Eradicating the FDLR for sustainable peace and security in the DR Congo

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By Olivier Nduhungirehe

There is a general consensus that one of the root causes of the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the 1994 genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi in Rwanda. The former Government’s army (ex-FAR), the Interahamwe militias and other génocidaires fled to former Zaire in July 1994, where they were warmly welcomed and received support from former President Mobutu. Indeed, not only did they walk free, without being disarmed, demobilised or held accountable, but they were never separated from genuine refugees, allowing them to effectively control refugee’s camps, under the UN watch.

After the Congo wars and the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement of July 1999, the UN Security Council established, by resolution 1279 (1999) [1], the UN Observation Mission in DRC (MONUC), which mandate was expanded by resolution 1291 (2000) [2], to include protection of civilians “under imminent threat of physical violence”. In 2010, the Mission was renamed, by resolution 1925 [3], UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO), with a mandate including the “support [to activities of DDRRR and to] strategies towards a sustainable solution of the FDLR issue, including repatriation, reinsertion or resettlement in other areas, or judicial prosecution as appropriate, with the help of all countries, especially those in the region”.

The mandate of both MONUC and its successor MONUSCO, vis-à-vis the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) was clear: (1) protection of civilians against an imminent threat from that movement and (2) support to strategies to find a sustainable solution to the FDLR, including DDRRR and judicial prosecution. However, it is regrettable to note that since the first deployment of MONUC, thirteen years ago, little was achieved by MONUC/MONUSCO on that front.

In the meantime, the Rwandan genocidal forces of 1994 were, in 1997, transformed into the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALIR). In 2000, after the inclusion of ALIR on the US Terrorist Exclusion List [4] for the massacre of western tourists in Bwindi National Park in Uganda [5], the movement was renamed Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). According to MONUSCO, the FDLR currently controls different areas in North and South Kivu, with are even much wider that the territories formerly occupied by the March 23 Movement (M23). In December 2012, the FDLR were included on the UN sanctions list, for “serious violations of international law involving the targeting of women and children in armed conflict, including killing and maiming, sexual violence, and forced displacement” [6]. The movement is well known in eastern DRC for using “sexual terrorism” as a weapon of war. [7] For all those crimes, most of the FDLR leadership was indicted by international and European criminal jurisdictions, including Sylvestre Mudacumura, its force commander. [8]

It is here important to note that the FDLR are not only a threat to civilians in eastern DRC but are also a threat to Rwanda, where they have vowed to pursue the ‘unfinished job’ of 1994. In this respect, it is deplorable to note that the genocide ideology of this movement is even transmitted to their children, most of them enrolled as soldiers, to the extent that a young boy, born in the DRC camps after the 1994 genocide, can declare that his main objective is to “kill Tutsis wherever they are”. [9]

Since the genocide of 1994, the ex-FAR/Interahamwe/ALIR/FDLR attacked Rwanda and killed Rwandans on many occasions. On 18 March 1997, they attacked the Nyange High School, in western Rwanda, where they killed students (now celebrated as national heroes) who refused to identify themselves as Hutu or Tutsi, stating loud and clear: “Twese turi abanyarwanda” (‘we are all Rwandans’). [10] Several other attacks and incursions in Rwanda also took place, until recently, in November and December 2012, as well as in May 2013. During the final battle between the DRC’s Armed Forces (FARDC) and the M23, the FDLR were even amassing troops in Bunagana, near the border of Rwanda. [11]

It is in this context, in which MONUC/MONUSCO failed for thirteen years to protect Congolese civilians against the FDLR and to prevent attacks and incursions in Rwanda, that the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), under MONUSCO, was created. Resolution 2098 (2013) of the Security Council gave the FIB an offensive mandate, which includes “to prevent the expansion of all armed groups, neutralize these groups, and to disarm them.” [12] A third mandate for a third force, in thirteen years.

Nonetheless, resolution 2098 was adopted unanimously and, in its explanation of vote, Rwanda stated that the FIB should “focus on the negative forces that are active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, especially the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR).” [13] Regrettably, the MONUSCO FIB, upon deployment, chose to restrict its action on the M23. The head of MONUSCO explained before the Security Council, on 21 October 2013, that MONUSCO may have the capacity to target several armed groups at the same time, but noted that the FARDC would not follow through to occupy the liberated territories, as they were only focused on the M23.

But now that the M23 has ended its hostilities, we believe that it is time for MONUSCO to fully implement resolution 2098 and launch, together with the FARDC, operations aimed at eradicating, once for all, the FDLR from DRC soil. While encouraged by different recent statements by the UN Security Council, the MONUSCO leadership and the DRC Government, I remain sceptical on the will of MONUSCO and the FARDC to effectively fight the FDLR. And I am here backed by thirteen years of failure, the lack of interest shown by the FIB contingents, as well as by credible information on the collaboration between the FDLR and both the FARDC and some elements of the FIB. [14]

In any case, I believe that this time, MONUSCO could not walk away with its usual excuses. MONUSCO should be held accountable on action taken to fight the FDLR; and its activities must be closely monitored by the Security Council, in which Rwanda is currently a non-permanent member. This Mission is indeed the largest UN peacekeeping force, with nearly 20,000 troops and an annual budget of almost $1.5 billion. Therefore, the international community cannot afford any other ‘business as usual’, from a force that is unable or unwilling to address the main source of insecurity in eastern DRC since 1994.

Indeed, the FDLR is not an armed group like the others operating in eastern DRC. The FDLR is “a group under UN sanctions whose leaders and members include perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and have continued to promote and commit ethnically-based and other killings in Rwanda and the DRC”, as the Security Council qualified it in its presidential statement S/PRST/2013/17 of 13 November 2013. [15] In addition, it is one of the oldest armed groups established in eastern DRC, which threat posed to Congolese communities, including the Rwandophone community, triggered the creation of various armed groups in that region.

Therefore, the FDLR should be the top priority of MONUSCO, which current mandate expires on 31 March 2014. I therefore sincerely hope that the Mission would, by that time, have made concrete progress towards the eradication of the FDLR. This would undoubtedly be a decisive step towards the full restoration of the territorial integrity of the DRC Government, on its territory. It would also significantly improve bilateral relationships between DRC and Rwanda and enable both countries to focus on economic projects, including in the framework of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Region (CEPGL).

In conclusion, I strongly believe that peace, which has been elusive in DRC for 50 years, can be achieved in that country. And the only way for meaningful success is, for the short term, to eradicate the FDLR and ensure that the territorial integrity of the DRC is restored, as requested by resolution 2098, and, for the medium and long terms, to address the root causes of the conflict, in particular by implementing the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region.

Olivier Nduhungirehe is Minister Counsellor, Deputy Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations. This article however reflects his personal views.


[1] http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1279(1999)

[2] http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1291(2000), paragraph 8

[3] http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1925(2010), paragraph 12 j)

[4] http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123086.htm

[5] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/289196.stm

[6] http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1533/pdf/1533_list.pdf, page 31

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/23/world/africa/23congo.html?_r=1&

[8] http://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/icc/situations%20and%20cases/situations/situation%20icc%200104/related%20cases/icc01040112/Pages/icc01040112.aspx

[9] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/may/16/congo.rwanda

[10] http://focus.rw/wp/2013/02/we-are-all-rwandans/

[11] http://www.newsofrwanda.com/featured1/20949/fardc-fdlr-clash-in-bunagana/

[12] http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2098(2013), paragraph 12 b)

[13] http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/PV.6943, page 2

[14] http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2013/402

[15] http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/PRST/2013/17

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