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Without Precedent or Prejudice? UNSC Resolution 2098 and its Potential Implications for the Humanitarian Space in Eastern Congo and Beyond

In 2013, a climate of insecurity persists in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), despite the presence of the United Nations’ (UN) largest peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO.[i] DRC’s recent past saw armed groups mushrooming and successively challenging the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). In vast, contested areas, territory repeatedly changes hands and the region remains marked by recurring changes in alliances between armed groups as well as their continued re-configuration and (re-)emergence. The defunct March 23 movement (M23) and the Raia Mutomboki (Kiswahili for ‘angered citizens’) are but two examples.[ii] While the former was a well-organized rebel army, the latter is a loose franchise movement consisting of nationalist grassroots militia.

Against this backdrop, M23’s taking of Goma in November 2012 was a watershed moment, launching regional and international discussions on potential responses that took into account the roles of both the FARDC and of the neighboring states of Rwanda and Uganda in eastern DRC. At the same time, the humanitarian consequences have been harrowing. Of over 2.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) documented countrywide by the UN in September 2013,[iii] more than 1.6 million people are currently internally displaced in the Kivus. From April to December 2012 alone, 500,000 people were estimated to have been newly displaced by events surrounding the fall of Goma (where lots of IDP camps are situated across the urban periphery), as humanitarian actors struggle to meet the resulting needs.[iv]

While conflicts in DRC have a rather cyclical nature, violence and displacement in the provinces of North and South Kivu have led to chronic emergencies fostered by elite contest, economic interests, land conflict, ethnic divisions, and impunity. Providing humanitarian assistance in such contexts is a challenge—with scarce infrastructures and staff present along with poor road and air transport. Violence affects both the population and those assisting, with the UN reporting over 200 security incidents that affected humanitarians in the Kivus in 2012.[v] For instance, health facilities in the region likewise regularly face violence directed at staff and patients.[vi]

Drawing on field experience of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in eastern DRC and beyond, as well as on wider analyses on UN peacekeeping in eastern DRC[vii], this article examines the fraught issue of MONUSCO’s mandate, as well as the relationship between UN peacekeeping and humanitarian action in eastern DRC today. Based on this analysis, the authors look ahead to the possible consequences of the Intervention Brigade for humanitarian action in this fragile region. The piece will conclude with reflections on similar developments in peacekeeping in other key current contexts—including Mali and Somalia—to draw attention to risks facing humanitarian action where it operates alongside international peacekeeping.

UNSC Resolution 2098 (S/RES/2098)

The United Nations Security Council in March 2013 approved Resolution 2098 (2013)[viii], extending MONUSCO’s much debated mandate—a combination of ostensibly juxtaposed civilian protection with restoration of state authority—and adding the UN’s “first-ever ‘offensive’ combat force,” intended to carry out targeted operations to “neutralize and disarm” belligerent groups in eastern DRC characterized as “destabilizing” or “negative[ly] impact[ing] on the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation.” While not openly argued so, this is a clear political reaction to MONUSCO’s inability to hinder M23 rebels taking Goma. In that sense, M23 was the first target: together with FARDC, MONUSCO defeated the rebel movement in November 2013 after a series of sharp military offensives.

Although the UN’s newly-formed Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) is not intended to “create a precedent,” the open-endedness of the new force against the background of a long-standing confusion about the existing MONUSCO/MONUC mandate raises serious concerns for the complex co-existence of military forces and humanitarian actors in the Kivus.[ix]  Concerns have been voiced such as that

“the establishment of a robust brigade comprising of 3000 men popularly known as the “Intervention Brigade” with the responsibility of neutralizing armed groups. It is therefore expected that the reinforcement of the mandate with the addition of neutralizing armed groups will lead to the UN mission being perceived as a full participant in hostilities which also has implications for UN humanitarian agencies and the wider humanitarian community.” [x]

As with MONUC in past, MONUSCO’s protection task regularly stands in tension with its role of support to the Congolese military, figuring as much as other armed groups being among the reasons for insecurity. The confusion around the force’s mandate has long been discussed in terms of its fall-out for protection of civilians (PoC), and its impact on the real and perceived neutrality of humanitarians, and thus for humanitarian access in eastern DRC. The FIB potentially amplifies this effect, moving MONUSCO from the role of support or joint operations with the FARDC to potentially acting as an autonomous belligerent itself. Wherever humanitarians are seen as part of this shift, the negotiation of humanitarian access may thus be rendered increasingly difficult.

This complex situation is not only exacerbated by recurring misunderstandings between peacekeeping operations and humanitarian NGOs, but also in DRC by the de facto dependence of numerous humanitarian actors on MONUSCO for their working space, as well as by some NGOs’ politicized positioning (i.e. when they depend on UN funding).

Background: The State of Play—MONUSCO and humanitarianism today

“MONUC-Biscuit!” (Congolese children greeting for all foreigners)

With confusion and criticism already surrounding MONUSCO, humanitarian actors’ wider concerns revolve around practical co-existence with the force at field level, in particular avoiding assimilation between MONUSCO’s and humanitarians’ objectives and agendas. Two overarching concerns persist around 1) UN integrated missions and 2) MONUC/MONUSCO’s mandate to support FARDC and the consequences for perception of humanitarian actors in the field. These debates are only sharpened by the recent UNSC Resolution 2098 and the addition of the FIB.

Since the late 1990s, UN integrated missions have sought to bring together military, political and aid objectives into a coherent approach—an approach questioned based on field-tested concerns about ‘blurring the lines’ between humanitarian activities and military, political or other objectives that risk compromising perceptions of neutrality and impartiality and thus access and security for humanitarians and their beneficiaries.[xi] Still sought after today, integration is a buzzword that remains a chimera. Formal structural integration between roles and responsibilities exists, for example in the overcharged, ‘triple-hatted’ position of Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Coordinator (DSRSG/HC/RC). A paradigm case for the danger of ‘blurring the lines’ within MONUSCO’s hybrid nature appeared as the DSRSG/HC/RC, Moustapha Soumaré, announced the creation of a security zone around Goma[xii], while the SRSG role had been vacant in July 2013. In other words, a senior humanitarian diplomat of the UN explicitly announced military action.

Often, however, integration only happens on paper. The doctrine is difficult to observe in practice, as different UN departments and agencies understandably develop and advance their organizational interests within the wider integrated mission. As concluded in a wider study of UN integration[xiii], little evidence supports a direct causal link between UN integration and the reduced humanitarian access. Yet risks remain where humanitarian actors may be perceived as associated with political actors, particularly in volatile environments like DRC.

In some instances, MONUSCO itself may have contributed to this misperception by entering into a ‘humanitarian’ role and engaging in distributions and construction of hospitals or schools in the framework of so-called Quick Impact Projects (QIP). It is difficult to assess the impact of these activities (and others such as the provision of armed escorts for humanitarian aid) and the real level of influence on humanitarian action. Still, incidents such as the pillages of MONUSCO, UN agencies, and NGOs in Kisangani and Bunia (Orientale) on 21 November 2012 suggest such a threat. Other factors impacting negatively on perception of humanitarians—including poor quality or absence of a humanitarian response[xiv]—may be magnified by UN integration or the perception of mixed agendas.

In the field a cacophony of divergent views on UN integrated missions and military-humanitarian interaction reigns, often revealing a lack of understanding of peacekeeping mandates, capacities and challenges on the humanitarian side, and an absence of knowledge about humanitarian principles on the peacekeeping side. These divergences—and their implications for assistance—can be exemplified by the former SRSG’s statement that IDPs were ‘only those people fleeing from actual physical threat,’ in contrast to standing definitions held by most humanitarians. In some cases, even humanitarian NGOs have advanced politicized positioning, commenting on or explicitly supporting peacekeeping efforts or adopting partial stances toward particular belligerents.[xv] For organizations embracing the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, and independence like MSF, this is highly problematic, both in terms of aligning to a conflict party (MONUSCO) and differentiating among other conflict parties.

Last but hardly least, MONUSCO’s mandate to support the FARDC– one of the conflict parties and allied to some of the non-state armed groups in the region– risks the loss of neutrality. Humanitarians and other observers have long critiqued the humanitarian consequences of joint operations, such as Kimia II.[xvi] In that regard, UN personnel noted that already MONUC was “a complicated mission due to its dual mandate.”[xvii] Just as importantly, if there is no distinction between MONUSCO and FARDC, and MONUSCO and humanitarians are perceived to cooperate or collaborate, the neutrality of humanitarians in embattled areas is at risk. The situation between Bunyakiri and Hombo (Kalehe territory, South Kivu) in 2012 offers a noteworthy example. When MONUSCO failed to protect local populations from FDLR assaults, a new Raia Mutomboki subgroup emerged, attacking the peacekeeping force’s local military base and threatening internationals present in the area.

On the mandate part, it should not be forgotten that current peacekeeping efforts in the DRC go back to the deployment of MONUC as an observer mission in 1999, traversing various phases[xviii] of up-scaling and mandate change to arrive at today’s MONUSCO with a Chapter VII mandate. This includes some 20,000 personnel and a mandate prioritizing PoC, stabilization, and security sector reform (SSR). However, in over a decade of intervention in DRC, a number of concerns emerged as regards relation of the mission’s mandate and practicability on the ground and the (limited) political willingness spearheading the UN’s peacekeeping efforts in the DRC.[xix] Moreover, humanitarian actors have advanced specific worries about the force’s implication in protection of civilians[xx] and the implications of its support to the Congolese state and army. While these are real, blaming MONUSCO for everything would be shortsighted.

Firstly, DRC’s sheer size compared to MONUSCO’s mission size points to the main reason for the limited impact and capacity of MONUSCO to date. Of MONUSCO’s roughly 20,000 personnel, an estimated 8000–10,000 were actually based in North and South Kivu as of late 2012, resulting in approximately 1 blue helmet per 10-15 square kilometers, or maximum 1 blue helmet per 1000 Kivutian civilians. Secondly, MONUSCO finds itself among up to 50 other belligerents with multiple different and overlapping interests while facing the additional challenge of a mandate to support the main military actor, the FARDC, in its efforts to address these groups.[xxi] Thirdly, many observers have noted that both the UNSC and troop contributing countries (TCCs) display a lack of political willingness for MONUSCO to engage more assertively. While peacekeepers stand in full armor in eastern DRC, their little actual involvement bears the risk of rendering huge investments irrelevant, especially in MONUSCO’s critical tasks. Fourthly, an overriding lack of clarity about what can be expected concretely from MONUSCO’s mandate, in particular PoC, as well as conflicting rules of engagement hamper the mission’s efficiency. Last but hardly least as a fifth aspect, the tension within MONUSCO’s mandate, both PoC, and support to the FARDC, has been of serious concern to practitioners and academics alike.

Despite having a Chapter VII and PoC mandate since 2000, and 2004 respectively, translating this mandate into relevant and timely action has been a challenge for both MONUC and MONUSCO to date. The main problem in protection discourse is the absence of a clear-cut definition, which lies at the root of divergent views between humanitarian (often rights-based) and military (often security-based) approaches. Additionally, either MONUSCO is not present or fails to develop a timely presence in areas where massive protection issues take place, or it is present but has a  limited capacity (resources) and leadership (rules of engagement) that restrict its activities. A good example is when massacres took place in Bunyakiri and Kanyola (both South Kivu) or in Katoyi (North Kivu) in 2012, where Raia Mutomboki allegedly burnt down IDP camps affiliated with Nyatura (an opposed militia group), MONUSCO troops remained idle despite being in the vicinity.

In a similar example, an IDP camp close to Goma, Mugunga III, was attacked in early December 2012. The attack was able to happen because the Community Alert Network (CAN, a MONUSCO early warning mechanism) contact person was absent at the time, and other IDP camp representatives called MONUSCO without response. So despite new approaches such as the CANs, protection remains partial at best. The mission’s opaque stabilization agenda[xxii] and its unusual form for a Chapter VII mission—which are as a rule more compact missions limited in size, range, and time—suggest that it cannot fully perform its Chapter VII mandate.[xxiii] The mission’s lukewarm role is aptly characterized by a local observer stating that “eastern DRC is like a boiling pot with MONUSCO being the lid that prevents an explosion without actually resolving the issue. It is simply freezing it.“[xxiv] In other words, MONUSCO has not contributed to increased security to an extent that humanitarian challenges would have notably diminished.

Still, due to its dissuasive effect and some contribution to stabilization, humanitarian access remained stable with MONUSCO present in eastern DRC. In this context, the provision of armed escorts to some relief agencies is a double-edged sword, as they risk heightening the longer-term danger for humanitarians to lose their neutrality by association with some conflict parties. Despite long-standing debates around armed escorts and their compromising nature[xxv], UN agencies in eastern DRC regularly use them according to their security rules, while NGOs can opt for or against – with those funded by the UN sometimes experiencing indirect pressure. To remain neutral, in the sense of not being associated with any party to the conflict, access should be negotiated by humanitarian actors themselves, instead of relying on armed support.

Without creating a precedent? The potential implications of the FIB

The FIB consists of 3069 personnel, including three battalions from South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania, as well as special forces and a reconnaissance company, with headquarters split between Sake and Munigi.[xxvi] Its explicit aim is to “prevent the expansion of all armed groups, neutralize these groups, and to disarm them […] and to make space for stabilization activities.” These activities may take place “either unilaterally or jointly with the FARDC, in a robust […] manner”, by contrast to MONUSCO’s role to date. A “clear exit strategy” shall conclude with a handover of its responsibilities to a still-to-be-created Congolese “Rapid Reaction Force”. MONUSCO is tasked with specific objectives which can be performed through its regular forces or through the FIB “as appropriate”, including: protection of civilians, neutralizing armed groups, monitoring implementation of the arms embargo and provision of support judicial processes.

While FIB’s “targeted offensive operations” are supposed to comply with international law, they are also supposed to “tak[e] into full account […] the need to protect civilians and mitigate risk before, during and after any military operation… either unilaterally or jointly with the FARDC.” Effective mechanisms to assess and mitigate such impact do not yet exist, and will have to be developed. At the same time, joint MONUSCO operations with the FARDC have long been a key concern for observers and will remain a key challenge in future. Previous examples regularly caused massive displacement and other forms of “collateral damage” in the operation areas. The approach to be applied by MONUSCO and the FIB is characterized as a “shape-clear-hold-build” strategy[xxvii]– reminiscent of other stabilization contexts such as Afghanistan, Pakistan or Colombia—with serious implications for humanitarian space due to the mixing of military, state-building, and aid agendas.[xxviii] For MONUSCO after UNSC Resolution 2098 (2013), this means:

  • “Shaping” by “building understanding of armed groups, fixing and isolating them”
  • “Clearing” by the FIB, possibly “supported by FARDC from within their capabilities”
  • “Holding” by FARDC supported by the Framework Brigade
  • “Building” by the government, with the support of the UN (i.e. including UN agencies)[xxix]

Firstly, in a series of problems and challenges, logistics are a particular issue, given the complex topography of eastern DRC. Quickly moving troops to disputed areas is a daunting task for MONUSCO with its currently limited means of transport. While this did not turn up as a hindrance in the successful assistance to FARDC’s fight against M23, other armed groups well hidden in mountainous forest panoplies and the FIB will inherit many of the same issues as dogged MONUC/MONUSCO to date and long noted by analysts.[xxx] Whether it will be able to live up to upcoming expectations will depend on the assets at its disposal and the rules of engagement governing their use. In the midst of acquiring and distributing resources, closing and moving operational bases in the east, the peacekeepers and the new force will be subject to political pressures for early successes while key issues remain as yet undefined in practice.

Secondly, while the FIB’s first actual participation in combat ultimately led to the demise of M23, numerous other protection incidents have not been responded to since its establishment.[xxxi] Overall, the lack of actual capacity to implement this mandate, and the lack of a credible concomitant political process alongside the peacekeeping mission, still stand in flagrant contradiction with long-standing lessons learned in peacekeeping, such as the 2000 Brahimi report that demanded for political and diplomatic efforts to be always alongside UN military action as well as credible dialogue with all parties to a conflict.[xxxii] In an almost unprecedented position from an armed group[xxxiii], M23 pointed on April 2, 2013 to the increasingly partial position of the international intervention, adding that humanitarians such as ICRC and MSF will bear the responsibility of addressing its humanitarian impact:

Le Mouvement du 23 Mars a le regret de vous alerter pour des préparatifs nécessaires à la gestion des conséquences humanitaires néfastes que la guerre conçue et planifiée par le Conseil de Sécurité va infliger à la population innocente habitant les territoires de Rutshuru et de Nyiragongo. Etant donné qu’il s’agit d’une guerre froidement planifiée par l’Organisation des Nations Unies, il sied de planifier d’ores et déjà au travers des agences Onusiennes et autres organisation humanitaire la gestion des conséquences catastrophiques qui devront en découler. Nous faisons allusion au Programme Alimentaire Mondiale “PAM”, au Haut Commissariat pour le Refugiés “HCR”, au Comité International pour la Croix Rouge “CICR”, Médecins Sans Frontière “MSF” etc. [sic].[xxxiv]

(The March 23 Movement regrets to alert you regarding necessary preparations to handle the grave humanitarian consequences the war conceived by the UN Security Council will have on the innocent populations of Rutshuru and Nyiragongo territories. Given that this is a war planned in a cold-blooded manner by the UN, humanitarian actors of the UN and other organizations have to foresee the catastrophic consequences that will occur. We address the World Food Programme ‘WFP’, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees ‘UNHCR’, the International Committee of the Red Cross ‘ICRC’, Doctors without Borders ‘MSF’ etc.)

 The continued pro-government angle of MONUC (and now again MONUSCO and the FIB) likewise still poses questions about its legitimacy and acceptability for Congolese populations in areas marked by non-state governance.[xxxv] To add on perception risks, additional troops from other African countries will not necessarily be perceived as neutral per se, while, in analogy to MONUSCO itself, each troop contributing country risks having parallel and possibly contradictory chains of command given potential political interests. Ironically, the UN’s special envoy to the Great Lakes region, Mary Robinson, stated the following, basically trying to forbid militias to defend themselves against potentially attacking UN forces:

I wish to remind the M23 leadership that any act aimed at obstructing MONUSCO in the exercise of its mandate, as stipulated by the United Nations Security Council resolution 2098, is unacceptable.[xxxvi]

Thirdly, the “(shape)-clear-hold-build” approach in the “clear” phase will entail the intensification of military efforts in the same volatile zones where humanitarians currently work in the Kivus, raising the risks of impact on civilian populations and misperception of humanitarian actors. UN statements and policies already point to the idea that the MONUSCO/FIB intervention will potentially continue to rely, if not increase reliance, on an interface with aid actors to improve protection of civilians and restoration of state authority:

The solution to instability in Eastern DRC is not military. The Intervention Brigade is only a tool that helps sets the conditions for a lasting peace; success will depend upon a comprehensive Mission approach with active involvement of GoDRC and other partners to restoring legitimate State Authority.[xxxvii]

 Most recently, a new MONUSCO strategy around the creation of so-called “islands of stability” indicates the UN’s current tendency. While MONUSCO obviously does not have enough manpower to secure the vast areas of eastern DRC, the notion of ‘islands’ is not only cynical, but  also involves a deliberate attempt to instrumentalize humanitarian action:

Après que les FARDC avec l’appui de la Brigade d’intervention de l’ONU aient lancé une offensive contre le groupe rebelle du M23 ; plusieurs localités et cités, jadis occupées par le même mouvement, sont passées sous contrôle du Gouvernement. Cela offre une opportunité aux différents acteurs aussi bien gouvernementaux, humanitaires et de développement de planifier des interventions pour subvenir aux besoins de ces populations sinistrées.[xxxviii]

(After FARDC, assisted by the FIB launched an offensive against M23 rebels, several localities and villages, occupied by the mentioned movement, went under government control. This offers an opportunity to different government, humanitarian, and development actors to plan their intervention to assist the affected population in meeting their needs.)

Fourthly, while some groups are explicitly targeted by Resolution 2098, others remain unmentioned, creating a potentially dangerous impression of partiality in addressing the still-fragile security situation prevailing in places like North Kivu’s Masisi region. The situation of Raia Mutomboki and other “self-defense” groups is likewise complicated as they challenge MONUSCO’s task of protecting civilians by increasing the difficulty of distinguishing between combatants and civilians in some of the most remote and contested places in eastern DRC.

On an exceptional basis? Conclusions and wider concerns

UNSC resolution 2098 is not an isolated occurrence. The evolution of MONUSCO in DRC reflects recent developments in UN approaches elsewhere. Mali, Somalia and South Sudan are all places where UN peacekeeping is explicitly engaged in stabilization of contested states.[xxxix] The recent UNSC Resolution 2102 on Somalia[xl] aims to align UN country team activities with overall UNSOM mission objectives and those of the Federal Government of Somalia, underlining:

“the importance of Somali ownership in the context of United Nations support and in this regard request the SRSG to align closely United Nations Country Team (UNCT) activities in Somalia with the priorities of UNSOM and to coordinated United Nations activities with the Federal Government of Somalia, as well as the African Union (including AMISOM), IGAD, the European Union and other regional, bilateral and multilateral partners in Somalia.”

As activities of the UNCT include humanitarian aid, this alignment with government priorities risks bringing humanitarian aid into the broader political and military agenda toward stabilization and counter-terrorism in Somalia—and thus compromising the delivery of independent, impartial aid to the population there.[xli]

In a similar development, UNSC Resolution 2100 (2013)[xlii], which established the peacekeeping operation MINUSMA (UN Stabilization Mission in Mali) from July 2013, likewise suggests consequences for humanitarian access in Mali. This resolution is intended to provide a hybrid military response linking international stabilization and French forces with multiple objectives, including the creation of a secure environment for the civilian-led delivery of humanitarian assistance. UNSC Resolution 2100 provides for MINUSMA to adopt offensive military objectives of “stabiliz[ing] the key population centres […] and take active steps to prevent the return of armed elements to those areas,” while also supporting the re-establishment of Malian state administration throughout the country. Citing Ansar Eddine, AQIM, and MUJAO as “terrorist organisations”, the UNSC Resolution “reiterat[es] its readiness, under the above-mentioned regime, to sanction further individuals, groups, undertakings and entities who do not cut off all ties to Al-Qaida and associated groups, including AQIM, MUJAO and Ansar Eddine, in accordance with the established listing criteria.”

Despite this position that could potentially impede negotiations with key armed groups at field level in this context, MINUSMA is nonetheless also charged with supporting and providing a secure environment for humanitarian aid while UN agencies and implementing partners will be on the ground, normally necessitating negotiation with all armed actors. Here, many of the same issues arise as with MONUSCO in terms of mix of objectives and potential for misperception. Based on multiple past experiences in other crises, provision of aid alongside international forces siding with the state against armed opposition groups, risks posing obstacles for humanitarian access and security.

With growing insecurity, collapse of the local economy and massive displacement, Northern Mali is already suffering a lack of health care and food insecurity, raising the importance of maintaining humanitarian presence in-country. Impartial humanitarian assistance requires maintaining a dialogue with all communities and parties – local authorities, armed groups, and international forces – in order to establish humanitarian access that means unhindered life-saving activities across the frontlines, respected by all parties to the conflict and aimed at assisting any individual or group in need. Yet UNSC Resolution 2100 explicitly positions itself on a number of armed opposition groups, marking these as potentially beyond the pale for humanitarian negotiations by NGOs seeking access to populations in areas under their control.

Mali is not the sole example; likewise in South Sudan, public statements by the SRSG in late 2012 similarly pointed to a blackout in practice as regards engagement with armed opposition groups, including on humanitarian assistance.[xliii] While the provision of humanitarian aid by peacekeepers with a state-building mandate is problematic enough for the perception of humanitarians already in the field, the de facto exclusion of certain armed groups for humanitarian negotiation is just as questionable. The stakes are only heightened by the retrospective realization that humanitarian access to these extremely volatile yet vulnerable areas would be entirely cut off in 2013, with the renewed destruction of Pibor health centre in May 2013[xliv] effectively cutting off all medical care for 100,000 people in a remote area.

The view from DRC and other current humanitarian crises is a troubled one. Long-established analysis of humanitarian action points to the high risk wherever humanitarian assistance is misperceived as part of a wider political or military project, including in the form of UN integrated missions. If UN peacekeeping evolves toward a more coherent approach while simultaneously reducing the space for humanitarian negotiations, people in danger may no longer be able to seek assistance securely, while humanitarians may no longer be able to reach them and deliver assistance. Mitigating the possible fallout for civilians is beside the point when life-saving work depends on this precious yet fragile humanitarian space. Even if intended to be “without prejudice to the agreed principles of peacekeeping,” this latest development in peacekeeping should be watched carefully for its impact on humanitarian space.

By Aurelie Ponthieu, Christoph Vogel, and Katharine Derderian

Photo by Moises Saman © Magnum Photos, 2009.

[i] Mission de l’Organisation de Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation du Congo

(, successor to MONUC


[ii] See e.g. Jason Stearns et al., “Raia Mutomboki. The flawed peace process in the DRC and the birth of an armed franchise,” Rift Valley Institute/Usalama Project 2013,; Jason Stearns, “From CNDP to M23: The evolution of an armed movement in eastern Congo,” Rift Valley Institute/Usalama Project 2012,

[iii] UNHCR, “Factsheet”, 31 October 2013,

[iv] OCHA, “Democratic Republic of Congo – North Kivu Situation Report No. 17,” December 11, 2012,,%20OCHA%20-%20DRC.pdf.

[v] 212 incidents affecting humanitarian aid workers are recorded by the UN in 2012, 92% in the Kivus (OCHA, “République Démocratique du Congo: 2012 en revue,” Additional incidents affecting MSF, which does not form part of the UN reporting system, must also be taken into account.

[vi] See MSF, “DRC: Civilians and Aid Workers Victims of Renewed Fighting in the Kivus,” April 11, 2012,; here, MSF reports fifteen incidents affecting medical activities between November 2011 and mid-April 2012 alone. ICRC has likewise recently called attention to the need for respect of medical personnel and facilities in the Kivus, following the explosion of a shell beside a hospital in Kitchanga, North Kivu. For a wider perspective on the threats facing medical action today and their impact, see ICRC’s work on “health care in danger,” based on a sixteen-country study of key conflict/violent contexts (

[vii] From September to December 2013, Christoph Vogel conducted an independent internal analysis of the implications of MONUSCO for humanitarian space in eastern DRC, on behalf of MSF and under a grant from the Mercator Fellowship on International Affairs.

[viii] UNSC Resolution 2098 (2013):

[ix] MSF, “Nous ne sommes pas des soldats en blouse blanche”, DirectCD  July 5, 2013,

[x] Cf. internal UN document on file with the authors.

[xi] Several recent studies and reviews point to the key concerns of humanitarian NGOs around UN integrated missions. These include:

Victoria Metcalfe, Alison Giffen and Samir Elhawary, “UN Integration and Humanitarian Space. An Independent Study Commissioned by the UN Integration Steering Group,” December 2011,

Marit Glad, “A Partnership at Risk? The UN-NGO Relationship in Light of UN Integration: An NRC discussion paper,” February 16, 2012,

Marcos Ferreiro, “Blurring of Lines in Complex Emergencies: Consequences for the Humanitarian Community,” Journal of Humanitarian Assistance December 24, 2012,

On DRC, see also the discussion on integration pp. 11ff in Xavier Zeebroek, “The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Searching for the missing peace,” FRIDE Working Paper (July 2008)

[xii] MONUSCO, “Déploiement de la MONUSCO pour soutenir la zone de sécurité dans la région de Goma-Saké“,;

[xiii] “The research team found no clear evidence of a direct link between UN integration arrangements and attacks on humanitarian workers in the contexts reviewed. Nonetheless, most security analysts interviewed for this study agreed that, in particular environments, the association of humanitarian actors with political actors, including the UN, can be an additional risk factor. This association is particularly problematic in high risk environments, where the UN mission is implementing a political mandate that is opposed or contested by one or more of the conflict parties, and where those parties are willing and able to distinguish between international actors [authors’ emphasis]. In these contexts, highly visible integration arrangements may blur this distinction and therefore pose an additional risk to the security of humanitarian personnel.” Metcalfe et al, p. 25ff.

[xiv] A study of local perceptions of two humanitarian organizations in eastern DRC highlights the importance of needs-based, professional response complemented by transparent communication about the constraints and limits of their own organization and the wider aid system, see Dennis Dijkzeul and Claude Iguma Wakenge, “Doing good, but looking bad? Local perceptions of two humanitarian organizations in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo,” Disasters 34.4 (October 2010) 1139-1170,

[xv] For example, in May 2013, nineteen NGOs (including World Vision) addressed a letter to UNSG Ban Ki-moon, underlining several key concerns. While expressing concern about the distinction between the military intervention and humanitarian action, yet also explicitly advocate for political conditions on the presence of the brigade, for its engagement on DDR and with local communities, and for its role as “part of a broad, comprehensive approach [authors’ emphasis] to achieve long-term peace and stability.”  Compare other similarly politicized positions, e.g. of Oxfam, “Commodities of War: Communities speak out on the true cost of conflict in eastern DRC,” November 2012, This paper called on DRC, regional and international governments, as well as MONUSCO, to “take actions to ensure greater protections for civilians” including prioritization of security sector reform and redeployment of the army in specific areas of insecurity after troop withdrawals. Similarly, the Oxfam tweet on November 21, 2012, took an explicit position against M23 at the time of their seizure of Goma ( “We condemn the renewed #M23 military campaign, a violation of int’l law & the territorial integrity of #DRC”.

[xvi] Human Rights Watch, “’You will be punished: Attacks on Civilians in Eastern Congo,” December 2009,

[xvii] A former DSRSG quoted in Randi Solhjell, “Gendering the Security Sector: Protecting Civilians Against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” NUPI Working Paper 769 (2010), “As the former deputy special representative of the secretary general (DSRSG) stated: ‘MONUC is a complicated mission due to its dual mandate.’ To exemplify, there is a correlation between increased fighting between MONUC jointly with FARDC against non-state armed groups and increased cases of sexual violence, forced displacement and other violent attacks. This refers especially to the operation Kimia I and II in North and South Kivu against FDLR occupied areas through joint FARDC and MONUC collaboration. Seen separately, combating armed opposition and combating sexual violence committed by armed groups are both protection issues. Combined, they seem mutually exclusive as unpaid and frustrated soldiers move through the Congolese villages and attacks civilians indiscriminately.”

[xviii] Tull, Dennis M. (2009): Peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Waging Peace and Fighting War, in:

International Peacekeeping, Vol. 16, No. 2.

[xix] The Guardian, “Congo: Why UN Peacekeepers have a credibility problem” August 30, 2013,

[xx] See e.g. IRIN, “NGOs concerned about new DRC Intervention Brigade,” May 31, 2013,; further examples and analysis are referenced below.

[xxi] Christoph Vogel, “Taking the Fight to the DRC Rebels: The Potential Pitfalls of a UN Intervention Brigade,” Think Africa Press April 25, 2013,

[xxii] On the dilemmas for humanitarians in the face of “stabilization” interventions, see Sarah Collinson, Samir Elhawary and Robert Muggah, “States of fragility: stabilisation and its implications for humanitarian action,” HPG Working Paper (May 2010) “… indeed, humanitarian agencies may face a forced retreat from these environments entirely due to insecurity and lack of effective access. This is likely to be the case where international or national actors see little utility in allowing humanitarian agencies to operate freely… Yet independence and neutrality are not always respected in insecure environments, and where there is little opportunity to engage hostile actors in dialogue humanitarian agencies can easily become a target, along with the populations they are trying to help. Either way, humanitarian agencies risk marginalising themselves from the ‘real world’ of politics that lies at the heart of humanitarian crises in these countries, while simultaneously remaining exposed to political manipulation and physical threats from state and non-state actors who will continue to treat them as important elements of their political and military strategies.”

[xxiii] Holt and Berkman have pointed to five key issues facing the MONUC mission which could be posed just as well for the MONUSCO PoC role: the need for baseline capacity, conceptual clarity about the approach to PoC, well-prepared/willing peacekeepers,  understanding about the use of coercive protection operations and balance between protection of civilians and the relationship to the sovereign state in which the peacekeeping mission operates. See Victoria K. Holt and Tobias C. Berkman, “The Impossible Mandate? Military preparedness, the responsibility to protect and modern peace operations,” Chapter 8 (“Protecting Civilians on the Ground: MONUC and the Democratic Republic of Congo”), Stimson Centre September 2006. Cf. also similar conclusions drawn more recently by Julie Reynaert, “MONUC/MONUSCO and Civilian Protection in the Kivus,” IPIS February 2011

[xxiv]  Confidential interview with Congolese analyst, Goma, November 2012.

[xxv] Key guidelines from ICRC state that “[a]s a general principle, any armed protection for any component of the Movement is in conflict with the following Fundamental Principles: humanity; independence; impartiality; neutrality. As a rule, the different components of the Movement should not use armed protection or deterrent force against those tempted to use violence. This basic principle concerns above all the use of armed escorts.” (ICRC, Report on the Use of Armed Protection for Humanitarian Assistance. Report  Extract from Working Paper, ICRC and International Federation, Council of delegates, Geneva, 1-2 December 1995, Similarly, the key UN guideline states that “[a]s a general rule, humanitarian convoys will not use armed or military escorts. Exceptions to the general rule will be considered, as a last resort and only when all of [stated] criteria have been met.” (IASC, Use of Military or Armed Escorts for Humanitarian Convoys. Discussion Paper and Non-binding Guidelines,” September 14, 2001, Cf. Also MSF positioning on the problem of armed escorts for perception of humanitarians in eastern Congo; MSF, “Armed Escorts bad for humanitarian aid in Congo?” The Guardian November 6, 2008,

[xxvi] “‘Intervention Brigade’ authorized as Security Council grants mandate renewal for United Nations Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo. Resolution 2098 (2013) Enables ‘Offensive’ Combat Force To ‘Neutralize and Disarm’ Congolese Rebels, Foreign Armed Groups,” March 28, 2013.

[xxvii] Major Vincent Tourny, “The MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade,” Presentation to the Protection Cluster, April 24, 2013.

[xxviii] See e.g. Antonio Donini, “Between a rock and a hard place: integration or independence of humanitarian action?” International Review of the Red Cross 93, 881 (March 2011) 150-151,

[xxix] See Tourny.

[xxx] Emily Paddon, “The perils of peacekeeping without politics: MONUC and MONUSCO in DRC,” Rift Valley Institute/Usalama Project 2013

[xxxi] Darren Olivier, “The FIB goes to War,” African Defence Review

[xxxii] “Furthermore, as the United Nations has bitterly and repeatedly discovered over the last decade, no amount of good intentions can substitute for the fundamental ability to project credible force if complex peacekeeping, in particular, is to succeed. But force alone cannot create peace; it can only create the space in which peace may be built. Moreover, the changes that the Panel recommends will have no lasting impact unless Member States summon the political will to support the United Nations politically, financially and operationally to enable the United Nations to be truly credible as a force for peace.”

[xxxiii] Cf. Leigh Philips, “Chad rebels say French EU peacekeepers ‘not neutral,’” EU Observer, February 12, 2008,

[xxxiv] M23 communication on file with the authors.

[xxxv] Cf. Raeymaekers, Timothy/Menkhaus, Ken/Vlassenroot, Koen, “State and non-state regulation in African protracted crises: governance without government?” Afrika Focus, 2008, Vol. 21, No. 2. Gents Afrika Platform, Gent.

[xxxvi] UN News, “DR Congo: Attack on peacekeeping helicopter ‘unacceptable,’ says UN envoy” 12 October, 2013,

[xxxvii] Tourny.

[xxxviii] Confidential UN concept note on file with the authors.

[xxxix] DRC is likewise the scene of another recent development—the introduction of unmanned surveillance drones into peacekeeping. Drones—in particular when armed but also when employed for surveillance or other purposes—have sparked a debate about their implications under international law and for humanitarianism in practice. See e.g. Heba Aly, “Analysis: The view from the ground: How drone strikes hamper aid,” IRIN March 20, 2013,; ICRC, “The use of armed drones must comply with laws,” May 10, 2013,; Harvard University Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research, “Drones”,

[xl] UNSC Resolution 2102 (2013),

[xli] MSF, “Humanitarian Aid Must Not Be Co-Opted Into Somalia Stabilization Program,” February 28, 2013,

[xlii] UN Security Council Resolution 2100 (2013) It is worth mentioning the recent Al Shabab attack on the largest UN base in Mogadishu, with impact on UNICEF, WHO and UNDP as part of the overall UN project, see Abdalle Ahmed, “Somali militants attack UN base in Mogadishu, killing 15,” Guardian June 19, 2013,

[xliii] “Some UN troops are now in Lekuangole to offer protection to the civilians. However, the head of the UN mission added that ‘UNMISS has no mandate to engaged with David Yau Yau’s forces’. Johnson described the situation as ‘too dangerous and too uncertain’ in Lekuangole Payam, making it difficult for the UN Mission in South Sudan to provide in humanitarian assistance in the area.” (“Jonglei Peace undermined by Yauyau’s rebellion- UN,” Sudan Tribune, September 24, 2012, Not only does this statement suggest that UNMISS and UN agencies do not contact Yauyau forces (including to negotiate humanitarian space), but also generates a confusion about the role of UNMISS on the provision of humanitarian assistance—which by contrast to protection of civilians, is not included in its mandate, and remains squarely in the remit of humanitarians.

[xliv] MSF, “South Sudan: MSF Hospital Severely Damaged in Intentional Attack,” May 16, 2013,


Via Without Precedent or Prejudice? UNSC Resolution 2098 and its potential implications for humanitarian space in Eastern Congo and beyond | The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance.

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