UN mission fails to protect civilians in the DRC

The UN mission in the DRC is failing to protect civilians, as it emerges that 200 women were raped in a systematic attack in North Kivu earlier month. A US official alleges that Taliban forces have threatened foreign aid workers in Pakistan. A wave of attacks across Iraq raise questions about Iraqi stability. Human rights groups allege that state anti-terrorism drive violates human rights in Yemen. All this and more in today’s briefing...
Josephine Whitaker
26 August 2010

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today used an emergency session of the Security Council to call on member states to do everything possible to prevent sexual attacks in the DRC after it emerged earlier this week that over 200 women and four babies were raped in systematic attacks in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo at the end of July.  

Over four days of sexual violence, approximately 400 militants from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and local Mai-Mai militiamen looted and raped their way through the town of Luvungi in North Kivu province and five nearby villages.

Although the attack took place less than 20 miles from a military camp manned by UN peacekeepers from the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), the UN reportedly only learned about the attacks ten days later.

Spokesman at UN headquarters in New York, Martin Nesirsky, said that a UN joint human rights team had confirmed that at least 154 women had been raped by FDLR and Mai Mai fighters. However, as many terrified civilians are still hiding in nearby forests, and many more would be too afraid to seek medical treatment, the total is likely to be much higher. One humanitarian organisation, the International Medical Corps (IMC), reported that health workers have treated 179 women for injuries related to sexual violence.

Reporting of these attacks prompted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday pledged to “do everything we can to work the UN and the DRC government to hold the perpetrators of these acts accountable.”  Clinton called on UN member states to do more to help protect civilians against sexual violence.

The openSecurity verdict: Although Ban Ki-moon today said that MONUSCO “does what it can within its mandate, working with limited resources in an exceptionally difficult environment,” this latest incident has raised real questions about the status and mandate of MONUSCO. Chief UN envoy to the DRC, Roger Meese, acknowledged in a press conference earlier this week that MONUSCO forces lacked credible information about the attacks, and were therefore unable to provide protection. Meanwhile, current UN Security Council President Vitaly Churkin said that the “there was general feeling that things did not work the way they should have worked, and it is the intention of the Council to look into (MONUSCO’s role) very thoroughly.”

MONUSCO, with 20,000 peacekeepers and a budget of $1.5bn a year, is the world’s largest ever peacekeeping mission. Its inability to protect civilians from attacks has focused the attention of the aid and development press on MONUSCO’s status, although it predictably has not attracted much attention in mainstream press.

The UN mission, formerly known as MONUC, recently withdrew over 1,500 peacekeepers from its ranks in response to pressure from President Joseph Kabila, who is keen to see all UN forces withdraw from the DRC by the of 2011. This move attracted criticism from many observers who believe that the mission’s mandate remains largely unfulfilled, despite the fact that a UN peacekeeping force has been present in the country since 1999. In November 2009, MONUC found itself mired in controversy over its cooperation with state security forces that have brutally killed and raped hundreds of civilians.

However, other analysts believe that the UN should not take all of the blame for this latest incident. Indeed, incidents akin to the one that occurred in Luvungi earlier this month occur with shocking frequency, yet international and Congolese media remains largely silent. As one commentator points out, the ongoing conflict in the DRC is “the culmination of national and foreign policy interests that place accumulation of wealth and geostrategic partnerships over the creation of a stable government.”  

Whatever your opinion of where responsibility lies, one thing is for sure: MONUSCO’s mandate needs revisiting and peacekeepers should not be withdrawn simply to please the government in Kinshasa.

Taliban threaten foreign aid workers in Pakistan, alleges US official

A US official has alleged that an Afghan militant group has threatened to target foreign aid organisations working to distribute relief to the seventeen million people affected by extensive flooding that began three weeks ago. According to the official, who spoke to the BBC on condition of anonymity, Tehrik-e Taliban – considered by many to be among the most radical and violent militant groups in Pakistan –  “plans to conduct attacks against foreigners participating in the ongoing flood relief operations in Pakistan.”

The allegation comes just days after a series of attacks rocked the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa area, leaving 45 dead and at least 100 injured.  It has prompted the United Nations to review its staff security protocols.

Despite the seriousness with which the aid community has reacted to these allegations, they are difficult to verify. A World Health Organisation spokesman said that its aid activities in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region have already been restricted by security concerns, stoking fears that aid to flood-affected areas will be delayed. However, US General Michael Nagata has said that his forces have received no threats in the three weeks they have been in country. Other aid groups on the ground in Pakistan have dismissed the allegations, pointing out that such tactics from the Taliban would only provoke a backlash against this extremist group.

The US is one of many countries that have donated large sums of aid for the Pakistan floods, with current donations totalling $150m. However, true to form, US Agency for International Development officials have been vocal with their concerns about corruption and accountability in Islamabad. Head of US AID, Rajiv Shah, has said that long-term aid “would require a demonstration of real transparency and accountability and that resources spent in Pakistan get results.” These allegations also come amid concerns about the role of militant Islamist groups in providing aid, as the government’s response to the disaster remains slow and inefficient.

Attacks raise questions about Iraqi stability

Iraqi militants today attacked a government-supported anti-al-Qaeda militia near Baghdad, according to Iraqi security forces, killing all six members of the group. An attempted attack on a different government-backed militia nearby was foiled by security forces, officials say.

These attacks come just one day after a wave of apparently coordinated bombings hit more than thirteen Iraqi cities yesterday, leaving 62 people dead and raising questions about Iraq’s future stability as the last US combat troops prepare to exit the country at the end of August.

The majority of Wednesday’s attacks focused on security targets. The worst bombing occurred in Kut, in southern Iraq, where a suicide bomber blew up a car outside local government and police headquarters. Nineteen people were killed and at least ninety were injured in the blast. Another suicide bomber struck in north-eastern Baghdad, where a car bomb was detonated outside a police station, killing fifteen police officers and civilians. Other bombings were reported in Kirkuk, Falluja, Tikrit, Mosul, Basra, Ramada, Karbala, Dujail, Balad Ruz and Samarra.

Although no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, analysts believe a branch of al-Qaeda is likely to have been responsible. It is thought that al-Qaeda militants are attempting to destabilise Iraq as US forces withdraw. A spokesman for Iraqi security services, Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, warned of more attacks as US troops prepare end combat operations.

Although attacks are down from a 2006-2007 high, a spate of bombings over the last two months has raised stark questions about the ability of Iraqi security forces to protect civilians. Obama’s planned troop withdrawal has been predicated on national security forces’ ability to take up the slack, but it seems increasingly unlikely that the Iraqi security services and pro-government militias are up to the job. It remains to be seen whether the increasingly stark reality of the competency of Iraqi security forces will alter Obama’s much-lauded exit strategy, a key plank of his presidential campaign.

Yemen anti-terrorism drive violates human rights

Yemeni security forces have been using national security as a pretext to legitimise widespread human rights violations, according to a new report from Amnesty International. The report’s release coincided with a Central Intelligence Agency statement indicating that the United States was set to escalate its military operations in Yemen.

Under pressure from the United States and Saudi Arabia to deal with various internal security problems, including a secessionist movement in the south, a rebellion on the northern border with Saudi Arabia and an increasing al-Qaeda presence, Yemeni government security forces conducted a number of operations over the last year.

Government military campaigns have led to arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings and massive internal displacement of civilians, claims the report. “Yemeni authorities are abandoning human rights in the name of security,” the report’s authors state.

Since a Yemeni-based al-Qaeda group attempted to blow up an American plane in December, the government has been under increased pressure to crack down on Islamist militancy at home. While the US has expanded its own counter-terrorism operations in Yemen, the Sana’a government has been reluctant to disclose the full extent of its cooperation with Washington.

Seemingly conducted at the behest of the US, many analysts concur that the government’s military campaigns are proving counter-productive. US operations in Yemen appear to have little regard for the legitimacy of the central government, which plays into al-Qaeda hands.

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