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UN Soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The local populace of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) launched protests against UN peacekeepers on account of the latter’s failure to safeguard civilians from rebel groups, who deeply penetrated the extremely volatile eastern part of the country. In June, various demonstrators attacked and looted UN buildings, accusing UN soldiers under the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO) of having overstayed in the region.

MONUSCO’s Journey in the DRC

MONUSCO, one of the largest UN missions, was established in the DRC to deliver peace and stability in the region. From some 90 soldiers in 1999, the peacekeeping force has grown into one of the largest and most robust operations of the UN. At present, MONUSCO has deployed nearly 12,000 soldiers and 1,600 police officers to maintain security in the region. According to various sources, the UN force achieved considerable success in defending and strengthening community services such as protecting children and financing infrastructural projects. However, it could not solve the security problems in an absolute manner. MONUSCO routinely executes numerous activities such as intelligence gathering and exchange, offering regular technical and logistical assistance to local security officials to prevent attacks in the country.

Since the 1990s, the eastern provinces of the DRC have been on the receiving end of escalating conflicts.The presence of various rebel groups in Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces, as well as bordering areas of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania, endangered and displaced millions of people.The security situation of the entire eastern region has become volatile with an upsurge of armed groups like M23. According to a report by the United Nations, approximately 700,000 people in 2022 fled to other areas, adding to the already displaced 5.5 million people.

In 2013, the UN Security Council initiated Force Intervention Brigade against armed group M23, given the group’s growing proliferation had caused instability in the region. Despite the Brigade’s initial success in containing M23, it only proved to be short-lived. The M23’s recent revival demonstrated the weakness of the brigade in halting the insurgency by the armed group. Congolese have lost their faith in the ability of the UN on account of its lack of resources, capacity building, failure to connect with the local communities’ interests and needs, and allegations of human rights violations.

It is noteworthy to mention that the United Nations launched peacekeeping operations in 1948 in nearly 70 countries across the world. At present, the UN has 12 peacekeeping operations with a total peacekeeping operations in 1948 in nearly 70 countries across the world. At present, the UN has 12 peacekeeping operations with a total of 87,844 personnel from 121 countries. However, since its inception, 4128 peacekeepers had lost their lives during various operations in particular volatile parts of Africa. The DRC is no exception. The country witnessed the killing of 15 peacekeepers from Bangladesh and Guatemala respectively in 2005 -2006 in the hands of the rebel group Allied Democratic Forces. The most appalling attack against UN Peacekeepers and civilians occurred on December 8, 2017.

In an attack in North Kivu, bordering Rwanda and Uganda, the Allied Democratic Force (ADF) killed peacekeepers and five Congolese soldiers and injured 53 people in an attack in North Kivu. Analysts termed this incursion as one of the worst attacks against UN blue helmets in its history. The encounter on the UN peacekeeping mission by ADF drew the attention of the international community, who soon afterward criticised ADF for carrying out mass fatalities and also for its recruitment and use of children as terrorists. The US Department of Treasury branded the ADF “for targeting children in situations of armed conflict, including through killing, rape, abduction, and forced displacement.” The Department also stated, ” The ADF, with an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 armed fighters, launched a series of attacks in 2013 against civilians in the DRC, forcing thousands of people to flee into Uganda and abducting or killing those that attempted to return.” 

Beginning of Hostility towards UN Peacekeepers

Both the UN Mission and the government of DRC continue to condemn each other for escalating the volatile state of affairs in the country. MONUSCO blamed the government of the DRC for its unreasonable and solitary reliance on protecting the country. In the words of Khassim Diagne, a Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, “The MONUSCO never claimed to be the panacea to the security problems of the DRC. We operate in support of the state to protect and bring stability. ” Thomas Fessy, a senior DRC researcher for Human Rights Watch, said, “The UN’s failures should not absolve the Congolese government from its responsibilities as regular troops are often among perpetrators and abusers.”

The present government, under the leadership of President Felix Tshisekedi, has formulated a working plan for the complete retreat of UN forces in 2021. Meanwhile, the government of DRC is also vigilant about the repercussions of pulling out UN soldiers from the war-torn country given the open existence of militia groups.

Recent Protest as a Major Drive to Pull Out UN Forces from DRC

Protests in the Democratic Republic of Congo questioned the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping operations in protecting civilians and advancing the security system of the country. The present conflict traces its origins to the comments of MONUSCO Spokesperson Mathias Gillmann from DR Congo. During an interview with French radio station RFI, Mathias Gilmann said that the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC did not have enough military equipment to challenge the violent activities of the rebel group M23.

However, MONUSCO later regretted its decision to expel Mr. Gillmann. They released a statement, “Monusco regrets the expulsion of its spokesman by the Congolese government. The Mission is committed to continuing to work alongside the Congolese population and authorities to implement the mandate entrusted to it by the Security Council. “

Violent anti-UN protests in the DRC induced apprehension across the world, including the United States. Protesters have already killed UN peacekeepers from India and Morocco.US State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “MONUSCO plays a critical role in fostering peace and security, protecting civilians, and facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance. We call on the national and local authorities in the DRC to ensure the protection of MONUSCO sites and personnel and for protesters to express their sentiments peacefully. “

As a result, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo considered withdrawing its troops from the country after weeks of deadly protests. General elections are expected to be held in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in December 2023.