The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monusco) appears to be on the verge of a military offensive to eliminate a Rwandan rebel group based in the east of the country.
Monusco Commander Lt-Gen Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz told the UN Security Council last week that Congolese civilians can be effectively protected only through “proactive” operations against armed groups.
He asserted that offensive action on the part of Monusco’s combat brigade is consistent with international law despite risks of “collateral damage.”
“I am absolutely convinced that the best way to protect civilians is being proactive rather than reactive,” Lt-Gen Santos Cruz declared. “Civilian protection is far more than text in a mandate; it is a moral duty.”
Carrying out genocide
The FDLR, which is accused of slaughtering and raping civilians in eastern DRC, consists largely of Hutu militia who fled Rwanda after carrying out the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The Brazilian general’s October 9 remarks followed an October 3 UN Security Council call for the “swift neutralisation” of the FDLR, the French acronym for the Democratic Force for the Liberation of Rwanda.
Noting that no progress has recently been made in the surrender and demobilisation of FDLR fighters, the Security Council urged Monusco and the Congolese armed forces to “undertake military action” against leaders and members of the group who do not comply with UN demands.
In a statement issued three months prior to the UN deadline for FDLR disarmament, the Security Council ruled out any political dialogue with the rebel group.
The Council said it was assessing FDLR’s compliance in concrete terms, including the number of fighters and leaders surrendering and weapons handed over.
Rwanda has been at the forefront of demands by some UN member states that Monusco launch military action against the FDLR following an offensive last year that eliminated another rebel group known as M23.
That was the first time in the UN’s 70-year history that its military deployment had initiated combat as part of a peacekeeping mandate. A 2013 UNSC resolution established a 3,000-member Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) within Monusco.
The United States has echoed Rwanda’s insistence that the FDLR must be destroyed. Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, last week praised Lt-Gen Santos Cruz’s proactive approach.
ALSO READ: FDLR fighters set conditions for surrender
Shift in peacekeeping doctrine
Noting that the Monusco chief has travelled to FDLR headquarters to press demands for disarmament, Ms Power described him as the embodiment of the shift in UN peacekeeping doctrine from “protection by presence” to “protection by action.”
But not all in UNSC are as enthusiastic: Russia’s UN envoy Petr Iliichev said on October 9 that the experience of FIB and the use of drones in the DRC “must be assessed.”