The escalating violence in eastern DRC prompted the United Nations Security Council to extend the mandate of its organization and stabilization mission (MONUSCO) for another year. MONUSCO’s mission has come under heavy criticism for failing to achieve its core mandate of protecting civilians in light of increased fighting. The new mandate reaffirms MONUSCO’s priority of protecting civilians, urging the Congolese authorities to reform their security sector, end armed insurgencies and cease human rights abuses in the vast African country.
The renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate comes at a critical time of increased instability in eastern provinces. Ongoing fighting between government troops and renegade fighters has displaced more than 200,000 people to neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. The fighters mutinied in April and are now operating as an armed group known as M23. The group is being led by Bosco Ntaganda who is already wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
MONUSCO’s new mandate fittingly places emphasis on Security Sector Reform (SSR) as crucial to civilian protection. SSR would mean making vast improvements to DRC’s dysfunctional security sector, so that it has the capacity to effectively protect the Congolese people. The Security Council has heeded the call made by U.S. and Congolese-based rights groups who have urged the international community to make SSR a primary focus.
An effective security sector—one that is organized, resourced, trained and vetted—is essential to solving immediate concerns like displacement, prevalence of armed groups, recruitment of child soldiers and gender-based violence as well as more long term structural issues like economic growth and trade in conflict minerals. Failed SSR policies have contributed to the ad-hoc integration of former armed groups with poor human rights record, impunity for serious human rights violators, and the recent surge in violence. The United Nations Security Council has stressed the need for perpetrators of crimes against civilian to be arrested and brought to justice, with particular focus on Ntaganda.
To avoid pitfalls of past SSR initiatives, the new Security Council resolution calls on MONUSCO to support effective coordination of all international partners involved in SSR, collaborate with the Congolese government to operationalize and implement a national and comprehensive vision for SSR, and to report on how these SSR priorities are being implemented through the establishment of Contact Group for SSR at the international and country level. The lack of political will within the Congolese government will be MONUSCO’s greatest obstacle ahead. But, international donors can help in this regard by pressuring Congolese President, Joseph Kabila, since external funding makes up nearly half of the country’s annual budget.
With an annual budget of more than $1 billion a year, MONUSCO is one of the largest and costliest UN peacekeeping missions. Continued violence reflects poorly on the mission’s ability to achieve its core mandate but regional governments and the international community at-large bear responsibility for stabilizing the eastern provinces. Despite its shortcomings, MONUSCO remains the viable option as long the Congolese government lacks a competent army capable of protecting its people and cannot control its territory. High-level diplomatic engagement through regional platforms such as the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region is necessary to ensure that this new mandate achieves its overarching goal: civilian protection.