An attack by militants in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday has resulted in the deaths of at least 15 UN Peacekeepers, with more than 50 wounded. Targeting a UN base situated near the DRC’s eastern border, the assault appears to be a well-coordinated effort by the Allied Democratic Forces – an Islamist rebel group that has stepped up attacks in recent months. The base near Beni reportedly housed UN peacekeepers mandated to carry out offensive operations, with the UN conducting several manoeuvres against the ADF alongside national Congolese soldiers. The majority of casualties from Thursday’s attack were Tanzanian.
In a press release on Friday, UN Special Representative and head of MONUSCO Maman Sidikou declared that the violence “aimed at weakening our resolve to fully and faithfully implement our mandate to bring peace and stability to the DRC…”. In New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave an impassioned response, insisting the perpetrators receive swift justice and asserting that “there must be no impunity for such assaults, here or anywhere else.”
With the ADF just one of the many rebel groups and factions contributing to the ongoing conflict in the DRC, MONUSCO is designed to act as a stabilizing force in the country. However, in June last year, Al Jazeera reported on the UN’s serious lack of credibility among civilians in the DRC, with the peacekeeping force perceived as reactive rather than protective in the face of violence from armed groups. This criticism emerged despite the establishment of a ‘Force Intervention Brigade’ through Security Council Resolution 2098 (2013), which actively seeks to “neutralise and disarm” Congolese rebels and foreign armed groups. Whilst it is undebatable that the security in the DRC would diminish without the presence of the UN contingent, it would perhaps be more effective to the pursuit of peace if the international presence focused on stabilising the increasingly tenuous political climate. Joseph Kabila has been accused by his rivals of using the endemic violence and insecurity to retain his presidency – a position he has held since 2001. This disinclination to establish law and order across the country provides greater opportunity for armed groups to recruit and accumulate power. It would, therefore, be more prudent for the UN to focus on strengthening the political establishment and associated security institutions, rather than the more antagonistic approach of offensive operations against armed groups.
Armed groups with international affiliations have been a persistent obstacle to peace and security in the DRC since the end of the civil war in 2003. Originating as an Islamist insurgent group in neighbouring Uganda, the ADF has operated in the DRC’s North Kivu province since the 1990s. Violence is rampant in the north-eastern part of the central African state, and civilians are frequently subjected to heinous attacks. Whilst the ADF is considered the major perpetrator of hostilities in the region, smaller militias and elements of the Congolese national army are also known to orchestrate violence.
It is necessary for those involved in Thursday’s attack to be held accountable for their blatant aggression against the UN stabilization force so that non-state armed groups across the world receive a clear message that such attacks will not be tolerated. Simultaneously, the UN must seek to ensure that it remains a neutral presence within its area of operations, in order to avoid becoming an additional belligerent party to the conflict. How this attack will affect peacekeeping operations in the country is unclear, as MONUSCO may see fit to either reduce or expand its operations. What is certain, however, is the increasingly fragile situation in the DRC, and the perilous position of its civilians.
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