This week, the Congolese national army, FARDC, announced a new initiative to crack down on rape and other human rights abuses committed by its troops. In a related development, MONUC, the United Nations peacekeeping force in DRC, announced the completion of training for two more FARDC battalions, part of a program aimed at supporting the creation of a more professional army.
These developments are encouraging. However, given just how important security sector reform is to achieving security in eastern DRC, the international community must remain vigilant in supporting these efforts and ensuring that they yield results.
The scale of violence committed by FARDC is startling. Last month, Human Rights Watch released documentation of violations of the DRC’s January 2008 ceasefire, which included reports of FARDC soldiers committing violence against civilians and collaborating with several of the most problematic rebel militia groups. Recent data from the Genocide Intervention Network (GI-NET), largely compiled from MONUC situation reports, indicate that FARDC personnel have been responsible for more than half of all violent attacks against civilians in eastern DRC over the past 6 months.
Atrocities committed by FARDC are widely considered to be opportunistic rather than systematic – more a result of underpaid soldiers and the lack of a robust system to investigate and punish those committing human rights violations than any methodical, top-down targeting of civilian populations. In fact, while GI-NET’s data show that FARDC soldiers are responsible for a greater number of attacks, rebel groups are actually responsible for almost three times as many civilian deaths.
Still, if DRC’s government is to be considered a good-faith partner in bringing peace and stability to the country, it must make every effort toward putting the systems in place to curb this violence, whether it is systematic or not.
Furthermore, it undermines the credibility of the free and fair democratic elections in 2006 that affirmed support for Joseph Kabila’s continued leadership. In a recent interview, Ross Mountain, the UN Secretary General’s Deputy Special Representative to DRC commented that “by massively participating in the different polls, the Congolese population demonstrated their desire for peace and their commitment to democracy.” Now it is up to Kabila’s government, with the support of the international community, to deliver on its responsibilities and maintain the faith of the Congolese people in a democratic system.
— Nina McMurry, Congo Education Coordinator