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Lax

July 28, 2009

Lax (adjective): lacking care, attention or control; not severe or strong enough:
He took a gun through baggage control to highlight the lax security.
The subcommittee contends that the authorities were lax in investigating most of the cases.

(Cambridge English Dictionary)

Lizzie Parsons uses this word in her last post at The Huffington Post:

For too long, companies, and governments of countries where they are based, have played a game of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil. They have chosen to ignore the blatant links between their trade and the atrocities in eastern DRC, allowing commercial interests to override the most basic human rights. It is time to challenge these attitudes and to start holding these companies to account.

Read more here.

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Umoja Wetu, part 2

July 28, 2009

I have just read this Reuter´s dispatch:

KIGALI, July 27 (Reuters) – Rwanda is prepared to take part in further joint military operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo to root out rebels operating there, President Paul Kagame said on Monday.

Congolese and Rwandan soldiers launched a joint operation in January against Hutu militia known as FDLR who took part in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, and who are also seen as a root cause of 15 years of festering conflict in eastern Congo.

Rwanda pulled out a month later and the rebels retook ground they lost during the offensive.

“We continue to be ready to work on solutions … including military operations… at short notice,” Kagame said”.

(…)

“The relationship between Rwanda and DRC has been improving very fast. I’d say it’s now at a good level. We want not only to keep it there, but also to advance it …. for the good of the people of the whole region,” Kagame told a news conference.

(…)

“Laurent Nkunda is not the problem in DRC. He’s a very small part of the problem. We need to look beyond him to the bigger issues,” Kagame said.

(…)

Some analysts have recommended that the two governments negotiate with FDLR members not wanted for genocide.

“They say, ‘talk to the FDLR’, but which one? Moderates? If they were moderates they would have returned home,” Kagame said”.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with a group of friends who had just returned from Rwanda. They had the opportunity to talk to several people. According to them, most of the people they found there live in fear.

Another friend of mine spent a few days in Rwanda recently. He had the impression that the country was “on the move”, economically speaking. However, he said that no one wanted to talk to him on the political situation. “Last time I came, people told me something about how things are going. This time it was impossible“.

Adam Hochschild´s article in the New York Review of Books

July 26, 2009

“There are even dilapidated court buildings in towns large and small, but, a lawyer tells us over dinner, with great feeling, “I’ve never, ever, seen a judge who wasn’t corrupt.” This is so routine, he and a colleague explain, that in civil disputes, the judge gets a percentage of the property value that the bribe-payer gains. People in such positions are then expected to send some of the take back up the line to those who appointed them; this is called “renvoyer l’ascenseur”—sending back the elevator. Being a judge in an area full of mining rights disputes is particularly lucrative. Other civil servants also earn extra: Goma is on the border with Rwanda, and one of the lawyers explains that the very hotel where we’re having dinner was built by a customs official. They point along the street to two more hotels owned by customs men.


(…)

A curious, very limited kind of pressure is being applied. Underlying the army’s long-standing practice of looting civilian goods and food is that soldiers often don’t get paid. “The money comes from Kinshasa,” a UN official explains, “then goes to Kisangani”—a city three quarters of the way to the eastern border—”and by the time it gets down to company level there’s not much left.” To deal with this problem, the European Union has sent a fifty-five-man military mission here.

One member is Bob Arnst, a short, wiry man with a crew cut, who is a sergeant major in the Dutch army. He is stationed in Bunia, and talks about his work one evening in the UN’s café and recreation center, where a security guard at the gate has the job of keeping out local prostitutes.

“Everything is in cash. They bring the money in big packages, 120 by 80 by 20 centimeters. In great bricks. We’re expecting a convoy now. When the money arrives, they count it again, bill by bill.” Arnst and two French soldiers watch the count at the local army headquarters, after which paymasters from half a dozen battalions arrive in SUVs to collect the funds for their units. “Most of them [the paymasters] have very nice clothing. Once a colonel showed up with his bodyguard and I asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ And he said, ‘I’ve come to see where my money is.’ And I said, ‘It’s not your money.'”

In the days following, Arnst and his French colleagues visit Congolese battalions in the field, usually dropping in by surprise in a UN helicopter. “We ask soldiers, ‘Did you get your payment?'”

And if they didn’t? On three occasions in the last few months, entire units were not paid. Arnst reported each case to his EU superiors in Kinshasa, and a Dutch colonel applied pressure at the Ministry of Defense. Each time, the commander was forced to turn over the money to his troops—but was not arrested or disciplined.

(…)

Read the full article here.

In their own words. Unmissable.

July 22, 2009

These are quotes of the latest Global Witness report on the Militarisation of Mining in the DRC, Faced With A Gun What Can you Do?

Thank God that we have Global Witness.

In their Own Words

Quotes from Global Witness Report . All quotes below are from interviews carried out by Global Witness in North and South Kivu (eastern DRC) unless otherwise stated.

Involvement of the Congolese army in the exploitation of minerals

“When you’re faced with a gun, what can you do, as a simple civilian? […] They ask for money […] They ask for gold or cassiterite. Whatever happens, you have to give it.” – A miner from Shabunda (South Kivu) describing extortion at military roadblocks. Bukavu, 28 July 2008.

“If a person has a rank in the army, he has access to natural resources.” – UN official, Goma, 22 July 2008.

“Please tell the government to tell the military to stop this. The population is suffering.” – Miner in Tubimbi (South Kivu), 29 July 2008.

“They don’t want to leave because of the minerals […] All the commanders send money back from the minerals to the provincial commander […] Everyone knows what is happening but no one dares to say it.” – UN official, Bukavu, 28 July 2008.

“You can’t export fraudulently if you don’t have the support of the army […] The state itself has destroyed all the structures of the state […] Fraud is the rule.” – Senior civil servant, Bukavu, 28 July 2008.

“There is a mineshaft people call ‘10th military region’. No one can touch it.” – Congolese researcher describing the gold mining area of Mushinga (South Kivu). Bukavu, 25 July 2008.

“Soldiers never mine […] It is not possible” – Captain Musa Kyabele Freddy, commander of the 2nd company of the 12th integrated FARDC battalion, Tubimbi (South Kivu), 29 July 2009.

Involvement of the FDLR in the exploitation of minerals

“They don’t want to leave because of the natural wealth. They are like bees swarming on honey. They prefer to die there.” – Resident of Bukavu, referring to the FDLR, 26 July 2008.

“The Congolese can’t set up business in competition with the FDLR. They may just sell minerals which belong to the FDLR. The FDLR are becoming very rich. They have been sitting on these minerals for 14 years”. – Human rights activist from South Kivu discussing the FDLR’s control of the mineral trade, 25 July 2008.

“If a mine is discovered by the population, the FDLR come and take it over […] No one can stop them. People just observe.” – Member of Congolese non-governmental organisation, Goma, 22 July 2008.
“People simply can’t refuse to work for them” – Member of Congolese NGO describing the relationship between the FDLR and Congolese civilians, Bukavu, 24 July 2008.

“We are their meat, their animals. We have nothing to say.” – A miner from Shabunda, subjected to extortion at FDLR roadblocks during his 340-km trek from Shabunda to Bukavu on foot, Bukavu, 28 July 2008.

“We are only involved in agricultural activities […] It is totally false that the FDLR are involved in mining in this area. All we do is buy things like soap.” Commander of an FDLR brigade in South Kivu, Luvungi, 31 July 2008.

Collusion between the Congolese army and the FDLR


“The collaboration is quasi-official.” Human rights activist, Goma, 8 August 2008.

“[The FDLR] just want guarantees of security […]. You have to get to know them and get to know their reality here […]. God did this – made for them to be in an area where there are natural resources. Otherwise […] people would have died.” Senior army official speaking in a personal capacity, Bukavu, 30 July 2008.

“[The FARDC and the FDLR] don’t attack each other. Where both are present, they share the spoils and both extort from the population.” Human rights activist, Bukavu, 27 July 2008.

“[In certain areas, the FDLR] are stronger and more numerous than the FARDC […] They are masters of the place.” NGO representative from Bukavu, 21 July 2008.

“The FARDC have to go through FDLR areas. They negotiate with each other. They agree not to attack each other. They respect each other’s zones. They each administer their own zones and collect ‘taxes’.” – Congolese researcher explaining the arrangements between the FARDC and FDLR in strategic locations in Shabunda (South Kivu). Bukavu, 25 July 2008.

Involvement of other armed groups in the exploitation of minerals

“The mai-mai take everything. They don’t give anything to the miners.” – Local development worker discussing mai-mai involvement in gold mining in Mukera, near Fizi, Baraka, 2 August 2008.

Traders

“We all end up buying minerals which, in some way, have been produced illegally. You can’t just ask us to stop. We have no alternatives other than closing.” – Representative of a comptoir (mineral trading company), Goma, 9 August 2008.

“Everyone knows who the FDLR intermediaries are but they won’t say in case it implicates them. The FARDC are also involved. Everyone, including the authorities, is involved […] They all know each other but won’t say [their names]. But we know which comptoirs they sell to […]” – UN official, speaking about the relationship between traders and armed groups. Bukavu, 28 July 2008.

“The comptoirs are seen everywhere around the mines.” – Official of a humanitarian agency, Goma, 7 August 2008.
“Your hypothesis according to which we should verify the exact origin of every kilo of exported material is inappropriate in the current context in Congo.” – Letter to Global Witness from F. Muylaert of Belgian
company Trademet, 22 January 2009.

At the international level

“Natural resources are not on the table of topics in peace talks. Almost every other issue is. Yet it’s one of the keys to resolution of the conflict.” – UN official, Goma, 22 July 2008.

GW: Faced with a gun, what can you do?

July 22, 2009

“European and Asian companies, including Bangkok-based THAISARCO (a subsidiary of British metals group AMC), UK-based Afrimex, and Belgium-based Trademet have been buying minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that are funding armed groups and fuelling conflict, said Global Witness in a report published today.
The 110-page report, entitled ‘Faced with a gun, what can you do?’, details how companies are buying from suppliers who trade in minerals from the warring parties. Many mining areas in eastern DRC are controlled by rebels and the national army, who violently exploit civilians to retain access to valuable minerals, including cassiterite (tin ore), coltan and gold. Cassiterite and coltan are used to make mobile phones, computers and other electronics, among other things.
Global Witness wrote to 200 companies and found that most had no controls in place to stop ‘conflict minerals’ entering their supply chain. It says governments, including the UK and Belgium, are undermining their own development assistance and diplomatic efforts to end the 12-year conflict by failing to crack down on companies based within their borders.
Informed by on-the-ground investigations and interviews in North and South Kivu, the report reveals that despite being on opposing sides, the national Congolese army and rebel groups, in particular the FDLR, regularly cooperate with each other, carving up territory and occasionally sharing the spoils of illegal mining. It warns that the recent integration of another armed group, the CNDP, into the national army will make it easier for the former rebels to get ‘in on the act’ of exploiting the mines.
“Despite recent political and military developments, including the apparent rapprochement between the DRC and Rwanda, violence against unarmed civilians is continuing and countless lives are lost each day. All the warring parties in the DRC are systematically using forced labour and violent extortion in mining areas,” said Patrick Alley, Director of Global Witness”.

Find all the information here.

HRW: letter to Sweden on mineral trade with the DRC

July 22, 2009

(…)”The armed groups and military units controlling many mining areas are carrying out horrific human rights abuses against the civilian population. As we write to you, brutal attacks against unarmed civilians in North and South Kivu are on the increase. Those responsible for the violence include the Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and soldiers of the Congolese national army – both of whom are heavily involved in mining and trading in cassiterite (tin ore), coltan and gold. Without sources of funding derived from the mineral trade, it is doubtful that groups such as the FDLR would be able to sustain their operations at the current level” (…).

Read more here.

About Western commitment to peace in the Great Lakes Region

July 5, 2009

The European Union has recently reaffirmed its “commitment” towards peace  in Eastern Congo.

I have been living in Goma for the last nine months, and I have seen the fruits of Western diplomacy in the field. However, if peace is supposed to be the ultimate goal, I have doubts about current strategies in this region.

Any civilian from Ufamandu, Masisi, would understand what I mean.

In spite of its supposed goodwill, I am afraid that part of the diplomatic strategy in place  is actually fuelling violence. As a European, I am very sorry to say this.

In october 2008, CNDP forces were threatening to take Goma, North Kivu. An advocacy campaign was launched by many international NGOs (headed by Oxfam) for the deployment of a EU force in the Kivus. On the basis of their experience, these NGOs understood that a EU force deployment was the only option to protect civilians, because:

-FARDC forces were (and are) much more of a problem than a solution. Many of their soldiers systematically rape and humiliate women. They treat civilians as pack mules to carry their belongings. They are endemically not paid, and hence they loot and extort civilian population on a daily basis. To put it in another way, you can not ask the fox to take care of the chicken.

-MONUC does not fullfill its job of protection. The mandate is there (Chapter 7), but there is no political will to exercise the use of force. Countries sending blue helmets do not want casualties. And blue helmets are deployed, yes, but too many times they stay in their barracks and do not protect the people in need. It happened in Kiwanja: CNDP killed hundreds of civilians at literally a stone´s throw from the MONUC position, and blue helmets did not move. It happens in Masisi: local people from  Masisi centre explained me recently this same behaviour. Blue helmets stay in their barracks, they rarely get out. They all seem to be counting the days to leave each position. And examples of this behaviour keep on taking place (read the last one here).

With these two forces as main guarantors of civilian safety, you understand better why NGOs were pushing so hard for a EU force deployment.

Just after the CNDP threatened to take to Goma, in October last year, the EU seemed to react.  Bernard Kouchner and David Milliband came to the Kivus and expressed their commitment to the people of Goma. And Gordon Brown himself talked publicly about the women of the Kivus (“Women of the Kivus, we do not forget you”, he said). So many of us thought: “Hey, these guys seem to be doing something”.

However, no EU force was sent. CNDP kept on controlling a vast region of Masisi and Rutshuru and they seemed unstoppable. Pessimism and deception were growing, because nothing was happening (around February), and many started to wonder: “they are the leaders of the free world… aren´t they supposed to do something?”.

Then, in January, all of a sudden and to the astonishment of all experts, the political situation turned 180º.  CNDP and PARECO abandoned fighting, Nkunda was arrested (by Rwanda!) and both Rwanda and the DRC joined forces in a military operation, Umoja Wetu (“Our Unity”), to put an end to the FDLR in the Kivus. Diplomatic commitment and international pressure were giving its fruits after months of talks.

Since March, it seems clearer and clearer that, far from solving problems, the current strategy actually creates havoc, as it  presents serious deficiencies in its very own foundations:

-The belief that a military operation can eliminate FDLR forces proved to be wrong, as everyone has acknowledged. Far from solving the issue, Umoja Wetu created more suffering. Once again, civilians paid the price of being between the sword and the wall and suffered FDLR retaliation.

The problem is, a military operation of similar characteristics (Kimya II) is about to start in South Kivu. In spite of the human rights records of the FARDC, MONUC is going to support it logistically.

MONUC collaboration with an army responsible of human rights violations (FARDC) seriously deteriorates the image of the UN and makes it accomplice of the atrocities.

In fact, the UN presence in the DRC has developed a schizofrenic nature. On the one hand, you have those who support militarily the FARDC in the field (MONUC). And on the other hand, in the very same organization, you have those who arrive later to pick up the pieces (OCHA, UNHCR, WFP). In other words, they are serving God and the Devil. Many UN humanitarian officials are aware of this and deplore this collaboration. Many consider it shameful and against the principles of impartiality and independence the UN is supposed to stand for.

-The presentation of the FDLR problem as a purely military issue is wrong, and those who present it like that are aware of this. It is political as well as military. The EU knows it, but it has proven to be deliberately, strategically, blind regarding the political situation in Rwanda. As Filip Reyntjens denounced, the report of EU electoral observers in the last Rwandan municipal elections was manipulated, precisely to avoid what it was supposed to do: provide an accurate diagnosis of  the degree of transparency of these elections.

MONUC supporting FARDC, the EU manipulating reports…  the word “commitment” reveals new meanings I had not think of.