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Seizing This Moment of Hope: Towards a Secure Future in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Executive Summary

For more than a decade, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has struggled with one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Yet, improbably, that situation has improved markedly over the past few years. Seventy percent of the electorate has voted in the first democratic contest for president in four decades; violence in the east has eased, largely due to the presence of the UN peacekeeping force, MONUC; and humanitarian response has improved even as internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees begin to return home. No longer is the DRC an intractable quagmire: it has arrived at a moment of hope that must be seized.

The international community must now redouble its efforts to help those still in need and further stabilize the country, to build on the improvements made and protect its already substantial investment. The priority is action—this is no time for efforts to lag or attention to wander. The DRC is vital for strategic as well as humanitarian reasons, with staggering potential as well as tremendous suffering. Its vast natural resources could be a motor for regional development and stability, but instead have fueled regional confl ict following the collapse of the Mobutu regime in the 1990s. Four million people have died as a result, and 1.6 million remain displaced inside the DRC today. Despite the signs of hope brought by the elections, fighting and displacement will continue during the year to come, even as a new government takes power and long-term development programs take root.

The most pressing humanitarian priority is increasing security for civilians by reforming the Congolese armed forces, expanding MONUC, and implementing the embargo on arms and natural resources. Pockets of violence, displacement, and need persist throughout the east, internally displaced people live just beyond the reach of assistance, and attempts by the displaced to return home are thwarted by fighting. The FARDC—the new Congolese national army—is the most serious threat. Despite a process of integration designed to create a professional defense force, the FARDC’s ill-trained and underpaid troops, a collection of former government and rebel forces, are abandoned by their commanders, forcing them to live off the backs of the population and opening the door to brutal abuse—particularly rape.

Civilians also come under attack from local militias and rebel groups seeking control over natural resources or fighting against neighboring governments. Joint operations between the FARDC and MONUC to subdue these groups have displaced hundreds of thousands since January 2006, with little strategic gain. MONUC has come under pressure from the U.S., its largest contributor, to pursue such a military solution, but neither MONUC nor the FARDC has the capacity to implement it.

In addition, the UN Security Council recently extended an embargo on the fl ow of weapons and the natural resources that pay for them to and from the DRC. MONUC again does not have the capacity to monitor and enforce this embargo, despite a specific mandate to do so, due to a lack of troops, equipment, and intelligence capabilities. The embargo is crucial to choking off the source of confl ict in the DRC, but has never been respected. Rwanda and Uganda have a particular role to play in this regard, and the ongoing flow of arms from their territories into eastern DRC demonstrates their failure.

In the ever-widening areas where peace makes assistance possible, more humanitarian funding and continued coordination between agencies remain critical. Help is needed in areas of crisis and displacement, where lives are in danger, as well as in areas of resolution and return, where lives are being rebuilt. In North Kivu and Ituri, displacement has increased over the past several months, straining the capacity of donors, UN agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to respond. A new initiative, the Rapid Response Mechanism, has performed well by establishing NGO teams that can respond quickly to new displacement crises with shelter and household kits, food, and water. In terms of return and resettlement, however, the response so far has been slow. Given the scale of the problem, donors and agencies need to identify the areas of return that they will assist fi rst, focusing on those that will draw the largest number of displaced or that are most at risk of renewed fi ghting. They will need to meet basic humanitarian needs fi rst, then move swiftly to ensure the ongoing safety of the population as well as access to markets, clean water, education, and health care.

Humanitarian response for both displacement and return is dependent on funding—and funding for the crisis in the DRC is completely inadequate. If the objective is minimum standards of assistance for all who need it, then donors are not providing the required resources. The problem is compounded by the fact that humanitarian action in the DRC is expensive: distances are long, infrastructure non-existent, and corruption endemic. The United Nations laid out the most comprehensive picture to date of humanitarian needs and proposed responses for the DRC in its 2006 Action Plan, yet donors have not taken the appeal seriously, supplying only one-third of the requested $680 million. Donors have begun contributing more to longterm development programs, but the shift is creating a gap in short-term assistance that could save lives now. The European Union, in particular, has cut off support for humanitarian assistance before its development funding has become available.

The quality of humanitarian response also depends on coordination. The DRC is a pilot country for the Cluster Leadership Approach and the Pooled Fund, a pair of intertwined initiatives that have improved coordination but may be having a negative impact on funding. The Cluster Leadership Approach has brought together UN agencies and international NGOs (although not local representatives) to set priorities in sectors such as protection or water and sanitation. The Pooled Fund was established to ensure that unfunded projects designed to meet priority needs could indeed be implemented, and a few European donors (in particular the United Kingdom) have contributed substantially. The Fund uses Cluster recommendations in awarding grants, creating a powerful incentive for NGOs to participate, thus improving coordination. However, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), in its role as Fund administrator, has not been able to disburse funds in a timely manner. There is also a concern that the Fund favors UN agencies, with their high overhead costs, at the expense of more effi cient (but also more limited) NGO projects.

Improvements in security, assistance, funding, and coordination are humanitarian imperatives for the DRC. The hope fostered by improvements over the past few years, capped by the recent elections, must drive the Congolese people, their government, and the international community—the United States and other leading international actors, regional actors, donor agencies and appropriators, the United Nations, NGOs, and the media—to redouble efforts to stop the killing and displacement of civilians, meet the basic needs of those affected by the conflict, and help people get home and rebuild.

Refugees International therefore recommends that:

Improving security

  • The DRC request that the United States and other donors invest in the FARDC by increasing salaries, extending and improving training, and supporting the prosecution of soldiers and their superiors as necessary for abuses, especially rape.
  • The new Congolese government request, and the UN Security Council authorize, a twelve month expansion of MONUC, adding four additional battalions to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian response; deter armed groups while encouraging their disarmament and demobilization; support FARDC reform; and enforce the embargo on weapons and natural resources.
  • Rwanda and Uganda begin enforcing the embargo on weapons and natural resources, with the U.S. and the United Kingdom, as supporters of the two countries, assisting them as well as holding them accountable (through the UN Security Council if necessary) for violations.

Improving assistance

  • The new president of the DRC appoint a high-level coordinator for humanitarian affairs; the new prime minister promote the most technically qualifi ed staff to head relevant ministries at both the national and provincial levels; and the new national assembly establish a committee to monitor humanitarian needs and response.
  • The DRC government, donors, UN agencies, and NGOs work together to strengthen the Rapid Response Mechanism and improve IDP camp management and assistance to survivors of rape. In addition, donors must resolve current food shortages by increasing contributions to the World Food Programme.
  • DRC government agencies, donors, UN agencies, and NGOs accelerate efforts within the Early Recovery Cluster to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to encourage and facilitate the return and resettlement of IDPs, refugees, and ex-combatants.

Improving funding

  • Donors increase their contributions for humanitarian response in the DRC, including security and peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and coordination.
  • Donors, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the DRC, and the World Bank work to manage the shift from humanitarian to development funding, ensuring that implementing agencies do not have to suspend projects and lay off experienced staff during the transition.

Improving coordination

  • The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNDP complete the rollout of the Early Recovery Cluster and link it fi rmly to the Protection Cluster so that IDP and refugee return is voluntary and safe as well as rapid.
  • Under the leadership of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, OCHA increase local involvement in the Cluster groups, and UNDP improve its coordinating capacity as MONUC withdraws.