The Price of Freedom: Rebuilding the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Reprinted from GIMUN’s Chronicles

By Ashlee Pitts

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Photo credit: Flickr/ US Army Africa

Congolese soldiers patrol the outskirts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the threat of M23 resurfaces. The group has executed and displaced hundreds of people in their attempts to cause unrest and collapse the government. The DRC is in a fragile state in part due to its militaristic and violent history of armed conflicts. DR Congo has also initiated strikes against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) Hutu militants after the group failed to disarm by the deadline proposed by the Congolese government.

Within the past fifteen years, the country has undergone attempted coups by rebel groups, disruptively frequent shifts in legislation and government, and the assassination of the late former President Laurent Kabila. Civilians are left to suffer while the country continues to dramatically and unpredictably spiral out of control. Back-to-back armed conflicts, political turmoil and poor leadership are just a few of the many contributing factors that paint a much larger picture of the problems that exist within the country. International aid and the multiple United Nations peacekeeping missions have played a role in relieving the tension that has risen from the intense aftermath or ongoing conflicts. Given that all the parties involved agree to ceasefires and resort to negotiations, conflicts are much more likely to fissile. In this case, the government’s unwavering resistance for effective change inherently stunts progression.

The Cycle Continues

Newfound hope emerged by the end of  2013. The Peace, Security and Cooperative Framework  (PSCF) was signed and the defeat of M23 gave promise to the country. However, the momentum behind the positive changes and optimism departed nearly as fast as it arrived. Going into 2014, widespread  violence and armed conflict continued to operate. History suggests that the DRC, like many other countries in the post-colonial eras, are left in political ruins which serves as a precursor to much larger implications. Authoritarian leaders emerge in an uprising in part of an already destabilized state. This points to the vital need for a country to have a stable government in order to restore peace and provide safety with the necessary tools to govern in good faith.

Security Council Resolution 1820

The UN Resolution 1820 established in 2008 recognized rape as a weapon of war and threat to international security. The effectiveness of the resolution in the case of DRC is less than satisfactory as women continue to be an easy target. M23 has also added rape and torture of women to their list of tactics and strategy of war. The United Nations’ Security Council recognizes that ordering mass rapes are methods used by opposition parties to humiliate, dehumanized and strip their victims of their dignity which inevitably and irrevocably has a catastrophic impact on the community entirely. In many cases women who are victims of rape are often shunned from their communities and falsehood of shame is placed upon them. The psychological tearing that occurs for victims of  rape have also been recognized by the United Nations. Many victims are left to endure, without the critical support to recover from such a heinous crime. For the overwhelming majority of the DRC’s history, perpetrators of these kind of crimes were not fearful of prosecution or punishment. The raping of women was almost to be expected, particularly in times of war.

The daunting reality is that most of the victims of rape will not see their abuser be brought to justice; but there is hope. In May of  2014, two Congolese men were convicted of rape as well as other charges under the umbrella of wrongdoings against humanity and war crimes. Former DRC Vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba was brought to the International Criminal Court for allegedly allowing his troops to participate in mass rapes and slaughter in the Central African Republic for roughly two years. The indictment and convicted commanding officer Lt-Col Kibibi Mutware in 2011 was also a step in the right direction. A court found him guilty of crimes against humanity in which dozens of women were given the opportunity to testify.

Necessary Intervention

The government and their seemingly effortless attempts to provide security for their people may be just as harmful, if not more, than the presence of armed rebel groups. There is a deeply rooted distrust for the government by the people and in turn individual factions are formed to fight back in one way or another. This is a dangerous trend and clearly contributes to the cycle of violence. There have been reports of police brutality, unwarranted arrests, exploitation and abuse inflicted on the people by law enforcement.

Needless to say this is counterproductive in the movement towards peace and stability in the country. The government’s credibility is shot every time a man, woman or child begins to believe that the people that are meant to protect them is actually to be feared. The highly publicized government corruption and armed conflict within and surrounding the country have proven to be cancerous. Obtaining and maintaining peace in the DRC is highly contingent upon the overall effectiveness of  the Congolese government and their responsibility to bring about positive transformations.

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