The genocidal Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) that operates in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) should have ceased to exist almost a year ago if United Nations assurances had been carried through.
In March 2013, the UN Security Council authorised a special force, the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) to go after all armed groups in the region and neutralise them.
The FIB fought the Congolese M23 rebels and eventually defeated them in November 2013. The next target should have been FDLR and a host of other smaller armed groups.
Indeed the UN Special Envoy to DRC, Martin Kobler, affirmed to the Security Council in December 2013: “We will go on with the fight against all armed groups”.
The promise ended there. FIB baulked. The FDLR survives intact to this day and continues to wreak havoc in eastern Congo. It has refused to disarm. Abuses that used to be ascribed to M23 have not ended.
Women continue to be raped in their hundreds. Massacres still go on. Houses are burnt on a regular basis. The FDLR controls Congolese territory and more significantly precious stones mines.
However, things may be changing. Recent pronouncements by UN officials in DRC seem to suggest that the United Nations is losing patience with FDLR and is demanding that the genocidal outfit to disarm immediately or else it will face military action.
But the FDLR remains intransigent. All indications are that it has no intention of disarming and peacefully returning to Rwanda. Instead, it has placed demands of its own. Essentially it wants to be recognised as a legitimate political organisation and then negotiate with the Government of Rwanda the terms of return.
Rwanda, of course, has rejected this demand insisting the group is made up of genocidaires. In the circumstances, military action against FDLR remains the only option.
Several questions arise. Why does FDLR continue to defy international pressure with impunity? Has the United Nations finally realised that FDLR is playing games and has no intention of putting its arms down? Does the UN now mean what it says and is it prepared, through its FIB, to actually attack and force it to disarm or destroy it?
Only the overly optimistic believe that FDLR will leave Congo peacefully. For one thing, asking them to behave differently is asking them to negate themselves, what they stand for and what they believe.
They have never had a change of heart. Their ideology remains the same – to continue the genocide and completely exterminate the Tutsi. Their strategy has never changed.
All the talk about turning into a conventional political party is only a ruse to hide the real intentions. The extermination of a people cannot be regarded as a reasonable programme for a political party.
There have, of course, been attempts to sanitise the FDLR and distance it from its ideology. Its apologists and the foreign media argue that its membership is largely composed of young people who did not commit the genocide. An AFP story last week referred to the FDLR as “descendants of Hutu militia who committed genocide”.
The FDLR has always played on time, hoping that its passage would blur their role in genocide, or that people would grow weary and forget. Some of their wildest hopes of returning to Rwanda in their present organisation hinge on the possibility of some dramatic change in the politics of Rwanda.
The FDLR may be murderers, but they are no fools. In the past they have been able to read the mood of the UN and saw no commitment to fight them. They have never seen firm action to match the sometimes tough rhetoric. Even this time, they see no reason to believe otherwise.
And there is good reason for this.
They have always counted on the backing of a powerful godfather at the UN Security Council. The defeated army of Juvenal Habyarimana and the Interahamwe militia responsible for genocide were shepherded into DRC (then Zaire) with their arms which they were allowed to retain and even received some more, and helped to regroup by French troops ostensibly on a humanitarian mission.
The leadership of DRC, the country whose territory they have occupied and against whose people they continue to commit all manner of atrocities, will not raise a finger because it is beholden to them. Many of the FDLR fighters are reported to have fought in its army’s ranks against the M23 rebels.
They also have the support of some regional governments that have their own quarrels with the government of Rwanda. For example, there have been many reports of senior FDLR commanders travelling to Tanzania and being hosted at a very high level.
Inexplicably, some of the leading supporters of FDLR are human rights organisations.
In recent weeks the rhetoric from the UN has changed. There is more call for action against FDLR. Is this mere sabre-rattling or will there be definite moves to neutralise this and other armed groups and finally return peace to eastern DRC? The FDLR hope it will be business as usual. Those who want peace and justice pray for action.