U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley did not mince words in her remarks about the Democratic Republic of Congo to the Council on Foreign Relations. “The UN peacekeeping mission is mandated to partner with the government,” Haley said. “In other words, the U.N. is aiding a government that is inflicting predatory behavior against its own people. We should have the decency and common sense to end this.”
This was the first time in this writer’s memory that the United States publicly called out the Congolese regime of Joseph Kabila for violence against its own people. It was expected that Haley would speak about her plans to assess current U.N. peacekeeping missions while “making the case that human rights fall within the Security Council’s responsibility for maintaining international peace and security,” according to the media advisory for the event.
The mandate for the $1.2 billion U.N. peacekeeping mission in DRC, known as MONUSCO, expires in two days. Haley will assume the rotating Presidency of the U.N. Security Council in April. Security Council negotiations about troop strength are taking place with a backdrop of increasing violence as President Joseph Kabila is refusing to step down as constitutionally mandated in the 2017 elections. The U.S. has indicated that it wants MONUSCO troops cut to 15,000, a drop of about 25 percent.
Besides the concerns about human rights violations, term limits and increasing violence, the cuts are tied to President Donald Trump’s America First Budget, which calls for deep reductions in foreign aid. The Department of State budget includes The U.S. Mission to the U.N.
Under Trump’s plan, the U.S. would fund 25 percent of the U.N.’s peacekeeping budget, down from the current 28 percent ($2.18 billion). The single largest U.N. line item is peacekeeping, with a total price tag of about $7.8 billion in FY2016. The budget for MONUSCO is over $1.2 Billion.
“Under Trump’s plan, the U.S. would fund 25 percent of the U.N.’s peacekeeping budget, down from the current 28 percent ($2.18 billion).”
But one has to wonder if the statement Haley issued the night before about the murder/assassinations of Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan in Congo was on her mind. Sharp, a United States citizen, Catalan of Sweden, interpreter Betu Tshintela, driver Isaac Kabuayi and two motorbike drivers, went missing March 12. They were part of a “group of experts” assigned by the United Nations to investigate violence and human rights violations by the Congolese Army (FARDC) and local militias. The group vanished near the remote village of Bunkonde, south of the provincial capital, Kananga. Villagers reported an unidentified armed group took them into the forest. They had no protection from MONUSCO, even though they were venturing into one of the most violent regions of DRC. Kananga, formerly known as Luluabourg or Luluaburg, is the capital city of the Lulua Province.
According to international media reports, the bodies were found and identified on March 28, thereby prompting Haley’s remarks and condolences to the families.
However, according to sources on the ground and independent media reports, the bodies were found and identified by Congolese troops within a day of their disappearance. This begs the question of how the Congolese army (FARDC) knew exactly where to find them, especially since FARDC was recently implicated and charged in a mass killing of villagers in the same region. “There are also at least five new videos implicating the Congolese military in the shooting of civilians, following the release of one in February that has led to the arrest of seven soldiers for war crimes,” according to Africa Times. See also “Donald Trump and Nikki Haley Have Unique Opportunity in Congo.”
A U.N. press release quoting Maman Sidikou, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for DR Congo and head of MONUSCO, and dated March 16 says in part, “We are still without news of the two experts missing since Sunday, March 12.” According to a March 17 statement by Radio Okapi, “On Wednesday in Kananga, the head of MONUSCO, Maman Sidikou, welcomed the cooperation with the Congolese government. He also called on all those who would have information about missing persons to share them with MONUSCO.
On Tuesday night, March 28, the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, confirmed their deaths.
However, and this is very important, sources in diplomatic circles in Congo and quoted in L’agence D’information on March 17 say that the victims were assassinated on the day of their kidnapping, they name the road (Kananga-TshiL’agence D’information mpulu road), and charge that the government in Kinshasa had this information since March 13, when the “mutilated bodies of the six people were found just hours after their abduction.”
Did the Congolese government and MONUSCO purposely deceive the press and the international community? Is this part of a bigger cover-up? The general posture in Kinshasa when an atrocity occurs is to deny, deny, deny. Did the delay in notification amount to a government in collusion with MONUSCO?
There is motive, if one wants to believe ground sourcing.
“On February 20, the Congolese government denied the requested mission of the U.N. experts, whom the Geneva High Commission for Human Rights planned to send to the Kasai to investigate three mass graves containing victims of local security forces,” according to the independent L’agence D’information.
Speaking of denial, Lambert Mende said, “After tests it is possible to identify the bodies as the two U.N. experts and their interpreter (as) being found near the Moyo river.” Remember that Mende, Congo’s information minister, also denied the authenticity of the video showing the FARDC massacre of villagers, saying it was filmed elsewhere. This, despite the camera point of view being directly behind the shooters. The group of villagers included two women and several children. Seven members of FARDC were charged with the massacre.
Nikki Haley is so far correct about everything in Congo. There is no reason to trust MONUSCO or the government in this case.
“We should have the decency and common sense to end this.”