Intervention in the Fifth Circle of Hell

Mr. Richard O’Brien
Director, The Center for the Prevention of Genocide

This month we are witness to an historic intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  The International community, led by the European Union, is sending the United Nations’ equivalent of the cavalry to stem the massacres of innocent Hema and Lendu civilians who live in the Northeastern Province of Ituri, DRC.  It is an historic yet incredibly flawed mandate that will likely feature the nightmare scenario of UN-mandated peacekeepers battling 7-13-year-old child warriors to protect the innocent.

 Other troubling aspects to this mission include the lack of mandate to disarm combatants, the lack of ability to respond to massacres in the countryside of Bunia, the town where the peacekeepers are stationed, and the brevity of the mission.  This first deployment is scheduled to pull out at the end of August, a blink of time in the span of this conflict.  At stake is the likelihood that more innocents will be bludgeoned, beaten, hacked and machine-gunned to death when the mission ends or where the mission does not protect.  There are reasonable arguments for a limited, more manageable scope to the mandate.  However, the arguments for strengthening the commitment in Bunia are far more powerful: an 87-year-old grandmother cut down by machine gun fire as her family flees an approaching militia; villagers of one ethnicity brought to a town center, tortured and executed in full public view; patients in hospitals massacred in their beds in reprisal for killings in other remote villages. The accounts of horror stories will continue unabated with half measures and incomplete mandates.

 Over a year ago, the Center for the Prevention of Genocide narrowed the list of rebel groups and foreign armies fighting in DRCongo. Our list comprised of 15 armed groups, including seven foreign armies.  A year later, in a startling turn of events, Rwanda appears to have completely pulled out, with the exception of their proxies, and Uganda recently followed suit. Ironically it has been Uganda’s withdrawal that has destabilized Ituri Province further, creating the need for a stabilizing and protective force.

 There are three hotspots, all in the east of DRCongo, which deserve attention: Ituri Province; North Kivu, where internally displaced people from Ituri Province are straining meager relief resources; and South Kivu, where inter-rebel group conflict has escalated to include the targeting of civilians.  The peace process is now fully engaged in DR Congo, providing a realistic prospect to the end of this horrible civil war that has claimed over two million lives. There are a number of solutions for the problems that ail this nation: early warning systems; conflict prevention, resolution and intervention; even perhaps the use of armed, peace-operation professionals.  Whatever the solutions, prolonged attention is required.

 Today, many of the world’s remote hotspots are in remission.  Sudan has a fragile peace.  Indonesia is stable save Aceh.  Burundi is receiving the international attention it deserves.  Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army is considering meeting with the government at the negotiating table. India has sent large police forces to ensure peace during contentious religious celebrations. The Chechen conflict seems to be abating after the recent plebiscite.  But DR Congo, with millions dead, remains the most volatile, most recent, and most likely scene of genocide and genocidal activities. Ignoring it would be an act of fatal indifference. Let those of us who have vowed “never again” remain vigilant and continue to commit resources to this beautiful area that can at a moment’s notice descend into a hellish conflagration.


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