UN Secretary General visits eastern DRC for two days

Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, visited the eastern DRC for two days. He landed in Kisangani on Saturday 28 February, flew to Goma in North Kivu province on Saturday afternoon, had an official dinner there in the evening, visited internally displaced persons on Sunday morning in Kibati, 10 km from Goma, then flew to Kigali, Rwanda to conclude his tour of the Great Lakes region.

Reading Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s statements, published on the UN’s official pages under the MONUC mission (a 17,000-strong ensemble of peacekeepers deployed in eastern DRC), I wondered what kind of international body the Secretary General is captaining. Mr. Ki-moon appealed for stronger collaboration between MONUC and the Congolese government to put an end to the atrocities in the east. And yet, the UN has not even invoked its own measures–designed for just the sort of crisis that has been unfolding in eastern DRC–that would bring women’s human rights to the table as the number one issue at stake.

MONUC is the largest and most expensive mission the UN has ever commissioned. It has been in eastern DRC since 1999 and has a direct mandate, under Chapter VII of the UN charter, that “authorizes it to use all means deemed necessary, within the limits of its capacities and in the areas of deployment of its armed units, to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence; and to contribute to the improvement of the security conditions.”

So why, as head of an international league of nations that has approved a budget exceeding one billion dollars for the largest peacekeeping force in the world, is Mr. Ban Ki-moon “deeply saddened, shocked and troubled by what I have seen. I have met the victims of sex abuse undergoing treatment. I learnt that just last Monday, ten cases of rapes were reported here [Heal Africa medical centre in Goma].”

Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the sexual violence you have learned about during your visit has been been rampaging through eastern DRC for the last ten years. The region has been–and continues to be–devastated by sexual violence on a scale the world has never seen. This should come as no surprise.

Let’s take a look at some of the urgent, alarming appeals UN officials themselves have made regarding the mass violence against women in eastern DRC, as described by Stephen Lewis at a press conference on 13 September 2007.

  • 10 September, 2007: UN Emergency Coordinator and Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes returned from the DRC announcing that rape is being used as a “weapon of terror” at a rate larger than anywhere else in the world
  • the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Professor Yakin Erturk, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, made a public appeal and a full report after conducting an official visit 16 – 27 July, 2007. She announced that rape was being used for the complete physical and psychological destruction of women and their communities
  • February, 2007: the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) co-authored with Integrated Regional Informational Networks (IRIN) a comprehensive monograph entitled “The Shame of War: Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls in Conflict”
  • OCHA and IRIN previously published a preliminary monograph in 2005
  • 26 October, 2006: UN Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, reported over 12,000 rapes within the last six months in eastern DRC

(Quick math: 12,000 rapes in 6 months works out to about 65 rapes per day)

  • a MONUC report given to Guehenno contains a catalog of vicious atrocity for the period of July – December, 2006
  • September, 2006: former UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland called the sexual violence in the DRC a “cancer” that was out of control
  • 21 June, 2005: Egeland urgently appealed the Security Council for more forceful action in another report

Suddenly, I feel like I’m writing an article for The Onion, with a title that goes something like: “UN Secretary General visits the Vatican and discovers the Pope is Catholic”.

And what about UN Resolution 1325, which “urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts”? No woman, no rape survivor, no sexual violence expert, was in evidence at the peace table during negotiation of the ceasefire agreement which was co-signed by the UN on 23 January, 2008. In fact, no mention of rape was even made. Furthermore, the militias were offered amnesty for all acts of war and insurrection in exchange for arms. Although officially, the amnesty did not extend to war crimes or crimes against humanity, what kind of message does this send? In Paula Donovan’s view, given at the XVII International AIDS Conference, “no doubt such distinctions are lost on the average militiaman.  He may notice when a handful of military chiefs are brought to court for orchestrating mass rapes and systematic sexual violence, but long before that happens, he will deduce that no one plans to pursue the rank-and-file who committed the rapes. So why would he stop?”

The UN also has other structures in place, but again, they remain theoretical exercises. The UN Responsibility to Protect, R2P, calls for the outside world to intervene when a sovereign state is unable or unwilling to protect its citizenry. With the number of sexual violence cases at 500,000 and climbing, females in the eastern DRC are clearly not adequately protected. But we are still waiting for the Security Council to invoke R2P.

Why is training in sexual violence prevention not explicitly provided for MONUC? Surely, MONUC soldiers deployed in villages can be assigned to protect women who collect water, firewood, etc., in places where we know they are vulnerable to attack. It is unreasonable to think that MONUC could protect everyone, but neither can they combat all militias–and yet they still try.

Returning to Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s visit to DRC, “The Secretary General said he was encouraged in particular by the new spirit of cooperation between the DRC and other states in the region, and the benefits this cooperation can bring, not just to the Congolese people but to the whole region. ”

Against what metric does Ban Ki-moon evaluate this “new spirit of cooperation”? It cannot be in the number of rape cases, which continues to escalate. It cannot be in terms of security for women, which deteriorates, or long-term adverse effects on society, which will only worsen hand-in-hand with the first two factors.

In fact, nowhere in the MONUC article does Ban Ki-moon mention the main source of the problem: the global economic engine driving the atrocities. The conflict in the DRC is financed by illegally obtained resources which in turn facilitate the illegal exploitation of natural resources [Turner, p. 163]. A report by the UN Panel of Experts in October 2002 concludes that finding the political will to restrain a network of core military, commercial and political elites from the DRC and other countries with vested economic interest in its natural resources is “the most important element in effectively halting the illegal exploitation of resources” [p. 28].

That the UN Secretary General returns from the DRC feeling a “encouraged” is frankly misleading, demonstrating an inexcusable ignorance of the reports, statements, testimonies and speeches made by human rights organizations, the media, and the UN itself. In addition, disregarding the enforcement of UN measures designed to curb mass-scale sexual atrocity is a failure of responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of women and girls who have been savagely raped.


Ban Ki-moon met with Dr. Mukwege, Director of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, eastern DRC, and Eve Ensler, during the recent V-Day tour in the US. He promised to visit the Panzi Hospital, but I am still searching for reports on this visit.


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One response to “UN Secretary General visits eastern DRC for two days

  1. Pingback: MONUC officer’s cell phone idea: better late than never « A wide-angle view of the DRC conflict

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