On November 3, 2023, the MONUSCO-FARDC joint operation SPRINGBOK was announced in a joint press conference by Otávio Rodrigues de Miranda Filho, the Force Commander of MONUSCO, and Guillaume Njike Kaiko, DRC Military Government Spokesperson. The decision to collaborate with FARDC in a joint operation, whose stated objectives are “to stop any desire by the M23 to invade Sake or Goma” and “defend the civilian population”, is paradoxically the latest example of Monusco’s blatant disregard for its peacekeeping mandate and UN resolutions over the past two decades.
Monusco’s history of failure and disregard for UN resolutions and regional peace agreements
To understand why SPRINGBOK is problematic in many aspects, one must look at the present context of armed hostilities in which the joint operation was launched. On the one hand, there is the DRC Government coalition, comprising:
- the Congolese National Army FARDC,
- the integrated armed groups including the genocidal FDLR (and its DRC extension, Nyatura),
- Mai-Mai militias,
- the armed NDC-R led by Guidon Shimiray Mwissa who is wanted for crimes, in a newly consolidated collaboration with FARDC following the signature of the Pinga agreement in May 2022
- the integrated army Reserves called “Wazalendo” subsequent to the adoption of the May 4, 2023 DRC Senate decree, now widely identified as spreading anti-Rwandophone rhetoric,
- the over 2000 European mercenaries contracted by the DRC government since 2022,
- the Burundian army which continues to collaborate with FARDC,
On the other hand, there are the M23 rebels.
MONUSCO’s decision to openly collaborate, in a joint operation, with FARDC, which has identifiably integrated the above-listed negative forces, including the genocidal group FDLR, and which has contracted European mercenaries, despite the 3 July 1977 OUA Convention for the Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa, demonstrates a wide-ranging indifference by the UN peace keeping mission to international conventions and UN resolutions, the lives of the Congolese civilians, and regional security. This is nothing new.
MONUSCO has failed to follow and implement most, if not all the peace building initiatives and regional agreements since its establishment in 1999. Consider, for instance, the 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement, which mandated the mission “to monitor the ceasefire, investigate violations… and disarm, demobilize and reintegrate armed groups.” As part of this agreement, the DRC government had the added responsibility to “disarm, demobilize and reintegrate combatants, release prisoners and hostages, re-establish government administration and [select] a mediator to facilitate an all-inclusive inter-Congolese dialogue.” None of these missions have been achieved either by MONUSCO or the DRC government.
Instead, since MONUSCO’s arrival on the scene in 1999, the number of armed groups in the DRC has increased exponentially. In fact, despite being the most expensive UN peacekeeping mission, it is now largely accepted that MONUSCO has failed its mandate to disarm and demobilize all armed groups operating in the country. Worst of all, MONUSCO has never conducted any offensive military operation against the genocidal group FDLR, which was explicitly identified, through multiple UN resolutions, as the main cause of insecurity and conflict in the region.
In fact, SPRINGBOK encapsulates the overall disregard by MONUSCO for a plethora of agreements and resolutions. They include:
- the 2002 Pretoria Accord on the withdrawal of the Rwandan troops and the dismantling of the ex-FAR and Interahamwe forces (FDLR) in DRC;
- the 2006 Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region signed by eleven countries, “aiming at providing a legal framework governing relations between its signatories, through additional protocols and programmes of action in the following areas : non-aggression and mutual defense, democracy and good governance, judicial cooperation, prevention and punishment of the crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and all forms of discrimination”;
- the 9 November 2007 Welcome Expression of Intent of the DRC Government, issued after representatives of the Governments of the DRC and Rwanda met in Nairobi, pledging “a common approach to address the threat posed to the common security and stability by the ex-FAR/Interahamwe”;
- the 13 March 2008 Security Council SC/9275 resolution in which the Council demanded that “Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), former Rwandan armed forces (ex-FAR/Interahamwe), and other Rwandan armed groups operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo immediately stop recruiting and using children, release all children associated with them and halt gender-based violence”;
- the 8 July 2011, Security CouncilSC/10326 resolution pursuant to resolution 1533 (2004) concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo, approving updates to the List of FARDC and FDLR individuals and entities subject to the travel ban and assets freeze.
Despite all these resolutions, peace agreements, and declarations of intent, which were repeatedly violated by successive DRC governments, MONUSCO has never stopped providing support to the FARDC. As a result, it has become actively complicit in those violations as is the case with the newly launched joint offensive operation.
This is not because MONUSCO isn’t aware of the FARDC’s collaboration with negative forces. Recently, in March 2023, Secretary General Guterres submitted his semi-annual report on the implementation of the 2013 PSC Framework in which he indicated that “The Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) … remained active in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo” noting “several clashes between FDLR and M23 in Rutshuru Territory … in November and December” and highlighting that on 6 December 2022, “in a communiqué, FDLR stated its commitment to fight alongside FARDC.”
By singling out the M23 while stating its intentions to defend territories in which all negative forces enlisted by the DRC government are roaming freely, MONUSCO essentially rejects all hope for a peace resolution and dialogue, which the leaders of the politico-military group M23, have continuously demanded since the onset of their active rebellion. Again, this is not new.
MONUSCO’s selective implementation of UN resolutions
The 28 March 2013 Security CouncilSC/10964 resolution granted MONUSCO mandate renewal and enabled “the creation of its first-ever “offensive” combat force, intended to carry out targeted operations to “neutralize and disarm” the 23 March Movement (M23), as well as other Congolese rebels and foreign armed groups in strife-riven eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.” In addition to condemning M23, the resolution strongly condemned the “Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) ‘and all other armed groups and their continuing violence and abuses of human rights’. It tasked the new brigade with carrying out offensive operations, either unilaterally or jointly with the Congolese armed forces, ‘in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner’ to disrupt the activities of those groups.” Yet, after disarming M23 in 2013, MOUNSCO refused to pursue its mandate of disarming and demobilizing the rest of the armed groups it was tasked to disarm.
The SPRINGBOK operation, while overlooking the above peacemaking and peacebuilding resolutions which had mandated MONUSCO to neutralize all armed groups operating in eastern DRC, not solely the M23, is in line with MONUSCO’s history of selective implementation of its mandate. One could reasonably argue that MONUSCO does not display the requisite desire to ensure the success of its mandate. Rather, its actions contribute largely to maintaining the DRC in a state of instability.
In fact, one must stress that the M23 rebellion resurged in 2022, after ten years during which its leadership were in exile and the movement dormant, and after 14 months of unofficial, unsuccessful negotiations with Kinshasa. It is quite remarkable that even though the DRC government has again failed to implement the agreement that ended the rebellion in 2013, MONUSCO chooses to side with the same government at a time when it has enlisted armed groups that the UN mission is supposed to disarm. This highlights MONUSCO’s decade-long refusal to address the root causes of the DRC conflict and neutralize all armed groups, including the genocidal FDLR, which maintains, and spreads anti-Tutsi hate ideology, after its senior elements participated in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, killing one million people in Rwanda. After forcing the M23 to lay down arms in 2013, MONUSCO not only refrained from fulfilling its mandate, but it let over 260 armed groups emerge and operate for 10 years, creating an additional regional refugee and internal displacement crisis.
MONUSCO today is supporting a government that is violating a regionally imposed ceasefire and insists on calling on Rwanda to talk with the FDLR. This attitude not only undermines regional peace efforts (Luanda/Nairobi processes) and all the above-mentioned resolutions, but also the memory of the victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and of those killed by the FDLR in the Congo.
MONUSCO’s indifference to the Congolese people’s lives, particularly those of members of the Tutsi minority who have been targeted for over three decades, including through the ongoing anti-M23 campaign, after twenty-five years of presence and over twenty billion US dollars spent in its mission, has thus created a paroxysm of insecurity in the country and in the Great Lakes region. A case in point of MONUSCO’s indifference to Tutsi lives, despite SPRINGBOK’s pledge to “defend the civilian population” is the recent lynching of Lieutenant Gisore Kabongo Patrick, a Tutsi FARDC soldier, which took place in broad daylight in the streets of Goma, where MONUSCO peacekeeping mission is stationed. The young Tutsi, father of nine, was stoned and burned alive by a crowd of people, including children, who were calling him “Rwandan”. This recent hate crime is an illustration of the long-term systemic persecution of the Congolese Tutsi minority in DRC, which is at the basis of the conflict and instability in the Great Lakes region, and which the United Nations through its peacekeeping mission MONUSCO, cannot continue being complicit with.
How long will this situation persist in the general indifference of the international community?