When Peacekeepers Turn Abusers: Congo’s UN Nightmare

Since the 2000s, there have been numerous reports of mind-numbing scandals committed by international organizations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These vary from rape and sexual abuse to the illegal export of minerals and illicit firearms to murderous rebel groups responsible for conflicts between provinces and neighbouring countries. 

The northeast part of the DRC is considered a “red zone” because of perennial conflicts and the threat of crimes against humanity. The zone is supposedly protected by the Congolese army and UN peacekeepers. However, Congolese observers claim they have not only failed to provide security and stability to these areas but also fueled much of these serious human rights violations.

In May 2018, an overturned UN-stamped armoured car was found to contain bags of coltan. Coltan ore is at the heart of armed conflicts in the eastern part of the country because of its use for the manufacture of capacitors and electronic equipment. While the situation remains unclear, many people believe that UN resources are being used to smuggle minerals instead of accomplishing their stabilization mission.

This is not the first case of illegal export of minerals by the UN. In 2011, a UN driver was arrested at the Rwandan-Congolese border with 1200 kilos of minerals. The Congolese government seized the vehicle and prosecuted the person involved in the illicit trafficking of Congolese blood ore. The government also asked the UN to take responsibility. While the international organization claimed to have launched its own investigation into the matter, there have been no reports of any results.

The bloody conflicts in DRC have already claimed millions of lives and fuel one of the most serious humanitarian crises in African history. Despite the UN having been in the region for over 20 years, it has so far struggled to incapacitate armed rebel groups. Several presidents, including ex-President Joseph Kabila in 2018, demanded the withdrawal of UN forces from the region, as it was not fulfilling its mission to eradicate rebels and maintain peace in the DRC. However, opposition groups and certain corrupt politicians supported the UN to remain in the territory. Attempts by President Kabila to remove the UN from Congo were alleged to be a result of blackmail and illegitimacy. 

The UN’s unpopular presence in the Congo is widespread and multifaceted. Another perfect example would be the cases of sexual abuse of health workers sent by the WHO during the Ebola crisis. About 50 women claimed to have been sexually exploited or abused by agents of the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the United Nations Migration Agency (IOM) in the city of Beni.

According to Canada’s Public Accounts, the government transferred over $45.8 million to the World Health Organization in 2019-2020 alone. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo saw a transfer payment of over $50.8 million from Canada in 2019-2020.

The media has been complicit with other international organizations in covering up the scandals happening in the DRC, resulting in a lack of investigations and remedial reforms. The Congolese people have no interest in receiving this so-called “help” from international organizations. Rather, there is a strong desire for Congo’s domestic problems to be solved by the Congolese people themselves. This sentiment is evident from the several militia groups forming in the “red zone” in order to fill in the gaps left by the UN and the government. The locals have taken it upon themselves to maintain peace and security in the zone.

These rampant issues could be resolved by large-scale exposure of these crimes and meaningful actions taken against the offending multilateral organizations operating in Congo. It is critical that international aid is appropriately and transparently utilized to restore the dignity of victims and honour the wishes of the Congolese people to live in peace and harmony in their own country. Considering there haven’t been any meaningful results in over 20 years, perhaps the solution lies in the repatriation of the roles that are claimed by the UN.

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