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Commander Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, leader of the Congolese rebel group Mai Mai, is wanted by the Congolese government for ordering his militia to join an attack on a group of villages in Walikale, where the fighters gang-raped at least 387 women, men, girls and boys in 2010. He is also one of approximately 19,000 candidates for Congo’s National Assembly, the lower and main chamber of Congo’s Parliament. Sheka, listed as a “trader” on Congo’s election Web site, is one of 65 running in Walikale. Congolese authorities tried to arrest Sheka in July, but he escaped. In September, he registered as an independent candidate for the National Assembly. According to Congolese law, Sheka would be immune from prosecution if elected.

Congo’s election, scheduled for November 28th, includes a number of candidates accused of being criminals. One presidential candidate, Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi, is a former rebel leader whose militia carried out a massacre at a hospital and the surrounding area in 2002 during the country’s civil war. The fighters slaughtered any patient suspected to be from the Hema and Bira groups, killing more than 1,000, according to Human Rights Watch. After the war, Nyamwisi became Congo’s minister of regional cooperation. Another candidate is François-Joseph Nzanga Mobutu, the son of the former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown in 1997.

The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) said in a press release earlier this week that some political leaders have been using inflammatory language to incite people to violence. It stressed that such conduct is a violation of the country’s electoral law and international electoral standards. According to the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, “Regional and local rebel groups…remain active in several areas, leading to widespread displacement, sexual violence, murder and other forms of human rights abuses against Congolese civilians. The central government…has been unable to restore authority in several provinces and is itself involved in various serious human rights violations. The poorly-trained national army (FARDC) and police lack the capacity and the budget to protect the election process. Furthermore, they have themselves been in involved in abuses. Made up of former rebel groups and Congolese soldiers, FARDC is far from politically neutral and remains divided despite various integration efforts.”

Photo: guardian.co.uk

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The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect published a policy brief May 19 titled “Tackling the Threat of Mass Atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Applying the Responsibility to Protect.” This report examines the ongoing violence in the DRC and what steps international organizations, donor governments, and the Congolese government can take to fulfill their obligations under the Responsibility to Protect.

Conflict between armed rebel groups and the DRC armed forces (FARDC), dating back to 1996, has resulted in war crimes and crimes against humanity on both sides, including mass murder, rape, looting, pillaging, extortion, forced labor, forced conscription, and the displacement of over 1 million people. Despite a 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping force (MONUSCO), an ICC investigation, and UN Security Council sanctions, the security situation remains unstable.

Within the Congo itself, the brief identifies several key issues for the government to address with regard to the FARDC, including corruption, absence of a clear command-and-control structure, lack of training in civilian protection and human rights, linkages of certain units to individual politicians, persistence of impunity for perpetrators of abuses, and conflict over natural resources and mines. The brief also calls on the DRC to take steps to fulfill its Responsibility to Protect, and urges foreign governments and multilateral organizations to support Congo’s government in doing so.

The brief says MONUSCO should deploy preventively rather than reactively, and improve communications with the local population to better protect civilians. The most urgent need, according to the Global Centre for R2P, is for security sector reform to rein in the FARDC, including prosecution of known human rights abusers in the military. Stronger and more unified institutionalization of the FARDC, standardized and coordinated training that includes civilian protection and human rights components, and civilian oversight are critical for effective security sector reform, the brief says.

Lastly, the report argues that disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs should shift focus from short-term disarmament to longer-term efforts to reintegrate demobilized combatants into civilian society.

Photo: Operation Broken Silence

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