UN involvement in the DRC

13 February 2014 | ResolutionPossible

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has seen UN involvement in some guise for the last 14 years. Following the signing of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement in 1999 between the DRC and five neighbouring African countries (Angola, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe), which sought to end the Second Congo War, the UN established the United Nations Organisation Mission in the DRC (MONUC). Starting as merely an observer mission reporting on factions’ compliance with the peace accords, the evolution of the situation on the ground required MONUC’s expansion and extension of its mandate and the mission quickly evolved into a more robust operation mandated to take the necessary action to protect civilians under imminent threat of violence. Despite the signing of the Global and Inclusive Agreement, which officially ended the Second Congo War and led to the creation of a transitional government in 2003, insecurity and conflict reigned in the country’s East. MONUC soon faced numerous crises and was failing to adequately protect the population. The international community soon realised MONUC’s mandate required adaptation.

MONUC is expanded and its mandate extended

Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, URUGUAY TROOPS. MONUC, UN, MONUSCO

In 2004 the UN Security Council deploys 5,900 soldiers to assist their mission (MONUC) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. [Image via DRC Crisis Guide]

Accordingly, the mission saw its personnel increased and its mandate extended to use all necessary means, including force, to carry out its varied tasks, such as civilian protection, seizing arms and supporting military operations undertaken by the Congolese government against armed groups. It became more proactive, undertaking several offensive actions to deter armed groups and spoilers, successfully managing two crises near Sake in 2006 and 2007. There was further progress in the country, including the first free elections in 46 years in July 2006 and a peace deal signed between the DRC government and CNDP in 2009. Despite this the  DRC continued to face insecurity and ongoing struggles with armed groups. This engendered increasing criticism from the international community and resulted in a new phase of UN involvement beginning in 2010, where MONUC transitioned into MONUSCO.

The new MONUSCO missionMONUSCO logo

MONUSCO’s original mandate differed only slightly to its predecessor’s, including many of the same tasks and still permitted to use all necessary means to complete these, yet more explicitly recognised the mission was there to support and assist the Congolese government in responding to its own security problems. The emergence of M23 however, an armed group formed in April 2012 when a group of soldiers mutinied from the Congolese National Army (FARDC), and the presence of numerous other armed groups, including the FDLR, LRA and Allied Democratic Forces/National Army for the Liberation of Uganda, once again demonstrated the ongoing and recurrent nature of conflict in the DRC. Notwithstanding the UN demanding armed groups to “immediately cease all forms of violence and human rights abuses”, and its integral role in the peace deal signed in February 2013, the DRC faced continued insecurity. In response, the UN took an unprecedented step, creating the first UN peacekeeping force to possess an offensive mandate.

An unprecedented offensive UN peacekeeping force and progress against the M23

FIB Tanzanian special forces, part of MONUSCO, in Sake, North Kivu, July 2013. (Photo: MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti)

FIB Tanzanian special forces, part of MONUSCO, in Sake, North Kivu, July 2013. (Photo: MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti)

The UN security council’s decision to authorise the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) until March 31 2014, with the responsibility of “targeted offensive operations…to prevent the expansion of all armed groups, neutralise these groups, and disarm them” either unilaterally or with Congolese forces,  is a major deviation from its common passive approach and is described as being created ‘on an exceptional basis’. The presence of this force, however, appears to have given the UN confidence in using more aggressive methods to pacify armed groups. Following months of recurrent eruptions of fighting between the M23 and DRC government, repeated captures of the city of Goma and fruitless attempts to secure a peace agreement between the two, the UN provided the M23 with an ultimatum, making it clear they were willing to use the intervention brigade for the first time. Yet the ultimatum came and went, with the threat of a MONUSCO offensive producing little tangible change in the security situation and M23 remaining armed and dangerous. Undeterred, the subsequent months have seen the Congolese Army gain significant ground against the M23, with the support of MONUSCO, and the FIB engage in offensive operations against other armed groups in the country. Whether a direct consequence or not, the M23 laid down their arms, declaring they were giving up their armed struggle in November 2013 and signing a peace deal with the DRC government in December 2013. Notwithstanding this significant progress in the task of bringing stability and security to the DRC, only time will tell whether the surrender of the M23 and MONUSCO and FIB’s offensive operations will bring lasting peace to a long-troubled country.

ResPoss asks:

What motivates the UN to change a mission’s mandate from peacekeeping to offensive, as occurred in the DRC?

Is the UN ever justified in using an offensive force as part of a mission? Or does this contradict the basic principles of peacekeeping operations – impartiality and the non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate?

Do you believe the M23 would have given up their armed struggle without the presence of the FIB and a more aggressive MONUSCO? Is this presence and offensive strategy likely to convince other armed groups to follow in the footsteps of the M23?

Contributing writer/research: Hannah Caswell

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