Tag Archives: DR Congo

Another UN peacekeeping meltdown in the make … but who’s got time?

by Rhodri C. Williams

Hat tip to Shane Quinn for forwarding me an alarming Guardian commentary by Simon Tisdall on the humanitarian meltdown presumably taking its leisurely course as I write this. An encampment of 60,000 wretched displaced persons “emptied overnight” in the face of an advancing rebel army covertly sponsored by neighboring states intent on natural resource extraction. The UN deeply committed to a corrupt and abusive national army that is melting away along with the displaced. Some peacekeepers futilely attacking the rebels from helicopters as the rest nervously wait for them to arrive.

Its Goma, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). But how is anyone supposed to keep track right now, with Syria and now Gaza and everything else, like the inundation of Haiti and destruction of its food for next year completely overshadowed. And anyway, eastern DRC is the emblematic basket case, if its been this bad for this long, how could it get worse? If you want a vision of the depths of human misery and debasement, look at the situation there four years ago. What could change?

What worries me – beyond the profound waste of it all – is the UN being up to its neck in this. Monusco is a party to a conflict most people couldn’t locate on a map let alone understand, with a long hangover from the Rwandan conflict, the transplantation whole of one of the world’s most vicious rebel groups from Uganda, and natural resources galore to fuel and pay for people’s indulgence in their worse instincts, seemingly until the end of time. And all this at a time when the UN is still reeling from having failed – profoundly – to take steps that might have saved at least some of the 40,000 civilians mown down in 2009 during the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka.

So maybe Goma will be the next public failure of the UN, ironically taking place just a few miles away and a bit shy of two decades after its first great post-Cold War stagger in Rwanda, in 1994. Or maybe it won’t. Negotiated resolution, withdrawals, resumption of the miserable status quo. At times like this, I can’t even formulate the questions, let alone think of the answer.

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Corporate social responsibility in a changing world: Targeting conflict resource exploitation

by Rhodri C. Williams

The march of the voluntary guidelines continues, it seems, with new approaches geared to address gaps in earlier efforts to urge corporate self-control. As Peter Spiro noted some time back in Opinio Juris (and Chris Huggins pointed out in these pages), the promotion of “soft” voluntary standards as a means of getting at some very hard human rights violations is still seen with skepticism in many quarters.

Nevertheless, Mark Taylor makes an engaging case for such standards in a recent Open Democracy piece on the role of natural resource extraction in fueling conflict. The article highlights the Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict Affected and High Risk Areas, a standard adopted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in May 2011 and subsequently regulated in the US through new regulations issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)  under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.

Taylor notes several key insights that have emerged in the wake of older certification schemes such as the Kimberly Process for conflict diamonds. These include the manner in which both illicit inflows into conflict areas (such as small arms) and outflows (such as natural resources) have become incorporated into global market flows, as well as the extent to which vulnerable local populations may be just as dependent on extraction activities for their survival as warlords are for their arms budget. In light of such factors, Taylor argues that considerable advantages may be derived from focusing on business actors rather than states:

Like the Kimberly Process, or even UN sanctions, the Guidance seeks to exclude certain commodities from global trade flows. But there the similarity ends. Instead of obligating states, the Guidance places the responsibility on business to manage their supply chains. Instead of relying on a certification regime hobbled by a lack of state capacity, the Guidance deploys the concept of business due diligence, the practice of self-investigation and risk management in a business activity. And instead of targeting a commodity based on its association with rebel groups – a definition that has plagued the Kimberly Process, for example preventing it from taking action where abuses are committed by state armed forces, as in the case of Zimbabwe – the Guidance in effect focuses on the problems of conflict financing and human rights abuse associated with mineral extraction, regardless of whether the perpetrator is a state or non-state armed group.

In effect, the Guidance places the onus on businesses to show they are not financing conflict or contributing to human rights abuse through their sourcing of minerals. And nothing in the Guidance prevents states from regulating this responsibility to conduct due diligence, which is precisely what the US has done with the conflict minerals provision of Dodd-Frank, a measure the EU is now considering.

The combined reliance on traditional state regulation and more novel forms of corporate self-regulation is promising though not, as Taylor points out, unproblematic. However, even at this early stage, there may be timely lessons that could be drawn by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in its current efforts to develop a set of ‘demand side’ standards regulating the conduct of actors participating in large-scale land investments in developing countries. This process should be facilitated by the fact that the FAO has already launched a set of ‘supply side’ guidelines for countries that are the object of such investment. While the latter clearly addressed state authorities disposing over targeted land, the former will need to take into account the role of both state and powerful non-state actors whose investments are driving the global land-rush.

Finally, in a timely reminder that such policies and safeguards are often only as effective as the advocates that monitor their application, Inclusive Development International issued a press release announcing a complaint before the Asian Development Bank’s Compliance Review Panel. The complaint alleges a violation of the Bank’s involuntary settlement policies with regard to communities affected by an ADB-funded railway rehabilitation project in Cambodia (on which, see Natalie Bugalski’s guest postings here and here). As such, it recalls the ongoing controversy in Cambodia over the World Bank’s attempts to act on a finding by its own Inspection Panel of a violation of its Resettlement Policy.

Land, power and identity in complex cross-border areas: Eastern DRC

by Chris Huggins

Around the world, there are a number of international border areas where governance is fuzzy and disputed, citizenship claims are complicated and contested, and economies are trans-boundary in nature. Due to the arbitrary nature of colonial boundary making, ethnic communities are divided by borders, so that loyalties as well as livelihoods are trans-national in character. Illegal resource extraction is endemic, and fortunes are made by the ruthless, even as the majority wallow in poverty. Many such complex border areas are either already in a situation of violent conflict, or at risk of conflict. Examples which have seen violence in recent decades include the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the Thai-Cambodia border, and the Chad-Darfur border.

Geographical remoteness is one factor: such areas are physically far from capital cities, and there are often cultural differences between local communities and dominant elites in urban areas. The inhabitants are therefore seen as slightly ‘different’ from other regions, and often viewed with suspicion by the state. Due to this geographical remoteness, land is often under held under customary systems rather than the state land registry, and due to the frequency of cross-border movements, land rights can be disputed, as the citizenship of those claiming land and resources are disputed.

The Eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of these complex and challenging borderlands that is emerging, slowly, unsteadily and precariously, from violent conflict. The history of the DRC is a complex and largely tragic story, too complicated to summarize here. In terms of recent events: during and since the ‘two rebellions’ of the 1990s, which were largely engineered by Rwanda, Uganda, and other regional countries, the country (especially the East) has seen massive bloodshed, some of which is described in Shane Quinn’s recent guest posting on TN. The security situation started to stabilize across most of the country in the mid-2000s as a result of a sequence of peace negotiations. Nevertheless, parts of the East, especially North Kivu Province, remained unstable. While most non-state armed groups engaged in the peace process and were integrated into the government, several groups refused to integrate, and maintained de facto politico-military control over significant swathes of territory.

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Regional advocacy on the UN human rights mapping exercise in the Democratic Republic of Congo

by Shane Quinn

With the focus on North Africa these days, it’s a little difficult to sway observers of human rights issues to other pressing situations such as that of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). After all, DRC has received its fair share of analysis over the years from human rights and rule of law to humanitarian and peace-building perspectives, and yet this conflict continues to bubble accompanied oftentimes by horrendous mass rapes and internecine massacres. DRC has become synonymous with a deficit of accountability and lack of recourse for victims of grave human rights abuses.

So how then, will the recently published UN Mapping Exercise on Grave Human Rights Abuses from 1993-2003 manage to establish some long awaited justice for the many victims of its wars? With great difficulty, is the proverbial answer. Although the report succeeds in pointing out the roles and responsibility for human rights abuses of different actors including the Congolese state and its neighbours in the region, the latter have effectively dismissed the report as groundless. The Rwandan government in particular has been highly critical of the mapping report and related lobbying and advocacy activities of civil society organizations (CSOs) in DR Congo and Rwanda, directly questioning the UN’s mapping methodology and referring to the content of the report as lies.

The Human Rights in Ireland blog gives a very balanced overview of the expectations on the mapping report, while also dampening the expectations felt by many civil society actors within the DRC and the Great Lakes. The fact of the matter is that this mapping report – while initially shaking the regional status quo by accusing Rwanda and Uganda amongst other countries of grave human rights abuses – has failed to ignite a regional push for greater accountability by either civil society or international actors.

It is early days of course, and only three months have passed since the publication of the report, but already plans are being laid for the elections in DRC in June 2011 and the mapping has not been mentioned as a central issue of any electoral campaign. Instead, the danger is that it assumes a similar fate to prior human rights reports conducted in Timor Leste and Sudan, which attracted little more than a passing glance by the international community. The worrying proof is also in the lack of hits on the internet since the publication date of 1 October last year. Having waiting for this report to be published, maybe civil society actors in the region can now start communicating across the region’s borders and try to establish some momentum before the elections.

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Upcoming guest-postings on Democratic Republic of Congo by Chris Huggins and Shane Quinn

by Rhodri C. Williams

As we become inured to a steady procession of breaking political and humanitarian crises, it is relatively easy to forget about the many protracted low-level conflict scenarios that seem to grind relentlessly forward, perpetuating human misery in isolated corners of the world without ever improving or deteriorating sufficiently to register very strongly in the public consciousness. The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is arguably the premier example of this phenomenon. Featured in the most recent issue of Forced Migration Review (FMR), the situation in DRC is succinctly described by former UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes as ‘a scandal that needs to end’.

With nearly two million internally displaced persons and a history of being locked into its own conflicts and victimized by those of its neighbors, the untapped human potential and resource wealth of DRC is staggering. However, the nervous initial reception and subsequent awkward silence surrounding an October 2010 UN Mapping Report on human rights violations committed between 1993 and 2003 in DRC hint at the extent of the challenges to addressing the root causes of conflict there. This blog has not done justice to land and human rights issues in DRC to date, but that is about to change thanks to the expertise of two upcoming guest-bloggers:

First, Chris Huggins will be contributing his third guest-posting on TN, this time introducing an October 2010 report he wrote for International Alert on ‘Land, Power and Identity: Roots of Violent Conflict in Eastern DRC’. As indicated in the title, Chris’ report focuses not only on the significance of land for individuals but also its role as a sustaining factor in inter-group conflicts, particularly in the volatile province of North Kivu.

Second, first time TN guest-blogger Shane Quinn describes the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) in the Great Lakes region in seeking to draw attention to the findings of the above-mentioned UN Human Rights Mapping Report. Efforts to end impunity and promote reparations for victims identified through the report have been proposed through both political processes such as the upcoming DRC elections and legal procedures such as those before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).

As in virtually all other contemporary conflicts, land is a crucial underlying issue in DRC. In both the findings of a recent RSC workshop and a number of articles in the latest issue of FMR (available for free download here), experts and practitioners have attested to the link between land competition and ethnic tensions that persist both within the eastern provinces of DRC and across its borders.

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