In my Last Post, I spoke about Syria. In today's post, I will be speaking about the DR Congo.
Over the past few years, one thing has become clear in foreign policy. When a people find themselves in a predicament where they are oppressed and deprived of their rights, external help comes to them sometimes, from other states in the world. Sometimes, this help comes in the form of intervention using military force, although technically forbidden by law. It legitimizes itself through the epithet of “Responsibility to Protect”, or R2P. Sometimes, this help comes in the form of monetary assistance and rehabilitation. But sometimes, there is no help at all.
The Responsibility to Protect has evolved as an important doctrine of sorts in contemporary international relations. The principle, endorsed in 2005 during the UN World Summit, essentially calls on the international community to use all “appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means … to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” This responsibility to protect is proactive and continuous. Military force cannot be used except as a last resort, after all other peaceful options have been tried, and have failed.
Primarily deemed Kofi Annan’s greatest successes, the Responsibility to Protect was assumed as a core value when the West intervened in Libya this year. Eyebrows were raised worldwide when Libya was taken into consideration, but Bahrain and Syria have been given the cold shoulder. The Libyan situation was the cynosure of all eyes as allegations were rife that the pursuit was nothing short of a quest for regime change. Aside of the issues shrouding the modality of operation, the Responsibility to Protect has been an accepted norm internationally, and has been supported as bring the right means to handle global issues.
But strangely, the world has been stunningly silent in questioning the non-invocation of the doctrine to handle the situation in DRCongo. The international community has the same responsibility to protect the people of DRCongo- over 6 million DRCongolese civilians have died, and statistics reveal that as many as half of the death toll comprise children. It has been a whole 15 years since this horrific scheme of events began. Over 400,000 women have been raped. As mentioned by the American Journal of Public Health, on an average, 48 women are raped per hour in DRCongo, and the toll of women who were victims of sexual violence in 2007, toll up to about 4,00,000. Women are afraid to speak up, to speak out and to be heard. Elections are held from time to time, but women are afraid to participate for fear of being subjected to horrors for their campaigns of denouncing the horrific sexual violence that is being perpetrated by and large in the region.
DRCongo is in shambles. Women wear scars of sexual violence- the worst weapon of war. The people of DRCongo still find themselves picking the pieces of their broken lives. The story of the lives of these people would shock anyone’s conscience. The absence of justice and attention is nothing short of shocking. The world was completely deaf to the pleas of the people in DRCongo. Unarmed ordinary people were dying. Women were raped. The country’s backbone was shattered. But the world was quiet. Deathly quiet.
Is this because the world is too apathetic to the situation? Or is this because the world has decided to remain indifferent?
Today, DRCongo stands in a precarious condition- where the crisis has gone far beyond the threshold of a turnaround. The situation has spiralled out of control. The people of DRCongo are paying the price for the inertia that the world wielded in its conduct towards the country.
In 2006, the United States passed the Public Law 109-456 a legislation seeking to address the situation in DRCongo. But five years have passed, and implementation is far from materializing. Five years of inertia has cost DRCongo dearly. The state is abundantly rich in mineral resources. Better known to the world as conflict minerals, these resources are mined by DRCongolese civilians, who often work with their bare hands. The monetary return for them is frugal, though the plundering corporations and governments ramble about in wealth. The sword of rape and death hang above the heads of the ordinary DRCongolese civilian, while the world around them uses laptops and cell phones fashioned out of industries that use these conflict minerals.
DRCongo’s present state of instability easily benefits those who exploit its wealth. Documentation and statistical records maintained by the United Nations suggests the massive exploitation of DRCongo’s mineral wealth by Rwanda, Uganda, various rebel groups and private actors. Specifically, in its 2001 Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources, its 2006 Resolution 1653 and 2008 Final Report of the Group of Experts, the United Nations has explained the fact that Rwanda’s economic power in the region has a lot to do with the trade in illicit minerals out of DRCongo.
To DRCongo, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ICCPR and ICESCR, the Geneva Conventions and all of International Humanitarian Law, truly, make no difference and do not matter at all. There is precious little that a legal document could serve for the people, when it is devoid of any form of political will or military power backing it up. What use is empty rhetoric when implementation is severely lacking?
Rehabilitating the destroyed state is going to take a lot, easily. DRCongo is fragile, and cannot be strengthened unless it can give its people their basic needs and protection. This cannot take place until DRCongo has a unified army that remains confined to the rubric of discipline, and remains subjugated to a civilian rule. The army must necessarily be comprised of individuals who conform to a value system, and must necessarily be rid of those who are guilty of human rights abuses. There should be a military tribunal that would mandate the performance of duties on part of the army, and would keep the army confined within the borders of decency and good conduct.
With this, DRCongo could have a proper government in place, one that would proactively engage in the upkeep of its people by ensuring them their dues, in keeping with international standards. On a larger scale, DRCongo must compulsorily indulge in regional diplomacy with all stakeholders to usher in peace. Rwanda must be pressurized for the return of its refugees, and offer political space for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. DRCongolese mineral wealth must rightfully benefit the people in DRCongo, and all policy must look towards this direction. It doesn’t help that the minerals benefit only corporations and governments outside, for the present, so it is necessary that those who loot these resources need to be made accountable on all fronts.
Non-action in DRCongo has not been because of a lack of warning, or a lack of information, or a lack of necessary resources. Non-action, instead, has come to be owing to the strategic, considerations coloured by political and economic policies of those that had plenty to gain out of exploiting the state’s mineral wealth. With the cold shoulder from the rest of the world, it became increasingly easy to capitalize on the confluence of mineral wealth and political repression. It is unfortunate that the strategic interests of the world precede action in pursuit of humanitarian considerations.
By ignoring this responsibility to protect, this obligation on our part, this duty we owe to our counterparts in the DRCongo, we have not just violated an international norm. We are guilty of having been complicit in the worst crime against humanity. Our silence and inert stance in the sidelines watching the Rape of DRCongo has been the worst crime against our own conscience.