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Has the UN Congo mission tried too hard to be impartial?

In its efforts to improve its relationship with the Congolese government, the UN mission in Congo has not stepped in to address abuses during the voter registration process.

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Here, the donor community could have weighed in; after all, they are providing a large amount of the funding and logistics for the election. Not only did they not push for this audit, the mission – along with several embassies – called for the swift adoption of the amendment to the electoral law that de facto confirmed the registration figures: it determined how many parliamentarians would be elected per district based on the number of voters there.

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MONUSCO has been reluctant to criticize the preparation of elections. In part, as I have written here before, this fits in with the mission's aim of re-establishing good relations with the Congolese government. To an extent, they are right: Little can be achieved by the mission without cordial relations with their counterparts, and this relationship slipped badly during the latter year of Alan Doss' term. When Roger Meece arrived as the new head of the peacekeeping mission last year, he took it upon himself to re-dynamize that relationship, and has in large part succeeded.

However, this has meant that the mission has at time shied away from criticism, particularly with regards to the electoral process. MONUSCO officials have been insisting in public and private that they need to be " a neutral and supportive body and to avoid a formal judgmental role," as one official put it.

This last bit refers to the fact that MONUSCO wants to avoid being an accreditor of the elections, like the UN mission did in the Ivory Coast. I agree with that, as that would have been a step too far and the government would have most likely rejected that option. But has the UN been vocal enough "to encourage open and peaceful conditions," as they are mandated to do? In May this year, the mission wrote in a public report that they had evidence of 200 human rights abuses related to the electoral process. However, they have never made public any of this evidence or condemned any of those responsible.

Neither MONUSCO or foreign diplomats are to blame for all of the flaws in the electoral process – the political opposition has been consumed by in-fighting, and the primary responsibility for electoral abuse is of course to be placed on the abusers themselves. But one is left wondering whether MONUSCO has confused neutrality for impartiality – the UN should not take sides, but surely it should denounce abuse where it sees it, especially if it is in violation of the principles the organization stands for.

Jason Stearns blogs about the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region at Congo Siasa.

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