MONUC: A Case for Peacekeeping Reform

March 1, 2005

Testimony by CFR fellows and experts before Congress.

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Written testimony before the Committee on International Relations’ Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations

Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, thank you for holding this important hearing. I am pleased to offer this testimony on the issues surrounding MONUC [the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo] and the implications for U.N. peacekeeping reform

The U.N. has been rocked by a series of scandals and investigations lately. The problems in MONUC are among the latest and deserve careful attention. The charges of sexual abuse are of course most dismaying. Such conduct is a betrayal, a betrayal of the trust and hopes a suffering population puts in the U.N., but also a betrayal of the honor and purposes of the U.N. Earlier, MONUC suffered a loss of confidence when it initially failed to stop the overrunning of the city of Bukavu by a rebel force, and in other instances by its inability to stop gross human rights violations, especially in the Ituri region of Congo.

But the problems of MONUC need to be put in context and must lead us to the right conclusions not the wrong ones. U.N. peacekeeping has never faced the number and seriousness of challenges as it does today. There are currently sixteen U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world, involving more than 65,000 peacekeepers. Some of these missions are relatively benign, such as on Cyprus, but the vast majority are in situations of great tension, where the threat of renewed conflict, if not situations of on going conflict is present.

In these situations, the U.N. role is absolutely critical. In Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi, and East Timor, the presence of U.N. peacekeepers is the most important factor in enabling a return to peace and stability, the means to disarming rebel forces, and in effect the difference between war and peace. When the United States decided to have the marines sail away from Liberia, on the heels of President George W. Bush’s historic trip to Africa, it was because first the West Africans, then the U.N. provided the stability needed for U.S. objectives to be achieved. The terrible brutality in Sierra Leone’s civil war has only recently been put behind us with the help of a major U.N. peacekeeping force.

In Congo, as other witnesses will detail, the U.N. faces one of its most difficult challenges. Congo is a huge country at the center of Africa and its collapse into civil war and internal chaos reverberated around the continent. As many as four million people have died as a result of the conflict. Only a most tenuous ceasefire and political agreement is in place to end the violence. The attacks in the eastern part of the country continue, not only from internal rebel forces and as a product of ethnic strife, but with the encouragement of outside forces. Competition for natural resources – gold, diamonds, other raw materials – is intense, drawing in not only neighboring countries but multinational corporations and some shady enterprises as well.

As often happens in these situations, and it is a lesson for our discussion today, the U.N. committed initially a U.N. force too small and with too limited a mandate to achieve its objectives. Only gradually, over time, has the size of the force been expanded to a target of 16,700. Still no more than 13,900 are in place. In the interim, attacks on civilians occurred and terrible human rights violations were committed. A special non-U.N. intervention was needed until MONUC could be expanded and its mandate strengthened. MONUC has more recently succeeded in bringing order to some parts of the eastern region, but not yet all. Intervention by Rwandans and perhaps Ugandans or their surrogates adds to the difficulties of the situation.

The conditions under which U.N. peacekeepers operate today is also different than what was envisaged when peacekeeping was first developed. U.N. peacekeepers are no longer safe from attack. Indeed, just under 2,000 U.N. peacekeepers have been killed around the world. MONUC has lost more than 50 members. Just this last Friday, nine Bangladeshi U.N. peacekeepers were ambushed and killed, a grim reminder of the environment in which MONUC operates.

It is in this context that we must examine MONUC’s problems and solutions.

First of all, we must condemn the sexual abuse that took place. As I said earlier, such acts are a betrayal of the trust in the U.N. and its purpose. But we must remember also that there are 48 nations which have contributed troops to MONUC, including friends of the U.S. such as Canada, Poland, Ireland, Senegal, and others. There are more than 13,000 troops there. Just as we do not denigrate our servicemen and women serving around the world, in the wake of scandals of abuse that have caused us so much anguish, so must we be careful not to denigrate the entirety of those serving in Congo.

Second, we must not weaken MONUC in the process of addressing these issues. On the contrary, one of MONUC’s problems is that it is stretched thin over a vast country, nearly one-quarter the size of the United States, charged with protecting peoples in far out reaches of the country.

Third, we have to recognize that the U.N. does not have the authority to take legal or disciplinary action against abusers, only the contributing country does.

With these considerations in mind, I recommend the following:

  • The U.N. should continue its investigations and pass its conclusions, in detail, to the countries whose troops committed these acts.
  • The U.N. should insist that offending individuals be disciplined according to the laws of their countries.
  • Member countries of the Security Council, including the U.S., should make the same demands of those contributing countries.
  • The Security Council should develop much more specific guidelines for contributing countries to U.N. peacekeeping, including a code of conduct, and pledges by those countries to screen, train, and where necessary, discipline such troops, police or civilian employees. Contributing countries should agree to cooperate fully with U.N. investigations of conduct and to take rapid action to remove abusive members. While the U.N. secretary general is now developing such guidelines, it is better if these guidelines come from the Security Council.
  • The United States should take a leading role in the Security Council in the development of such guidelines, but not act alone keeping in mind that the U.S. contributes less than 5 percent of U.N. peacekeepers.

Specifically, with regard to Congo and MONUC’s overall effectiveness:

  • The Security Council should re-examine the size and mandate of MONUC to determine if they are adequate to the demand. It is likely that a substantial increase in MONUC’s size may be necessary to counter the problems in the eastern and other troubled regions.
  • The United States should exert more influence on neighboring countries, especially Uganda and Rwanda, to cooperate with the peace process and rein in surrogate forces responsible for the violence and gross violation of human rights.
  • The United States should invest much more diplomatically and with its resources in support of the tenuous peace process under way. This could include greater support to the Africa Union’s negotiations, support for increased number of human rights monitors from the U.N. and elsewhere.
  • The United States should raise with its European allies a possible code of conduct for private companies doing business in Congo, to discourage companies from making deals with rebel forces or others not cooperating with the peace process.
  • In this regard, the United States and its European allies should advocate for total transparency of arrangements by the Congo government, various regional authorities, and neighboring countries along with private companies, with regard to rights granted for mining or other natural resource exploitation.

Mr. Chairman, the situation in Congo is desperate. Many, many people have suffered. Many women have been raped by the contending forces, far more than ever by U.N. peacekeepers. The political solutions being negotiated are tenuous at best. If we wish to bring order out of this chaos, and to improve the ability of the U.N. to play its role, we must treat both the situation in that country and the conditions whereby peacekeepers operate. This is in many ways a defining moment for the U.N. Let us use this opportunity to strengthen it for the sake of our own interests and those of the millions who look to it for protection.

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