The U.N. Security Council, on a tour of Africa, has given a vote of confidence to its controversial peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mission's peacekeeping strategy involves working hand in hand with Congolese forces with dubious human rights records.
The faces of Kiwanja's children greeting a visiting Security Council delegation show no sign of the horrors this camp for displaced persons has known. A massacre here last November killed 150 civilians.
The Kiwanja massacre is only the tip of the iceberg in eastern Congo, where a collection of rebel factions, as well as the Congolese army are accused of countless horrific crimes. Perhaps the worst of the lot is the FDLR, a Rwandan rebel group notorious for brutality and sexual violence.
Kivu is notorious for violence
This penchant for violence in the DRC's resource-rich Kivu region is why it is home to the United Nations' largest peacekeeping mission, known by its French acronym MONUC.
Last February, after years of massacres such as the one at Kiwanja, the Security Council authorized MONUC to join with the Congolese army, known as the FARDC, in a military offensive aimed at wiping out the FDLR.
The decision to work with the FARDC outraged aid and human rights groups who say the army's record for murder, rape and mayhem puts them in the same class of war criminals as the rebels. Lynn Lusi of the medical aid group Heal Africa says the anti-FDLR offensive, known as Kimia II, has prompted a sharp spike in violence that has forced many North Kivu residents to flee their homes to already overcrowded camps like Kiwanja.
"What happened with the Kimia process disturbed the FDLR. They fled into the forest, they're now back where they were before. They're terrorizing the population," Lusi said.
Can training reform FARDC?
MONUC officials described the FARDC as a ragtag group of soldiers with doubtful loyalties, poor discipline and a tendency to engage in plunder and looting. Many are former members of rebel groups recently integrated into the army in an attempt to win them over. But the force commander, Senegalese General Abubacar Gaye said with training, the 100,000 strong FARDC could become a disciplined force.
"This is yet to be an army, it will need more training, equipment, etc, if all this preconditions are realized there are a lot of chances we'll have a good army, but the situation is wishful thinking but it will be a long time before that," he said.
The leader of the Security Council delegation, France's UN ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert admits working with the FARDC is controversial. But he argues the only solution to eastern Congo's troubles lies in trying to instill discipline in FARDC troops so they can eventually do the job themselves.
"What is the alternative? just dissolve the army and decide outside countries should come and fight? No. This war will end when the Congolese army will become disciplined, well equipped, well trained," Ripert said.
Rights group expresses reservations
In hopes of avoiding a human rights scandal, MONUC employs a human rights staff of 120 people. Todd Howland, director of MONUC's human rights office, says he is uncomfortable with the idea of including officers who may be guilty of war crimes.
"It's a huge problem," Howland noted. "The international community, the government, has basically used the FARDC as a means of achieving peace. The national army has become the repository for criminal groups. You have many entities, small rebel groups, large rebel groups, and integration into the army of the DRC has been the method by which peace has been achieved, but peace hasn't been achieved."
Security Council ambassadors say MONUC's success will continue to be a priority, if only for practical reasons. The Congo operation costs $1 billion a year, a quarter of the entire UN peacekeeping budget. One UN diplomat said the $10 billion spent on MONUC over the past 10 years is more money than the DRC has received in development aid since independence.