Alan Doss, the Special Representative for the Secretary General for the Democratic Republic of Congo spoke to an overflow IPI audience on December 14, 2009 on the subject of the role of the United Nations in protecting civilians in the violence-plagued DRC.
Mr. Doss, a UN official for more than 30 years who previously served as SRSG in Liberia, gave a broad-ranging account of the centrality and the challenging nature of protecting civilians in the midst of the many conflicts and armed groups in the DRC.
He spoke the day a report from Human Rights Watch was made public that criticized the UN mission in the DRC for backing military operations by Congolese government forces (FARDC) accused of committing human rights atrocities. It further urged the UN to cease supporting troops suspected of such crimes.
In reponse, Mr. Doss said, “I think the Human Rights Watch report that’s come out today documents that, and I think we all agree, it is horrendous and we must work to put a stop to it, but I think it is also important to recognize the scale and magnitude of the task and the various approaches that we are trying to adopt to deal with the problem.”
He then described a number of measures taken to address the problem and later in his talk returned to the topic to warn of the consequences of simply withdrawing support for the troops, many of whom are former militia members and rebel fighters newly integrated into the government force.
“If you stop support, it’s not blind support, it’s not support without a blank check, but at the same time, if we’re going to get the FARDC, we want to push forward, to reform, and so forth, we have to work with them,” he said. “It’s not by pushing them beyond the pale that we’re going to succeed in changing behavior.
“It’s a moral dilemma. I don’t hide that. But if we simply say we will not go near the FARDC, I’m not sure, in fact, it would make life better for the women and children of the Kivus, and certainly letting armed groups proliferate won’t make it any better.
“But it’s a tough choice for us. It’s one of the dilemmas we face every single day when something awful happens, so I think we have to push on with the integration process as we’ve done in the past, but making it clear that there are limits, obviously, and certainly I think we all recognize that one, you cannot replace the national armed forces. It [The UN] wasn’t sent to do that.
“And when we leave, those same armed forces are going to be responsible. So I think this is a difficult tough choice for us, and we have to make it clear that this is not, as I say, open- ended, non-conditional support, but equally well, I think we have to recognize the problems that the FARDC faces as it seeks to absorb all these people and make a decent modern professional accountable army out of a very, very imperfect set of materials.”
The event was moderated by Dr. Edward C. Luck, IPI Senior Vice President and Director of Studies.