Humanitarian Crisis in Congo
The conflict in Congo is one of the worst of our contemporary history in terms of casualties and human rights violations. Since the beginning of the civil war in 1996 about 5. 400. 000 million people died. The wars in that country have claimed nearly the same number of lives as having a 9/11 every single day for 360 days, the genocide that struck Rwanda in 1994, the ethnic cleansing that overwhelmed Bosnia in the mid-1990s, the genocide that took place in Darfur, the number of people killed in the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2004, and the number of people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaky- all combined and then doubled” (Vava Tampa, “Why the world is ignoring Congo”, CNN, 27 November 2012. ) Congolese people face a deep humanitarian crisis.
The infant mortality rate is impressive and people who survive have to fight against terrible conditions of life and escape from human rights abuses that are committed by military forces. The humanitarian crisis has its roots in the war between the M23 rebel group and the National Congolese Army, a war that began as spillover from the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Both the M23 group and the National Congolese Army are supported by Rwanda’s political groups, Tutsi and Hutu, which use the conflict in Congo to reinforce their power.
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In addition, local militias fight in order to obtain control over the population and resources. Extreme poverty and economic underdevelopment characterize the country. “Living conditions in the country have become the worst in the world, according to the most recent Index of Human Development” (Severine Autesserre, “The Only Way to Help Congo”, New York Times, 22 June 2012) Because of the poverty and the tensions among society it is hard to envisage an end to the civil war. Military control over the territory, civil war, economic inequality and divided culture create the conditions for human rights abuses.
This war is causing severe human rights violations: rapes of women and girls, massacres, burning of villages, forced displacement happen every day. Military forces torture people in open violation of international law. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, signed on the 10th of December 1984, is an international law instrument aimed to punish the perpetrators of this crime against humanity. The history of the prohibition of torture as a mean of war goes back decades.
The first Geneva Convention of 1864 defined the torture a crime against humanity. The Geneva treaties that followed called torture an international crime that must be punished by the international community. The Human Rights Declaration of 1948 declares in Article 5 that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. The Declaration was adopted in reaction to the terrible Nazi’s crimes during World War II. The auspice was to prevent such crimes in the future.
However, violations of human rights and crimes against humanity did not stop. During the Cold War, civil wars broke out in many parts of Africa and Latin America and caused humanitarian crisis. The transition to independence in African countries led to political crisis and power fights between tribes. Sometimes, Western countries intervened in these conflicts but they failed to help people; therefore, the situation worsened. Despite the United Nations’ efforts to banish torture and prevent it, this crime against humanity continues to happen.
The Convention against Torture had the objective to reinforce the protection of civilians and punish people who commit torture. “Tortures are considered hotis humani generis or enemies of humankind” (Schulz 301) and as such they are subjected to universal jurisdiction. The crime they inflict to innocents is considered a crime against all; therefore, every state of the international community can intervene and punish them. No matter where the crime is committed, every state can claim jurisdiction over the perpetrator and put it into trail.
Universal jurisdiction is an international law principle related to international justice and it has been applied in many cases of human rights violation, during the last decade. When the country is unable or unwilling to prosecute the criminal, the international community can intervene and apply the mechanism of retributive justice, restorative justice or reparative justice. In the first case, justice is based on legal prosecution and rule of law and it aims to make the crime publicly acknowledged, to punish the perpetrator thereby causing an educative effect on the public and to demonstrate justice can be effective.
Retributive justice and the principle of universal jurisdiction have been applied in the case of Yugoslavia and Rwanda through the institution of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, both based on the International Criminal Court example. Universal jurisdiction has been claimed for the Congolese rebel military group that committed crimes against humanity. Three weeks ago, the U. N Security Council accused three men of the M23 group of recruiting child soldiers, committing massacres and rapes.
We expect that these men will be punished under the auspice of international law. The second type of international justice, namely restorative justice, aims “to restore the victim and the perpetrator of crime back into harmony with the community. ” (Quinn 359) It applies trough the Truth Commission which can be National, as in the case of Chile, where the Pinochet dictatorship committed severe crimes against humanity, or International, as in the case of Burundi in 1995-96. Reparative justice has the goal to provide a remedy for the suffering that occurred.
The mechanisms used are the apology that consists in guilty party’s public excuses or the restitution which is a compensation of money for the survivors of human rights abuses. Among human rights abuses, rape is one of the most common in Congo. Even though there is no international Convention against rape, we can consider it part of the broader pattern of human rights abuses that is torture. The Convention against torture defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person… ” Therefore, rape is a kind of torture.
In the case of systematic use of rape as weapon of war, rape become war crime. The International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia defined the rape a crime against humanity and punished the perpetrators. However, the ad hoc Tribunal’s sentence did not produce an International Convention against rape. The definition of rape as war crime rested upon a case-by-case basis evaluation. Therefore, international law provides limited sources to punish rape. Recently the international community expressed its concern about rape and the UN Security Council issued Resolution 1820 which highlight, “rape and ther forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide”. In Congo, rape is used as weapon of war and constitutes a systematic torture against women. Therefore, International Criminal Court should define rape war crime and call for measures to punish the perpetrators. In addition to torture and rape, other human rights violations happen in Congo. Military forces bombard civil zones, burden villages and kill civil population. According to international law, crimes committed against civilians are war crimes.
The Geneva Convention, signed between 1868 and 1949, comprises four treaties and three additional protocols that establish the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatments of the victims of war. Non combatants, wounded, pows are considered innocent victims and they should be protected during wartime. Currently, war crimes against civilians are happening in Syria. The amount of casualties led many authorities to define Syrian war a genocide against civil population. The humanitarian crisis in Congo is particularly high in what concern refugees. According to UNCHR estimates, the number of DRC refugees in neighbouring countries currently stands at 463. 000 located mainly in Uganda, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania” (UN News Centre, “DR Congo: UN concerns grow over rights violations and delivery of humanitarian aid”, 20 November 2012). Congolese refugees escape from the civil war in Congo and seek better conditions of life. However, last years, some countries put restriction on the refugee flow and many refugees were forced to come back to Congo. UNCHR calls for the respect of the right of asylum and urges some measures to help refugees.
According to international law, refugee problem is a matter of humanitarian concern. There are three different international sources about Refugees. The first is the “Convention Relating to the status of Refugees” signed in 1951, following the creation of UNHCR. It defines refugee as “a person who, owing to well- founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.. ”. A refugee is thus a person who escaped from his country ecause of war and human rights violations and then seek asylum in another country. According to the Convention, a refugee can claim certain types of special rights, such as the right of resettlement and legal protection from deportation or forcible return to his country of origin. The “OAU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems” of 1969 widens the concept of refugee, including also people facing “external aggression, internal civil strife, or events seriously disturbing public order”. In the sixties, independence movements began to characterize the development in African countries.
People who asked for independence and democracy had the fear to be prosecuted, therefore, they brought a broader definition of the refugee concept. The last source concerning the status of refugee is the “Cartagena Declaration” of 1984 which cover Central American refugees. It extends the concept by including as refugees “persons who have fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order”.
The major problem concerning the status of refugee is how to supply them with basic needs and provide them good condition of life after they migrated from their home country. NGOs like Amnesty International or Red Cross assist refugees and help them to find a work. However, NGOs do not have a political voice in what concern the status of refugee. The refugees’ migration rise political problems and it is often a security threat for countries where refugees ask asylum. Because of this, countries do not accept refugees.
The international community cannot interfere in states’ decision to refuse to concede asylum. The U. N organs as UNHCR can do little to enforce their mandate if a state decides to put restriction on the refugees’ migration. Therefore refugees are forced to come back to their home country where they will face again terrible conditions of life. The humanitarian crisis concerning refugees is particularly high in Myanmar, Asia. Since the beginning of the civil war and the military forces took of power, severe human rights violations happened and civilians were forced to migrate. The refugee rights group, Refugees International, estimates that three million people have been forcibly in recent decades by these crises” ( Loescher 253) Concerning Palestinian Refugees, the United Nations created a relief and human development agency under Resolution 302, following the 1948 war. UNRWA provides facilities to people living in refugee in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, West Bank, Gaza Strip. According to UNRWA estimates the number of Palestinian Refugees amount to 5000. 000 people.
Many of these people lost their home because Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories following the Six Days War. This is one of the most serious humanitarian crisis related to refugees. In response to the growing humanitarian crisis, the international community intervened in Congo in order to stop human rights violations. However, the humanitarian intervention failed to help the population and to address the deep causes of the conflict. “It has been a case of misguided intervention” (Severine Autresse, “The only way to help Congo”).
The United Nations did not understand the causes of the conflict because they tended to look at the Congolese war’s broader context. The international community focused on international tensions linked to Congo’s civil war and did not take local dynamic into consideration. It tended “to view the fighting exclusively as a consequence of national and international tensions- especially power struggles among Congolese and foreign elites- and a spillover from Rwandan genocide.
And they typically consider intervention at the national or regional levels to be their only legitimate responsibility”(Severine Autesserre, “The Only Way to Help Congo”, New York Times, 22 June 2012) Congo’s war is characterized by struggles among fragmented local militias, each trying to obtain power in the traffic of drogues, minerals and control over the Congolese resources. The international intervention was a top-down mechanism because the aid was addressed to Congolese leaders that would have to use the resources to stabilize the local political situation.
However, corruption among political groups made the help of the international community useless and ineffective. The humanitarian intervention’s failure is in part due to the international community’s lack of attention at the Congolese war. Media do not report Congolese war; therefore public opinion remains ignorant about the Congo’s humanitarian crisis. As a result, there is no public pressure to intervene effectively. International lack of interest in Congo’s civil war lead to think that the international community does not care about Congo. “Is it due to the geographical or cultural distance between London or Washington to Congo?
Or are Western media just reluctant, if not uninterested, to cover it because no Western interests or ally is endangered by it? ” ( Vava Tampa, “Why the world is ignoring Congo? ”) UN Security Council’s states have no direct interests in Congo; therefore they do not urge measures to effectively intervene. Western countries consider Congo a remote part of Africa that should alone manage its problems and stop human rights violations. Because the United Nations cannot intervene everywhere, they usually prioritize intervention in countries where strategic interests are at stake. The recent case of Lybia shows how national interests apply.
The UN Security Council was able do adopt a Resolution of peace enforcement because states agreed that Lybia was an area of strategic importance and that Gheddafi was a threat to national interests. Conversely, the UN is in deadlock in what concern Syria. Despite the growing number of victims and the human rights violations, the Security Council does not adopt a Resolution that allow the international community to intervene. Russia and China repeatedly veto any proposal because they want to protect their interests in Syria. Somalia, Kosovo and Rwanda are cases of international failure to intervene.
In 1993 a civil war broke out in Somalia and a peacekeeping operation intervened. The intervention was useful only in the short period because it alleviated the immediate humanitarian emergence. However, it failed to address the deep causes of the conflict and as the UN mandate finished, humanitarian violations started again. In 1999, a NATO operation intervened in Kosovo in order to stop the ethnic cleansing against Albanese population by the Serbian troops. Even though NATO intervention helped to stop the war, the international community did not engage in a peace process between Albanese people and Serbs.
Kosovo is living in a situation of semi- independence. Some states have recognized Kosovo’s sovereignty, while others, like Russia, still consider it a region under the Serbian authority. Therefore, a political process for consolidating Kosovan government is unlikely. Without a legitimate government it is hard to help the population and overcome the crisis. Rwanda is another example of international failure to intervene. The UN response to the genocide in Rwanda was totally inadequate as it failed to address the deep causes of the conflict and face the humanitarian crisis.
Many unintended consequences are associated with humanitarian intervention. The impartiality of the delivery of assistance leads one part in the conflict to prevail over the other and undermine the local political development. Sometimes, elites exploit international help to augment their power and they use resources for their own benefit. As A. J. Kuperman explains, “since militants often intermingle with civilians in places such as refugee camps, humanitarian aid may provide susteance to rebels, enabling them to fight longer. (Kuperman 342) We should be careful about where the humanitarian aid is directed. In fact, countries that are experiencing war and human rights violations have weak political structures and corruption causes unprincipled leaders took of power. For example, in Afghanistan the corrupted Karzai government controls the resources and do not deliver the aid to civilians. It is hard to help Afghanistan if the international community furnish a corrupted government with aid. Other unintended consequences concern the external actor’s delivery of assistance.
As long as the services are furnished by external actors, the local government may not acquire the legitimacy from the population. Therefore, the political structures remain weak and political crisis are frequent. The international community can focus more on the immediate delivery of assistance than on the reinforcement of local structures. As a result, the country is dependent form external aid and cannot overcome alone the economic and political underdevelopment. The intervention in Bosnia is an example of intervention’s unintended consequences.
Bosnia declared its independence in 1992; then a civil war between Muslim- Croats and Serbs broke out, causing severe human rights violations, including ethnic cleansing. First, the international community adopted an embargo and authorized a peace- keeping operation. These measures were inadequate and in response to the Srebrenica massacre, the UN authorized a NATO operation in 1995, Operation Deliberate Force, aimed to stop the war. The events in Bosnia “demonstrate that the prospect of intervention contributed to both the outbreak and perpetuation of war.
Military intervention gradually enabled Muslims and Croats to reverse Serb military gains. But, by changing the balance of power, such intervention also unintentionally spurred humanitarian crimes” ( Kuperman 350) Finally, a major problem concerning humanitarian intervention is the sovereignty- non intervention dilemma. Is it better to intervene and violate the state’s sovereignty or preserve the sovereignty and let human rights violation continuing? There are two contradictions: sovereignty gives the government the possibility to abuse human rights; human rights are often used as a false excuse to intervene.
The international system is based on state’s authority, therefore states are the only source of enforcement. According to the UN Charter, sovereignty is a ius- cogens norm and it must be preserved and respected against the interference from external actors. Instead, the Charter provides no principle about humanitarian intervention. The international community decides about humanitarian intervention on a case-by-case basis. The “Responsibility to Protect” document issued by the ad hoc International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty made some steps forward in codifying humanitarian intervention.
This document calls for international community’s engagement in preventing and stop human rights abuses through “all forms of preventive measures, and coercitive intervention measures- sanctions and criminal prosecutions, as well as military intervention”. Despite the United Nations concern about human rights violations is growing, the Congolese humanitarian crisis persists and the international community makes little effort to help the population. A possible solution is for the United Nations to engage in helping the local population after having understood the deep causes of the conflict.
The cause of the humanitarian intervention’s failure was a misunderstanding of the Congolese civil war. A more accurate interpretation of the political structures and local dynamic can address the root causes of the conflict. This in turn can make the delivery of aid more effective. We should help civilian directly. We should teach them how to construct a political system and overcome the crisis. Congolese people should count on external assistance in order to understand how to develop social structures. The immediate aid trough food and medicines helps to face the emergence.
However, the humanitarian crisis is deep and difficult to solve with a short period aid. If civilians learn to construct strong political and social structures, in the long run the civil war will stop and the humanitarian crisis will decrease. Achieving this objective will take time and energies. First, it will require United Nations to focus on Congo’s war. Medias have to talk about Congo and bring the humanitarian crisis to public opinion’s attention. We need more information and more concern about violation of human rights. United Nations should give more attention to Congo than to ther countries since Congolese civil war is one of the worst in the world. It is hard to envisage how states can not pursue their interests in the Security Council. Sadly, states care more about their interests rather than human rights violations around the world. The United States’ role could be to pressure the other states to give Congo more attention and put forward a proposal of Resolution. Then the United Nations’ organs, such as UNHCR or NGOs can make the Resolution effective and act within the population in order to overcome the crisis and sustain the country’s development.