Just one year ago, these mandate renewal discussions took place in the shadow of a massacre of civilians in Kiwanja, a nearly successful rebel effort to take control of Goma (the capital of North Kivu province) and the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of Congolese people. At this time the Council, as well as international observers from around the globe, could be seen wringing their hands and pointing fingers... "something more must be done" was the general sentiment. Precisely who it was to be done by wasn't clear - but preferably someone (anyone) else, thank you very much.
As usual, the "more" fell to the peacekeepers, a force already overstretched, under resourced and, perhaps most importantly, still lacking the critical political backing that it needed to get its many jobs done. To their credit, the MONUC peacekeepers - particularly those in North Kivu - did adapt. On a visit to eastern DRC in October, my colleague Jennifer Smith and I found that efforts to protect people from violence had improved dramatically in areas where MONUC is deployed, and that ordinary civilians had regained confidence in the mission.
Nonetheless, the wider instability remains. The political situation has changed, to be sure. The perpetrators of the crisis in October and November last year have been incorporated into the Congolese military, and the focus of the recent Congolese military operations have returned to the eradication of the FDLR, the militia with links to the genocide in Rwanda. These operations have resulted in the further displacement of thousands, as well as looting, rape, and the systematic burning of villages - often by the Congolese military themselves.
There continues to be no effective system of governance in many parts of the country. The Congolese police and justice system is weak and corrupt, and the Congolese military are often as predatory as any militia group. The competition over mineral resources has led to extortion and violence by all sides.
In spite of the massive, persistent gaps in the Congolese security and justice sectors, the lack of critical basic infrastructure, and the overall weakness of governance structures, the international community has nevertheless begun to talk about the withdrawal of the peacekeepers. This has been precipitated by the high ongoing costs of the mission, and indications by Congolese President Joseph Kabila that he would like the forces to begin to withdraw for the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence on June 30, 2010.
The idea that MONUC will remain fully deployed until all is well in the DR Congo is impractical, but a too-hasty withdrawal is unacceptable, and will leave the civilians in eastern DRC entirely without protection. Diplomats have cited the prerogative of the sovereign, and the "dignity" of the Congolese government as strong reasons to withdraw. The safety and dignity of the rest of the Congolese people doesn't seem to have entered the discussion.
As these discussions progress, Refugees International calls on the UN Security Council to maintain or even enhance MONUC's involvement in protection, human rights, governance, and most importantly, the strategic and coordinated reform of the security and justice sectors, for the foreseeable future. There should be a focus on the slow, safe and responsible withdrawal of the mission, when the time is right, under conditions that will allow DRC to continue to stabilize, and where the UN will not be forced to deploy again.