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In 1994, at Rwanda’s moment of greatest need, the world turned its back. The Rwandan genocide and the subsequent flight of the genocidaires into the Democratic Republic of the Congo spawned eastern Congo’s complex crisis—one that has led to the deaths of 5.4 million Congolese and threatens the future of millions more. The world has had 14 years to take action against the perpetrators of the genocide and those who now terrorize eastern Congo in their name, but the international response remains sorely inadequate. Absent an international action plan to finally remove this scourge, eastern Congo will continue to suffer.
Renewed efforts to resolve the crisis in eastern Congo have not gained momentum; the humanitarian and security situation remains dire and diplomatic progress is at risk of erosion unless the international community locks these gains in through sustained high-level diplomacy, more effective civilian protection, aggressive measures to halt impunity for human rights abuses, and a long-term approach to the country’s greatest challenges: security and justice sector reform.
The most urgent issue, however, is the destabilizing and threatening presence, more than 14 years after the slaughter of nearly 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda, of Rwandan armed groups in eastern Congo. These groups—namely the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda, or FDLR, and their many offshoots—have been responsible for terrible atrocities in eastern Congo, including widespread and systematic sexual violence.
When the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF, took control of Rwanda and ended the genocide in July 1994, the forces largely responsible for the orchestration and execution of the Rwandan genocide escaped to eastern Congo. Although the Congolese had battled issues of land ownership and citizenship long before the events of 1994, the arrival of these genocidaires—former Rwandan Armed Forces, or ex-FAR and a Hutu extremist militia called the Interahamwe—set into motion a regional war in which ethnicity, citizenship, control of land, and lucrative natural resources pitted communities against one another.
The conflict has many layers. The FDLR are a source of harassment, violence, destruction, and rape in eastern Congo. Their presence is the raison d’être for some Congolese rebel groups, including Laurent Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defense of People, or CNDP, who purport to protect their communities from the FDLR threat but are also guilty of atrocities. The FDLR also potentially threaten Rwanda and is thus are a major impediment to peace and security in the Great Lakes region more broadly.
As a foreign armed group, the FDLR were not involved in the January peace conference in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. This conference was intended to advance dialogue between the Congolese government and Congolese armed groups in North and South Kivu, including Nkunda’s CNDP. The resulting cease-fire agreement between the government and 22 Congolese armed groups is just the first step of what will be a long and challenging process.
To build momentum now for an inclusive peace process that addresses the root causes of conflict in eastern Congo, the international community must urgently pursue a “3Ps” strategy for neutralizing the FDLR. In particular, the international community must build on the November 2007 agreement between the governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda—the so-called Nairobi Communiqué—and begin dismantling these deadly rebel forces.
Peacemaking: The United States, European Union, and United Nations must work with the Congolese and Rwandan governments to implement a “carrots-and-sticks” approach to deal with the FDLR. This includes increased support for demobilization, disarmament, repatriation, resettlement, and reintegration, or DDRRR. In addition, the international community must put sustained high-level diplomatic pressure on the Congolese government to sever its ties with the FDLR and on the Rwandan government to demonstrate that the individual FDLR combatants not wanted for genocide can safely return to Rwanda.
Protection: The U.N. Peacekeeping Mission in Congo, known as MONUC, must increase its presence in FDLR-controlled areas and expand FDLR defection “corridors” where defectors and their dependents are safe and can start the demilitarization process. MONUC must also begin to deny the FDLR and other armed groups access to the minerals and other natural resources that fund their movements and expand its special forces capabilities for possible offensive operations, in coordination with the Congolese army, against the FDLR. Furthermore, ENOUGH joins Human Rights Watch and 61 other international and Congolese human rights groups to call upon the international community to endorse and immediately fill the position of a special human rights advisor for eastern Congo.
Punishment: Because of the current atrocities the FDLR are committing in eastern Congo, the international community has a responsibility to disrupt the command and control of FDLR leadership over combatants on the ground. This leadership includes exiles living in the United States and Europe. First, the U.N. Security Council should expand the list of individuals for targeted sanctions—the freezing of financial assets, limiting lines of communication, and imposing travel bans—and U.N. member states must aggressively enforce those sanctions. Second, those countries where FDLR political leadership live and work—specifically the United States, France, Germany, and Belgium—must investigate those individuals to determine how their political activities affect their resident status. To help end impunity on the ground, the International Criminal Court, or ICC, should focus its investigation on FDLR leadership in the Kivus. Additionally, the international community should work with the Congolese government to establish a special court to try war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all armed parties in eastern Congo since 1993.
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Information About the Enough Project:
ENOUGH is a project of the Center for American Progress to end genocide and crimes against humanity. With an initial focus on the crises in Sudan, Chad, eastern Congo, and northern Uganda, ENOUGH’s strategy papers and briefings provide sharp field analysis and targeted policy recommendations based on a “3P” crisis response strategy: promoting durable peace, providing civilian protection, and punishing perpetrators of atrocities. ENOUGH works with concerned citizens, advocates, and policy makers to prevent, mitigate, and resolve these crises. To learn more about ENOUGH and what you can do to help, go to www.enoughproject.org