kashmir. Ousted Honduran president denied chance to serve the remainder of his term in officer by a majority vote of law-makers. A provincial governor is charged in connection with the recent massacre in Mindanao, the Philippines. Deteriorating conditions in the Central African Republic cause aid agencies to withdraw to the capital. All this and more in today’s briefing.
Josephine Whitaker
3 December 2009

 The United Nations Security Council voted earlier this week to renew sanctions on rebel groups operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The sanctions, first imposed in 2003 and renewed for a further year, target rebel groups such as the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), who have been operating in the DRC during its many years of civil war and chronic instability, unchecked by the weak Kinshasa government.

The resolution (1896 (2009)) imposes an arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze on all armed groups “that are not part of the Government’s integrated army or police units”. The mandate of the UN group of experts on the DRC was also extended for one year by the resolution. The group, which has produced previous reports and recommendations on the situation in this strife-ridden country, was urged to formulate recommendations of the buying and processing of minerals in the DRC, to focus its activities on the troubled east (North and South Kivu, Ituri and Orientale provinces), and to investigate recent allegations of links between the FDLR and Europe.

The openSecurity verdict: Change in the DRC, and meaningful improvement in the security situation for the millions of Congolese affected by political instability and the long-running conflict there, depends not so much on the deliberations of the UN Security Council, but on the Council members’ willingness to implement the agreements that they make. That this particular regime of sanctions has been imposed in largely the same form since 2003 should indicate somewhat the sanctions’ limited effectiveness. The implementation of any sanctions regime in the DRC was always going to be challenged by the country’s sheer size (approximately equivalent to that of western Europe) and the porousness of its borders. As a result, the lack of political will to implement sanctions so far demonstrated by the Security Council is a much more serious problem.

The UN’s renewal of its sanctions on rebel groups operating in the eastern DRC comes in the wake of a damning report into international links between the FDLR and countries and corporations across the world. The FDLR, a Rwandan rebel group accused of involvement in the Rwandan genocide and claiming to be fighting for the freedom of the Rwandan people, has been accused of a catalogue of human rights abuses in the DRC since 1994. The report, written by the UN’s group of experts on the DRC, condemns countries such as Germany, the United States and Spain for allowing Rwandan and Congolese citizens, wanted in connection with the 1994 Rwandan genocide and human rights abuses during the DRC’s multiple civil wars, to live freely within their territories. The report also slams neighbouring countries such as Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi for their role in allowing militants to take refuge in the refugee camps along their borders.

There has been some progress on this front in recent weeks, with the recent arrest in Germany of two wanted rebel leaders, Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, thought to be high-ranking FDLR commanders. The move by the German government was praised by UN officials, and other European governments were urged to follow Germany’s example by taking rebel leaders known to reside in their territories into custody.

However, these moves are not enough to bring a lasting improvement in the situation in the DRC. According to International Crisis Group, the situation in the DRC deteriorated last month, with 100 civilians and 26 policemen killed during clashes over fishing and farming rights, and tens of thousands displaced, both internally and forced over the border into the neighbouring Republic of Congo. The security situation in the country has remained dire since the ending of what some have called Africa’s first world war in 2003. Despite holding the country’s first democratic elections in 2006, rebel factions are still active throughout the DRC, particularly in the barely governed eastern region, where the UN estimates that 1500 people still die every day from conflict-related causes such as communicable diseases in unsanitary refugee camps.

The UN’s response to the DRC conflict has long been the subject of much criticism. The UN Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (or MONUC as it is usually known), which has been active in the DRC since 1999 and is one of the UN’s largest and most expensive peace keeping missions, has been attacked by many for its perceived ineffectiveness and inefficiency. Moreover, many Security Council resolutions regarding the DRC have been implemented either partially or not at all, such as the findings of a 2003 report on the exploitation of the DRC’s mineral wealth by Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Debate in recent weeks about a possible drawdown in MONUC’s presence, including a potential restructuring of the mission, have been justified in part as attempts to improve its effectiveness.

But the real question is what will motivate member states to take serious political action on the situation in the DRC, which, if it were happening in any other country, might draw a more strident burst of anger and activity. Already, the conflict and its spillover into neighbouring states such as Rwanda and Burundi have become something of a non-issue for western public opinion and media. However, the effectiveness of MONUC, and of any UN action regarding the DRC, depends entirely on the willingness of member states to take meaningful action on the conflict. Simply renewing the far from successful sanctions of the past six years is an insufficient response to a conflict that has exacted, is exacting and will continue to exact an unacceptable human cost, if UN member states cannot muster the political will to address it.

India announces plans to withdraw troops from Kashmir, again

India’s home minister announced yesterday that the central government is ready to withdraw a “significant of number of battalions” from the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir, and transfer law and order to state police. The announcement came during a briefing to parliament on the current internal security situation, at which Home Minister P Chidambaram said that the government wanted to restrict army numbers to “essentials”, according to the Press Trust of India.

According to the minister, the move aims to bring Kashmiri groups of “every shade of political opinion”, even those who favour self-determination, into talks with the government. He also noted that there has so far been a “very positive response” from some groups, but that the “these will be quiet talks, quiet diplomacy...far away from the glare of media”.

However, Chidambaram did not give a timetable for withdrawal, nor did he specify the exact number of troops to be withdrawn. A similar announcement, made in June, has not yet been acted upon, spurring some scepticism as to whether the Indian government will follow up this announcement. If implemented, it will be first time troop levels have decreased since the insurgency began.

The conflict in the state, focused on the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, has been running on and off for over twenty years. Stemming from the region’s resistance to Hindu-majority India’s rule, Islamic insurgents have fought against the government since the 1980s. The Indian Army is accused of grave human rights abuses in the context of this conflict, which has left over 47 000 dead according to official figures. A reduction in troop numbers would be widely welcomed, but it remains to be seen if withdrawal on any scale will become a reality.  

Zelaya rejected by Honduran Congress

The Honduran Congress voted late last night against allowing ousted President Manuel Zelaya to return to office for the remainder of his presidency. The congressional vote was part of a US-brokered deal aiming to resolve the five month political crisis in Honduras since Zelaya was forced from office on 28 June. Despite international pressure to reinstate him, Congress voted by 111 to fourteen to bar the ousted president from carrying out the rest of his term. The vote comes just days after opposition candidate, Porfirio Lobo, won a presidential election on Sunday, which had been scheduled before the coup occurred.

Zelaya was forced from office in June after being accused by critics of trying to extend the term of his presidency. Forced into exile in Costa Rica, he subsequently secretly re-entered Honduras, where he has camped out in the heavily armed Brazilian embassy ever since. Zelaya had angered business leaders, and some of his own supporters, by moving closer to left wing leaders such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. His arrest was ordered by the Supreme Court, which accused him of violating the constitution. The coup’s leaders have since been accused of human rights abuses, including several deaths during the sepression of supporters loyal to Zelaya.

Honduran and international opinion has been divided in the wake of both the election and the congressional vote. Zelaya has unsurprisingly condemned the decision, saying that it “ratifies the coup and condemns Honduras to continue living in illegality”. Zelaya and his supporters have also condemned Lobo’s election, saying that recognition of the vote amounts to victory for the coup’s leaders. Although the US was quick to recognize Lobo as the new president, Argentina and Brazil have criticised the election itself on the grounds that this gives legitimacy to the coup not only in Honduras, but also sanctifies the accession to power by force in the region as a whole. Both countries have refused to resume diplomatic ties with Honduras unless Zelaya reinstated. Conversely, Lobo and his conservative National Party have argued that reinstating Zelaya would only prolong the political crisis.

Philippines governor charged in massacre

A provincial governor from southern Mindanao in the Philippines has been charged in connection with the recent politically-motivated massacre on the island, the Philippines national bureau of investigation announced today. Andal Ampatuan Sr is both a provincial governor and head of a powerful local clan. His son, Andal Ampatuan Jr, was charged two days ago with multiple counts of murder in relation to the massacre.

At least 57 people were killed in an ambush on 23 November in the remote rural area of Maguindanao. The dead in this politically motivated massacre were supporters of Esmale Mangudadatu, a local politician who is mounting a challenge to Ampatuan next year in forthcoming provincial elections. A convoy of campaigners and journalists were attempting to file nomination papers on behalf of Mangudadatu when their convoy was attacked by Ampatutan Jr and a group of around 100 gunmen, according to witnesses and police reports. Seven other members of the family have been charged in relation to the case.

The charges against Ampatuan Sr follow orders from Philippine police chiefs for over 1000 police officers in the area to be replaced, after it became apparent that some members of the police force were linked to the killings.

The massacre has triggered national and international calls for the government to do more to address the culture of violence and intimidation in the run up to elections, which has long plagued the Philippines. The Ampatuan clan had close relations with the current government of Gloria Arroyo, although members of the clan have since been expelled from her coalition.

Deteriorating security in CAR forces aid group withdrawal

A series of rebel attacks and abductions of foreign aid workers over the last few weeks has led several aid agencies to withdraw their field staff in the volatile Central African Republic (CAR) to Bangui, the country’s slightly more secure capital.

Two French aid workers were abducted last week in the town of Birao, about 800km from the capital, by the previously unknown African Free Eagles. The group, which also claims to be holding another aid worker kidnapped in Chad earlier this year, is trying to pressure France into changing its policies towards the region. Triangle, the French agency that employs the two abducted workers, and the Comite d’Aide Medical, also threatened by rebels in Birao, have withdrawn their staff to the capital in response.

Elsewhere in the country, clashes between rebel forces and government troops have forced three European aid agencies to withdraw their staff to the capital, a UN official said on Monday. However, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) emphasised that the move was a temporary one, and that the organisations were not pulling out of the country. 

Meanwhile, an attack in eastern CAR by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) killed dozens in the small town of Djemah last week. According to local witnesses and media, about forty rebels attacked the town, but were swiftly repelled by a government counterattack. The LRA, a rebel group originating in northern Uganda and southern Sudan, was the subject of a Ugandan army crack down last year after twenty years of insurgency. However, the crack down failed to eliminate rebel leaders and has since led to vicious reprisal attacks in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan, as well as CAR.

The withdrawal of relief agencies from their field offices in the face of this mounting instability signals a decline in the humanitarian situation in CAR, already one of Africa’s poorest states despite its natural wealth. According to Sitta Kai-Kai, director of the World Food Programme in CAR, the LRA attacks have already caused a sharp rise in the number of people needing food aid in southern CAR, traditionally one of the most food secure regions. The conflict in CAR has displaced 300 000 people in the last three years, with the north facing a serious humanitarian crisis. The situation in CAR remains intricately linked with that of neighbouring countries such as Chad and Sudan, and the its destabilisation does not bode well for the region as a whole.

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