UN must back DRC army, despite abuse: Doss

Violence and sexual attacks against women and children in eastern Congo would increase if the United Nations ended its support for the Congolese army due to concerns over its human rights record, a senior UN official said.
Alan Doss, head of UN peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said it would be wrong to withdraw UN soldiers and to stop backing government forces, despite the “moral and practical dilemmas” involved.
Nearly all the 25 000 UN troops in Congo are fighting in the east of the country after renewed violence by rebel groups erupted last year. Both rebels and government soldiers face accusations of looting, rape and attacks on civilians.
Human rights groups say the UN’s force, the world’s biggest peacekeeping mission, is complicit in human rights abuses for backing the army in the former Belgian colony.
“The women and children of the eastern Congo would probably suffer much more should we give up and walk away,” Doss said in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute, a defence thinktank. “It is a tough choice, an unpalatable choice.”
Congo, which has big deposits of copper, gold and diamonds and other minerals, is recovering from a 1998-2003 war and humanitarian disaster that killed an estimated 5.4 million people in a decade.
‘Notorious’ army chiefs
The UN’s role in Congo is complicated by the fact that government soldiers were recruited from 56 former militia groups, many of whose leaders preyed on civilians, Doss added.
“You are trying to build an army from very disparate materials,” he said. “Many of those militias were involved in human rights violations, some of their commanders are notorious.”
With 30-40 000 UN peacekeepers rotating through Congo each year, it is impossible to stop a tiny minority of UN soldiers from ignoring UN rules and abusing civilians, he added.
“It is a constant battle,” Doss said. “Even one case is one too many and the reputation of UN peacekeeping has been tainted by the irresponsible actions of a small number.”
While Congo, formerly known as Zaire, is “struggling with nationhood” nearly 50 years after independence, Doss said the UN had helped to make large parts of the vast country safe.
“Most of the areas that experienced violent conflict in Congo have been pacified, allowing millions of displaced persons to return home,” he said.