Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Violence brings reward in the DRC

By Antonis Papasolomontos
guardian.co.uk,
May 05, 2009
Article history

As one warlord faces trial in the International Criminal Court, his deputy is heavily involved in UN-backed military operations.

In January the International Criminal Court (ICC) started its first ever trial against Thomas Lubanga, a warlord suspected of using child soldiers in the Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It was quite rightly heralded as a landmark case.

His Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC militia) was responsible for some heinous crimes in a region that saw some of the worst violence in a wider bloody war that has engulfed the DRC for much of the last 10 to 15 years.

After being asked to investigate the various conflicts, the ICC moved quickly and indicted a number of suspected warlords for their crimes. Lubanga's trial marks the successful completion of the next stage of that test – to challenge the impunity of the region's conflicts.

But move south, half a world away from proceedings in The Hague, and that very success is being undermined by the rise in prominence of another indicted war criminal who, through short-sighted, quick-fix thinking, has found himself as "deputy co-ordinator" of a UN-backed military offensive against Hutu rebels.

Bosco Ntaganda was Lubanga's deputy in the UPC militia and the ICC's prosecutors claim he was responsible for seven camps where children were trained. Evading capture at the end of that conflict he reappeared as deputy to Laurent Nkunda in the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), which brought the DRC back to the headlines when its military offensive caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians last autumn. Nkunda said he was fighting to protect Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu rebels based in the DRC.

To complete the story and bring us up to date was a dramatic breakthrough this January. Nkunda was arrested by his former patrons in Rwanda who, in return, sent troops into the DRC to fight alongside the nation's army against the Hutu rebels, who were responsible for much of the country's years of instability.

This was made possible, in part, by a split within the CNDP militia instigated by Ntaganda, who then found himself controlling troops fighting alongside the armies of the DRC and Rwanda. The UN helped with logistical and planning assistance.

Quietly, while the world hoped that the joint operation might finally remove the Hutu threat, the issue of an ICC-wanted warlord – which every signatory to the Rome statute has a responsibility to arrest on sight – was seemingly kicked into the long grass.

If there was any doubt that Ntaganda had a role to play in this new plan (and let's not forget that the DRC army receives millions each year for security reform, so it's a plan carried out with a large helping of western money) he turned up to a ceremony in January alongside the Congolese minister of defence, Charles Mwando Simba.

What has happened since then? In answers to parliamentary questions, the British government has professed its continued support for the ICC, and the British ambassador raised the issue of Ntaganda's arrest with the Congolese on 21 January.

One can only assume that it wasn't a very forceful message or the Congolese weren't listening. Either way the British government and any other donor committed to justice and human rights should be making the point far more forcibly.

It's no surprise then that reports emanating from the DRC now suggest what has been feared all along – Ntaganda is heavily involved in military operations in partnership with the DRC and the UN. Journalists report seeing documents referring to him as deputy co-ordinator.

The UN stresses that it was given assurances that Ntaganda was not involved. Just what did the UN think had happened to him? He didn't disappear. After all he turned up to a ceremony and press conference, and it is his faction of the CNDP that is fighting alongside the DRC's army. Just join the dots.

It shows just how expedient justice and human rights are considered to be when people see a quick fix before their eyes and clutch at it in the hope the fighting will stop. Getting rid of the Hutu militia that terrorises eastern Congo is essential, but should it be at any cost?

Unfortunately, the joint offensive doesn't seem to have worked. Rwandan troops have pulled back and the militia they targeted has re-emerged to exact a terrible revenge on the local population. The number of displaced people is on the rise and atrocities are being reported all over the region – mass killings and sexual violence – roughly 48% of the victims of which are children.

The complex web of contributing causes of conflict in the DRC – mining abuse, geopolitics, corruption, ethnicity – all need to be addressed. But so does justice. We can't pick and choose when to apply it because there is no lasting peace without justice. Impunity breeds violence. Those new warlords making a name for themselves right now need only look at Ntaganda to see where violence can get them.

Related Materials:
UN denies working with alleged war criminal in DR Congo

Congo ex-rebel 'working with UN'

Demand the UN (MONUC) & DR Congo Government to arrest wanted ICC war criminal NTAGANDA now

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