Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September 2009: Democratic Republic of Congo: Humanitarian Crisis and the International Community

Annotation of

The Rape of the Congo. By Adam Hochschild. The New York Review of Books. August 13, 2009.

~ The Editors

Democratic Republic of Congo: Humanitarian Crisis and the International Community
Among the largest countries in Africa and with vast economic resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been one of the worst humanitarian emergencies to unfold in Africa in the past decades. The civil war in Congo has claimed millions of lives, either as a direct result of fighting, widespread violence, disease or malnutrition. Violence has been used indiscriminately against civilians, particularly on women and girls that have been victims of sexual violence in a context where rape is used by all the warring factions as a tool to spread terror.

What turns a wealthy country into one of the poorest, most corrupted, dangerous, and ungoverned states in the planet? Adam Hochschild, in this month's centerpiece “The Rape of Congo,” underscores several features explaining the brutality and the origins of a conflict with complex p olitical, economic, and regional dimensions that have been exacerbated by a long history of civil wars and political corruption. “Four problems, above all, drive Congo's unrelenting bloodshed. One is long-standing antagonism between certain ethnic groups. A second is the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the two million or so people who flowed across Congo's porous border in its aftermath: Hutu killers, innocent Hutu who feared retribution, and a mainly Tutsi army in pursuit, bent on vengeance. The third is a vast wealth in natural resources—gold, tungsten, diamonds, coltan (a key ingredient of computer chips), copper, and more—that gives ethnic warlords and their backers, especially Rwanda and Uganda, an additional incentive to fight. And, finally, this is the largest nation on earth—more than 65 million people in an area roughly as big as the United States east of the Mississippi—that has hardly any functioning national government.”

What can be done? The international community has been involved in the Congolese conflict fundamentally through the UN peacekeeping force (MONUC), a mission with more than 17,000 troops and military observers that have been deployed in the country for almost ten years. The results, however, are far from optimistic. “Far better equipped and disciplined than the Congolese army, these troops have kept a bad situation from getting worse. Yet it is hopeless to expect so few soldiers to provide protection for most civilians in such a vast country. ‘How many troops would it really take to stop all the fighting here?' I ask one UN official, out of his office. ‘Oh, about 250, 000,' he replies.”

Apart from the UN presence and some international NGOs working in the field, very few collective international efforts have been taken to address the current humanitarian crisis, and even less has been done to help building a functional state that provides the minimal guarantees for its citizens. The international community has chosen to remain largely silent towards the ongoing tragedy in Congo. This roundtable offers some recommendations to strengthen international involvement in this African country, with special emphasis on international human rights law and the economic dimensions of the conflict.

These issues and others are considered in this month's Roundtable.


Natural Resources and Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Of Benefit to Whom?

by Nicola Colbran, Norwegian Centre for Human Rights

“International law and human rights protection is premised on the basis of state obligations, and the responsibility of a State to protect the human rights of its citizens. If there is no functioning State, who will protect its citizens and how?”

When asked to discuss the humanitarian tragedy in the DRC, the question really is where to start? The article by Adam Hochschild discusses some of the most horrific events and experiences imaginable: widespread killings of unarmed civilians, rape, torture and looting, the recruitment of child soldiers, and the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. The immediate human response is who is to blame, how did it happen and how can the world apparently do nothing?

These questions highlight the role of natural resources in perpetuating conflict in the DRC. International human rights requires that natural resources are freely disposed of based on the principle of mutual benefit. But in the resource-rich DRC, who is enjoying this benefit?

Practices that set a precedent and pattern of association between natural resource exploitation and human rights violations are plentiful. For example, from the 1880s, Belgian King Leopold II used the territory as his personal kingdom, exploiting vast natural resources through indigenous forced labor, causing millions of deaths through famine, exhaustion and disease. This practice of exploitation continued throughout the thirty-two year rule of Joseph Desire Mobutu (1965-1997) who “ systematically used the country's mineral wealth to consolidate power, co-opt rivals and enrich himself and allies through patronage .”

Now, over the last decade, as part of their broader struggle to seize economic, political and military power, the main warring parties in the DRC have been exploiting natural resources to establish lucrative trading networks. Resources such as timber, diamonds, gold, coltan and cassiterite (tin ore) are highly sought after, and multinational companies are buying them, thereby essentially funding armed groups and fueling conflict. In its recent report on war and the militarization of mining in Eastern Congo , the NGO Global Witness named AMC (Amalgamated Metal Corporation), THAISARCO (Thailand Smelting and Refining Corporation), Trademet and Afrimex as among the companies linked to the DRC violence. For example, THAISARCO (a subsidiary of AMC) is believed to obtain supplies from mines controlled by the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu extremist group. The FDLR has one of the highest military capabilities and caused the most civilian suffering in the Kivus (in eastern DRC) at the beginning of 2009 . Meanwhile, some of AMC's directors and major shareholders have appeared on the 2009 Sunday Times Rich List as among the two thousand richest people in Britain and Ireland.

Although the international community has acknowledged the role natural resources play in fueling the conflict, what action has been taken to address the problem? In 1999, the Security Council set up MONUC (United Nations Organization Mission in DR Congo), a UN peacekeeping force in the DRC, to monitor the peace process following the Second Congo War . MONUC's mandate has been extended, and in 2008 it was given “ monitoring and inspection capacities to curtail the provision of support to illegal armed groups derived from illicit trade in natural resources .” Resolutions in 2003 imposed an arms embargo against armed groups and militias operating in the territory of North and South Kivu and Ituri, and in 2004 the Security Council set up a Sanctions Committee to oversee the embargo and a Group of Experts to gather and analyze information connected to the flow of arms and networks violating the embargo. These 2003 and 2004 resolutions have been renewed and expanded, and the recent final December 2008 report by the Group of Experts contains detailed information about the link between natural resources and the financing of illegal armed groups. It makes recommendations to UN member states that exporters and consumers of Congolese mineral products under their jurisdiction conduct due diligence on their suppliers and not accept verbal assurances from buyers regarding the origin of their product. On 22 December 2008, the UN Security Council also adopted two resolutions to address the link between natural resources and arms as one of the major factors fuelling and exacerbating conflicts in the Great Lakes region.

In 2005, the International Court of Justice also heard a case that touched on the exploitation of natural resources in the DRC by Uganda . The Court found that Uganda violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the DRC through unlawful military intervention. Uganda also failed to respect, and to ensure respect for, human rights and international humanitarian law in Ituri, where it was an occupying power. The Court continued that officers and soldiers of the Uganda People's Defense Force (UPDF) were involved in the looting, plundering and exploitation of the DRC's natural resources and that Uganda's military authorities did not take any measures to put an end to these acts. Uganda was held to be internationally responsible for these acts and was ordered to pay reparations to the DRC.

In practice, such examples are slow in resolving humanitarian crises, and raise the question of whether they make any real difference anyway. But what can be done? If the DRC is a failed state as described in Hochschild's article, how does one negotiate and make agreements with, or provide capacity building activities to, a dysfunctional government? International law and human rights protection is premised on the basis of state obligations, and the responsibility of a State to protect the human rights of its citizens. If there is no functioning State, who will protect its citizens and how? In addition, it is international corporations that are buying Congo 's natural resources and thereby indirectly perpetuating the violence. Governments outwardly committed to human rights protection, including the UK and Belgium , are apparently failing to crack down on companies within their jurisdiction. It ultimately begs the question, is the current international human rights system enough, or do we need something more to ensure that the benefit of the DRC's natural resources is shared by all Congolese?

Nicola Colbran is the legal advisor to the Indonesia Programme at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights. In this capacity she coordinates and conducts human rights trainings in cooperation with Indonesian partners (government, NGOs and academia), and also researches and writes widely on human rights and Indonesia.


From Armchair Reading to Action: Acknowledging Our Role in the Horror of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – and Doing Something about It

by Shareen Hertel, University of Connecticut

"The first step is to recognize our own part in the suffering. For those in the Western industrialized world, it is important to remember that this territory was a prized colonial possession of European powers and a Cold War ally of the United States."

Reading Adam Hochschild's extraordinary account of ordinary people caught up in the horrific ravages of a civil war raging in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), I was struck by how incongruous my own encounter with this suffering is. I read his article over lunch, safe in the comfort of my own home. As a woman, I live largely without fear of the kind of brutal sexual violence that Hochschild opens his article with, as he related the story of a Congolese NGO worker who is herself a victim of multiple rapes.

What can I (or anyone moved by an account such as Hochschild's) do to help end the suffering in the DRC? As Hochschild argues, the corruption and brutality experienced by the people of Congo is not new. For over 120 years, the country has endured constant economic exploitation punctuated by waves of violence—first perpetrated by its colonial overlords, and now by its own corrupt regime as well as by the congerie of rebel forces the DRC government remains unwilling or unable to control. Yet while international indifference and internal corruption may be at the root of the problems in the DRC, neither is acceptable.

The first step is to recognize our own part in the suffering. For those in the Western industrialized world, it is important to remember that this territory was a prized colonial possession of European powers and a Cold War ally of the United States. It remains a primary supplier of minerals (e.g., gold, tungsten, diamonds, coltan, copper) integral to our lifestyles today. We have benefitted from DRC's misery and we remain economically intertwined with a repressive regime today. Hence, as consumers, we need to support initiatives such as the “Kimberley Process” aimed at controlling the flow of “conflict diamonds,” while demanding the creation of similar programs to control the flow of resources into and out of the DRC to prevent fueling the war machine through our own purchasing activity.

Second, we need to collectively muster the political will to ensure that the United Nations mission and other multilateral involvement in the DRC are effective. There are already mechanisms in place to do so: the “Sphere Project” sets standards for NGO involvement in humanitarian relief efforts and the “Good Humanitarian Donorship” initiative works toward streamlined donor coordination in complex humanitarian emergencies. Both are grappling with the challenge of effectively delivering aid. But how many people are aware of these initiatives? And how many of us are willing to put pressure on our own legislators to ensure that there is accountability by the DRC Government when using donor resources? Or to ensure that the Congolese government ends its practice of appointing war criminals to official positions, in an open flouting of the spirit of international humanitarian law? How many of us are willing to press for greater efforts at addressing the roots of conflict and instability in the entire Great Lakes region?

Third, we need to recognize that internal corruption is also at the heart of the country's devastation. (The DRC is among the top ten most corrupt nations included in the 2008 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. Indeed, Hochschild describes a country plagued by official and informal corruption.

Yet, as he rightly argues, “the outside world has influence over the Congolese army”—one of the country's most corrupt institutions, its soldiers directly involved in rape as a weapon of war on a massive scale—because we're partly paying for it.” But we must do more than pay for a war machine. We need to support the NGOs that provide humanitarian relief and those working creatively to shore up local groups working against corruption, fear, indifference, and violence. Hochschild attributes the extreme violence of ordinary people in Congo to “greed, fear,” demagogic local leadership, and international indifference. Waking up to the horrors in the DRC and our role in them should embolden us to action.

Shareen Hertel is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Connecticut, jointly appointed with the University of Connecticut Human Rights Institute. She has also served as a consultant to foundations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and United Nations agencies in the United States, Latin America and South Asia. She is the author of Unexpected Power: Conflict and Change Among Transnational Activists (Cornell 2006) and co-editor, with Lanse P. Minkler, of Economic Rights: Conceptual, Measurement, and Policy Issues (Cambridge, 2007).


If They Just Weren’t So Rich!

by Anja Mihr, Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (SIM), University of Utrecht, Netherlands

"The deadliest war on earth—as it is called—in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will only end when the country's richness fades or is kept under surveillance. Human rights and peace might have a chance if Congo's lucrative diamond, gold or coltan mines were under shared control by non-profit agencies or international organizations..."

The deadliest war on earth—as it is called—in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will only end when the country's richness fades or is kept under surveillance. Human rights and peace might have a chance if Congo's lucrative diamond, gold or coltan mines were under shared control by non-profit agencies or international organizations with the intention to spread the mines' benefits and wealth among the Congolese people. Wishful thinking? Most likely it is, but what other alternative is there? The country's extraordinary wealth in natural resources is the main reason for the immense corruption, the extermination of entire villages, the constant ethnic cleansing from all sides and the rape of women, men and children regardless of their age. This multilevel conflict has been ongoing for decades if not centuries and is very complex as Adam Hochschild described in his article.

To that effect, this conflict area shares a common denominator with other complex humanitarian emergencies: the exploitation of the countries' natural resources. In this fragile state the benefits from mining are the main and only income for the warlords, as well as for Congo's corrupt and almost failed government and international companies alike. Companies, particularly in the industrial world, benefit from the “cheap” resource market without any serious control and protection mechanism. Without the coltan or gold from Congo, through whatever corrupt or illegal channels, many high-tech computer and communication products would be less affordable to us. The UNs and MONUC missions and efforts to control and to pacify one of the richest and most violent areas in the world will be useless if its root causes are not tackled.

So the question is no longer how much more we shed light on the detestable atrocities and human rights violations in the DRC; but how to stop the vicious circle of violence and corruption in which the people and the country are deeply involved? And how much more would the Congolese government and citizens benefit if the natural resource market were under shared control and surveillance? How much cheaper would it be for the international community if they would invest less in UN missions, refugee camps or warfare and more in awareness raising and sustainable projects of self governance, rule of law and fairer trade? Providing alternatives for young men and women to make their living (… and survive!) outside the “war and trafficking industry” would be prioritized if the political elite in Kinshasa were seriously interested in it. The political elite ought to have—but have not so far—the greatest interest in the wellbeing of the country's multi-ethnic war torn society. The countries wealth could be shared by more than a few Congolese. This would undermine corruption and illegal trafficking and would even reduce the number of the worst war criminals being tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

We know that the responsibility of the international community and its possibilities are limited. The political will and main decisions have to come from Kinshasa; NGOs, UN agencies or the European Union can help to provide techniques, mechanism, money and training. They can empower private actors and even encourage farmers, villagers, small businessmen and victim groups that consider themselves as part of a slowly growing civil society. They can train lawyers, judges, policemen and officers. But the Congolese political, economic and warlord elite have to do most of the work through diplomacy, compromises and pacts. What may motivate them is the awareness that they can be victims of the same crimes and atrocities tomorrow that they commit against others today—losing their benefits and power. They also fear the possibility of international charges against them. Therefore a different and all inclusive diplomacy-track has to be found to solve this dilemma. And whether one likes it or not, apart from reformist and civil society actors, warlords also have to be included in any dialogue and regime change, in order to break the vicious circle of violence and greed for more money and power. Equal inclusion, participation, reconciliation and awareness could be a way to do it.

Furthermore, Congo is a country with a significant growth in mobile and telecommunication. People seek information and education. NGOs, victims' groups and international agencies use communication media to built networks, disseminate information, ideas, and start dialogues—beyond war barriers. This might be a supportive tool to empower people to break the vicious circle of violence and exploitation—however, it can work if there is serious political will to protect people on all sides.

Anja Mihr is appointed Associate Professor at the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (SIM), University of Utrecht, Netherlands. In her latest research she is focusing on Transitional Justice, Reconciliation, Human Rights and Democratization. She was Visiting Professor for Human Rights at Peking University Law School in China and worked for the Raoul Wallenberg Research Institute on Human Rights, Lund University. From 2006-2008 she was the European Program Director for the European Master Degree in Human Rights and Democratization at the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights in Venice, Italy. She has been a researcher and lecturer at universities in Germany, USA, Spain, Finland and Armenia and published widely on the international human rights regime, human rights education, democratization and reconciliation: http://www.anjamihr.com/.


Human Rights Law on Trial in the DRC

by William Paul Simmons, Arizona State University

“Without a comprehensive approach to the region's tragedies they will continue to mutate into new forms that will not be capture-able by human rights law."

The ongoing tragedy in Eastern Congo contains so many tragic lessons that it should shake to their very foundations all comfortable ideologies about human rights and politics. The atrocities in the DRC should implicate all but have so far resulted in almost limitless impunity. Here, I briefly put human rights law on trial for its role in perpetuating this tragedy.

Human rights law sanctions human rights violations in both major senses of the term. Obviously it seeks to impose penalties on those actions and individuals that are deemed outside of international and domestic law. But, it also tolerates human rights violations by defining the outer reaches of human rights abuses. Those abuses that do not fit the definitions contained in treaties as understood by tribunals are, in effect, sanctioned. And, these treaties and tribunals are established amidst a socio-political milieu in order to enforce a certain set of standards, standards that have achieved a certain political legitimacy by the hegemonic narrative. The hegemonic narrative reproduces itself when it is codified in law and enforced by judges. The result is that human rights law reduces the complexity of the world to a pre-established grand narrative.

The tragedy in the DRC since 1994 should explode human rights law's grand narrative about the more famous genocide in neighboring Rwanda. We are told that an un-imaginable evil was unleashed in early April 1994 that ceased with the victory of the Tutsi-led RPF in July 1994. With great effort, the UN and others supported the new Tutsi regime of Paul Kagame, and the country has made significant strides toward transitional justice and rebuilding its economy. This narrative only gives lip-service to the social, economic, political, and historical context of the region. It fails to provide an adequate account to the ongoing effects of colonialism, to previous genocides in the region, and to the complexities of the tensions between Hutus and Tutsis in both Rwanda and Burundi. The aftermath of the genocide, including the emigration of millions of Hutus to the DRC and the retributions exacted by Tutsis, are elided from the narrative.

Some much-needed finger-pointing has been done at France, the United Nations, and the US for their role in failing to prevent the genocide but this has done more to absolve these power then to understand their role. This grand narrative of genocide has also led to some sanctioning of high ranking Hutus and thousands of Hutu genocidaires, but it has not stopped the human rights abuses.

Indeed, the grand narrative that has been applied to the Rwandan genocide has sanctioned many of the atrocities in the DRC where we are again told that an African evil has been unleashed as if it was always buried deep in the perpetrator's hearts. Once again, there is little discussion of the complexities behind the atrocities. The Congolese wars of course are rooted in the Rwandan genocides, the effects of colonialism, and the neglect of leading world powers. The Rwandan genocide did not end in 1994 as the grand narrative tells us but has moved to the DRC as Hutu and Tutsi militias continue to do battle with periodic interference by the Rwandan military and other local and regional powers. All of this occurs in a region that has been fragmented by centuries of colonial exploitation within the context of a national power vacuum created by decades of Cold War politics.

Because of the grand narrative of the Rwandan genocide there is little accountability for the Rwandan government for its role in perpetuating the instability in the DRC in order to exact retribution on Hutus or for exploiting the region's resources. The leading powers again remain on the sidelines, but this time they need not seek absolution after the fact. They instead point to all their work in Rwanda since the genocide as proof of their goodwill.

Again, human rights law seeks to impose order on the complexities of the situation by sanctioning some abuses. The International Criminal Court will try individuals like Thomas Lubanga for the use of child soldiers and other atrocities, but it in effect will sanction other abuses. For instance, related abuses in Burundi, Central African Republic, and elsewhere will be elided.

Without a comprehensive approach to the region's tragedies they will continue to mutate into new forms that will not be capture-able by human rights law. It is up to activists from the region and elsewhere to put human rights law on trial to shape it, so that it will more adequately question the hegemonic narrative that it sanctions.

William Paul Simmons is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Masters program in Social Justice and Human Rights at Arizona State University. His work has appeared in such journals as Philosophy and Social Criticism, Yale Human Rights & Development Law Journal, The Journal of International Human Rights, and Social Sciences Quarterly. A forthcoming book examines the potential for reinvigorating human rights law from the perspectives of marginalized peoples. He has served as a consultant on human rights and social justice issues in The Gambia (West Africa), China, and the United States.