Strengthening the Rule of Law and Protection of Civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Author:Zerrougui, Leila

In recent years, approaches to the provision of support to the rule of law in conflict and post-conflict settings have evolved significantly. While in the past the provision of support to the justice sector was generally deemed to be most effective in post-conflict settings, recent experiences by peacekeeping missions have demonstrated that supporting the fight against impunity and the strengthening of the justice sector can be used to engage politically with key stakeholders and influence their behaviour, in both conflict and post-conflict settings, laying the foundations of a more sustainable peace, even before it is fully achieved. As such, it has increasingly been recognized that the provision of support for justice can be used as a key element of United Nations political engagement in the process of maintaining sustainable peace.

This experience has been particularly profound in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) over the course of the past decade. In 2008, armed group activity in the eastern DRC began to pick up again, and the commission of serious crimes against the civilian population became an increasing concern. In 2009, a large-scale integration of armed group elements into the Forces Armees de la Republique Democratique du Congo (FARDC) took place without adequate vetting. While this succeeded in ending much of the fighting at the time, it also allowed some of those who had committed serious crimes against the civilian population to join the national army that was still fighting the remaining armed groups.

From late 2008 onwards, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) had increasingly been mandated to support FARDC operations against armed groups as a means of contributing to the protection of civilians. Between 2008 and 2010, the Mission's mandate evolved significantly, and an increasingly comprehensive approach to the provision of support to FARDC was developed. The United Nations would work jointly with the national armed forces in operations designed to deter and weaken armed groups that posed a real and present danger to civilian populations. However, the Congolese armed forces would need to respect international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law while conducting their operations. Here, a two-tracked approach was developed for the MONUC/United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). First, a conditionality policy was developed, whereby elements of FARDC that committed violations against the civilian population in the conduct of their operations or as a result of indiscipline would not be eligible for support. Second, the Mission was mandated to provide assistance to the justice sector, in order to support the Congolese Government in its fight against impunity. Where armed groups and Congolese forces committed abuses, they would be held to account.

Combining prevention and accountability, this...

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