In Congo mass rapes, UN guilty of negligence, not complicity

A report on the Congo mass rapes this summer makes it clear that while UN forces in the area were guilty of negligence by not knowing enough to stop the events, they did not play a direct role in the mass rapes.

Schalk van Zuydam/AP
Congolese troops walk as they provide security for villagers on the outskirts of Walikale, Congo, Friday, Sept. 17, 2010. Violence in the competition for minerals is spiraling out of control in this corner of Congo, where hundreds of victims of a mass gang-rape that drew international outrage include the mother, wife, sisters and cousins of a militia leader whose fighters were among the alleged attackers.

There has been a lot of talk about the mass rapes that took place in Walikale (in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in late July and early August. I only now got around to reading the MONUSCO report, which I have posted here in French. It's pretty graphic in parts – the attackers apparently searched the women's body cavities for gold and money before raping them. Some of the women were bitten by snakes in the forest during the rape. The report says 303 people were raped – 235 women, 15 men, 52 girls and three boys. Awful.

The report says the locals do not believe the rapes were not directly linked to getting access to minerals, as has been suggested elsewhere. Instead, they think the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, who made up the majority of the attackers) wanted to punish the villagers for "collaborating" with the Congolese army units that had been deployed there. It's tough to say, but I have heard other reports suggesting that there had been an ambush against the FDLR a few days before in which several of their soldiers had been killed.

MONUSCO does not come off well in the report, but it is a case of criminal negligence, not active complicity in the massacre. Their base did not have an interpreter, did not patrol at night and did not make the necessary effort to find out what was happening when they first heard of the violence. But it does not appear that they knew the extent of the violence.

Finally, from other sources I hear that the UN special representative on sexual violence Margot Wallstrom is trying to secure the capture of Colonel Mayele, the Congolese Mai-Mai commander who led the attack, together with an FDLR commander and Tutsi troops belonging to Colonel Emmanuel Nsengiyumva (ex-CNDP). Mayele's commander, Commander Cheka, has apparently disavowed him, saying he had nothing to do with the attack.

I am all for the arrest of Colonel Mayele, as there is no doubt that he was involved. But one is left to wonder to what extent this will deter further crimes. Mayele is a small fish, he only controlled a small number of the soldiers committing the rapes. However, there is mounting evidence that Commander Cheka himself has tight links to Colonel Etienne Bindu (ex-Mai-Mai), the chief of staff of the North Kivu military region, while Colonel Yusef Mboneza (ex-CNDP), the commander of Walikale, has tight links to Colonel Emmanuel Nsengiyumva. The ties are ethnic, but above all also commercial, as Congolese army officers use their ties with local armed groups to make some money on the side.

The point is the following: The FDLR may be responsible for the majority of abuses in the Kivus, but the Congolese army is currently much more interested in taxing mines and trade routes than hunting down the FDLR. This disarray has been seriously compounded by the parallel chains of command within the Congolese army due to the integration process. There are CNDP-Nkunda and CNDO-Bosco commanders vying for power, not taking orders from the other camp, with a variety of ex-Mai-Mai and presidential guards spicing up the picture. So long as this confusion persists and impunity within the army reigns, these kinds of abuses will continue to happen. Just look at all of officers recommended for sanctions in UN Group of Experts reports and various human rights documents. Almost none have been arrested - Colonel Philemon Yav, Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, Colonel Innocent Zimurinda, Colonel Innocent Kaina, Colonel Bernard Byamungu, to name but a few.

So arresting Colonel Mayele will probably not change a whole lot.

(A note of optimism: Gen. Jerome Kakwavu, former Ituri militia commander, was finally arrested in Kinshasa recently and is awaiting trial. Maybe pressure does work.)

Jason Stearns blogs at Congo Siasa.

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