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Budgets, mass rape, and the UN mission in Congo

If the budget and force size of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) continue to be cut, we're likely to see less civilian protection, not more.

By Laura SeayGuest blogger / October 10, 2010

A United Nations peacekeeper stood guard last week as a helicopter carrying Margot Wallstrom, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence, arrived in Kitchanga, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Her visit to Congo came after UN peacekeepers were accused of failing to protect civilians following the mass rape of more than 300 in August.

Katrina Manson/Reuters

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File the following five paragraphs from a Reuters story last week under "peacekeeping operations don't pay for themselves:"

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Budget cuts mean UN peacekeepers in Democratic Republic of the Congo do not have enough helicopters to operate effectively in DRC's unstable east, a UN official said on Wednesday.

Under pressure from Congolese President Joseph Kabila, the U.N. Security Council agreed in May to allow a phased withdrawal of the U.N.'s biggest peacekeeping force (MONUSCO) and a shifting of its focus to reconstruction, training and other aid.

The move triggered a $73 million cut to MONUSCO's roughly $1.3 billion budget, of which $61 million affects the type and number of aircraft available to the force, Paul Buades, head of MONUSCO's logistic support base in Entebbe, told Reuters.

Buades said the cutbacks will make it harder to carry out operations such as the capture on Tuesday of a rebel commander accused of orchestrating a series of mass rapes in Congo.

"We can't support the forces in more robust operations like this," Buades said. "The jungle is the jungle," he said, referring to country's sprawling eastern provinces, which are roughly the size of France.

With all the outrage about the Walikale mass rape situation, it's hard to see how cutting MONUSCO's force size and budget is even remotely justifiable.

Many people who've not worked in the eastern DRC have a hard time understanding what conditions there are like. Unless you've visited an extremely fragile state, it's really hard to get your head around how incredibly difficult even the most basic logistics can be there.

For example, a lot of people were really upset when they learned that MONUSCO has a base only 12 kilometers from where the Walikale rapes happened. But covering 12 kilometers isn't nearly as easy as it sounds.

On a good day, that might take less than an hour. On a bad, rainy one, it could take two or three times as long. Many parts of the DRC aren't even accessible by road; particularly in Walikale, it's not uncommon for human rights researchers to have to fly to an airstrip, drive to the end of the road, and hike for several days to reach victims and record stories. Inaccessible doesn't even begin to describe it.

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