Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ending Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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International Crisis Group (ICG) has released an important report on the security situation in eastern Congo. The report, entitled “No stability in Kivu despite rapprochement with Rwanda” scrutinizes the current military operations against “negative forces” in the region, an approach that is favored by both Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The report concludes that the military solution is failing and with disastrous consequences for civilians. We read, “Civilians suffer extreme violence, and the humanitarian situation is deteriorating. Ethnic tensions have worsened…”

Part of the problem is the over simplification of the conflict due to recent surges of media reporting. The media has tended to focus on the narrow aspect of rape while completely abandoning the political and military complexities. Although the situation of rape is appalling in itself, meriting the wide media coverage, merely focusing on sexual violence is not going to change the circumstances. It is the usual search for quick solutions, that often pays little attention to the root causes.

The use of rape as a weapon of war,  is not a recent phenomenon in the region, neither is it an inherent Congolese problem. The decade long conflict that started with Rwanda’s invasion in 1996 was in many ways, the tipping point. Despite damning evidence that the Rwanda army (RPA) was committing monstrous atrocities, it was seldom reported and never acknowledged. The recently released UN Mapping report is therefore a monumental document, in the sense that it bears witness to the beastly violence that has devastated the region within the last decade.

Now that we have established, what transpired in the region, the question is how we move forward. My belief is that we have to expose the main actors in the conflict and , where possible, bring them to account. The belief stems from two factors: 1. There is a vicious circle of crime that started with the Rwanda genocide. Impunity is rampant and the perpetrators of violence continue to do so unabated. 2. In some case, the same perpetrators are now occupying posh political posts. This sends the wrong message, that violence is rewarding and also, weakens alternative methods of conflict resolution. Violence becomes the only method of solving political disputes.

The perpetrators are well known and have been identified over and over again. In particular, the current Rwandan government represents a major stumbling block to the prosecution of some of these criminals. This is ironical, given Rwanda’s (well recognized) efforts in prosecuting the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. In short, Rwanda has become the safe haven for Tutsi criminals (especially members of the CNDP) who commit atrocities in the Congo and retreat to Rwanda in order to evade accountability. With such a sophisticated and powerful criminal network, there is sadly no near end to sexual violence in the Congo. This is a concern that is shared by Human Rights Watch as well as the Congolese civil society.

The other major problem is the FDLR. The FDLR is a Hutu led rebel group which Rwanda accuses of harboring a desire to exterminate Tutsi. The concern is valid, given that some of the members of the FDLR (researchers say very few) participated in the Rwanda Genocide. Rwanda has refused to negotiate with this group, and has favored a military defeat.

The problem is that a military defeat is neither possible nor effective. For it to be possible the rapes have to increase and a lot of innocent lives have to be lost. In addition, it is unclear why Rwanda did not focus on eliminating the FDLR during the 1996 period when is had direct control over the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Instead, critics rightly allege that Rwanda focused more on looting Congo’s wealth. Again, in light of the UN mapping report, it now appears that Rwanda also focused on "eliminating" Hutu civilians both of Rwanda and Congolese citizenry.

International Crisis Group (ICG) effectively requests the Congolese government and the UN peacekeeping force (MONUSCO) to “suspend offensive military operations in the Kivu”. In addition, they want the Congolese government to focus more on civilian protection (perhaps naïve?) and to cooperate in arresting CNDP’s Bosco Ntaganda. But the most effective solution, in my opinion, is the establishment of “inter-communal reconciliation and dispute management” and an analysis of “the region’s traumatic history, so as to foster reconciliation between Congolese and Rwandans”.

Although, ICG still favors “targeted” attacks on the FDLR, I actually believe it is time for Rwanda to engage the FDLR in diplomatic talks. In Uganda, Yoweri Museveni has attempted to do so with the the notorious Lords Resistance Army (lRA). There is no reason why the same cannot be done in Rwanda, and there is reason to believe that such an effort might actually succeed.

1 comment:

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