Modeste Bahati Lukwebo, the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Senate, has effectively called for the expulsion of UN Peacekeepers and MONUSCO spokesperson Mathias Gillman from D.R.C. This comes after violent anti-UN protests occur in the country, with UN Peacekeepers and civilians alike meeting each other with violence.
The UN arrived in the D.R.C. in 1999 and set up the one of the UN’s largest and most expensive peace operations, MONUSCO. The general consensus of civilian attitudes towards MONUSCO is that they have done little for their country’s security and have failed the citizens — many question the motivations behind a mission based in the D.R.C. Tensions arise primarily due to the resurgence of the once-dormant M-23 rebel group, who had been thought to have disbanded nearly a decade ago. This resurgence has allegedly been met with inaction by MONUSCO, despite M-23 displacing approximately 200,000 people and undermining regional stability. There have also been reports of Rwanda’s involvement of backing the group. On July 31st, 2022, in the city of Kasindi (which lies on the border between Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda), MONUSCO Peacekeepers open fired on protestors and unarmed civilians. Two were killed and many others were wounded. Furthermore, 36 people in total (including two Peacekeepers) have been killed after hundreds of protestors vandalized and set fire to buildings belonging to the mission.
Many believe that the violent protests are as a result of several politicians’ wishes, which unfairly depicts protestors of being manipulated and diminishes their genuine concerns regarding MONUSCO and the United Nations. Perpetrators were identified and arrested. The UN has established contact with the Peacekeepers’ country of origin, those at fault for shooting at civilians, with the aim of “urgently initiating judicial proceedings with the participation of victims and witnesses so that appropriate sanctions can be handed down.” The UN Secretary-General António Guterres was “outraged” by the event and emphasized the need of holding the perpetrators accountable. Special Representative and Head of MONUSCO, Bintou Keita, suggested that the Peacekeepers open fired for “unexplained reasons.”
UN ambassadors met a day after Congolese authorities expelled Mathias Gillmann from the country, for making “indelicate and inappropriate remarks” about the rising situation, and blame him for stoking tensions that led to the protests. It is clear that Congolese people’s concerns, to put it mildly, are not being heard, and they are being met with violence rather than reason. We have seen the impact that both violent and peaceful protests have on a community, particularly since the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. In that circumstance, there were peaceful protests that were met with violence in the same way, as well as protests that were violent from the get-go. Violent protests are often met with criticism; however, it is necessary to pause to wonder what the alternative is if peaceful protests are resulting in civilians being met with open fire. This situation is rife with individuals blaming one another for who is instigating and adding fuel to the fire, and there is little being said regarding accountability. It is fair to assume that the UN had no intention of becoming a violent imposition, but the protesters’ voices need to be understood.
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