The New Times (Kigali)

10 July 2012

Rwanda: Don't Congolese Need Protection - Like Libyans?

The rebels say they are fighting to make the Government uphold a past peace agreement and that they are prepared to take the regional capital, ... ( Resource: M23's Col. Makenga Speaks to Al Jazeera

opinion

Nearly two years ago, a fashionable term came into the language of international diplomacy. The new term was couched in an admirable moral principle - the responsibility to protect civilians threatened by rogue governments.

For those not given to moral pretensions or coating unpleasant reality with sweeteners, the principle was another name for regime change, for it seems to have been applied to only those leaders some countries did not like.

The principle to protect gained currency and a measure of acceptability with the effort to remove then Libyan leader, Muammar Gadaffi. His 42 years in power had earned him many domestic enemies. Some were simply fed up at the sight of the same man, despite the many costume changes. His bragging and arrogance ensured he had few friends even among his peers. And his penchant for meddling made him the most hated man.

And Gadaffi outdid even himself when he threatened to exterminate "all the rats" of Benghazi, Tripoli and other areas where Libyans rose against his rule.

The responsibility to protect - really to remove Gadaffi - was therefore welcome.

Then Gadaffi was gone - killed like a rat - and with him the principle of the responsibility to protect civilians.

Like every fashion, it had faded fast. Like most untruths, it did not last long.

Soon after, the Syrians, no doubt at the prompting of those who had got rid of Gadaffi and now wanted Bashar al Assad to follow him, became restive. They said they wanted their very tall president out of office. In no time they took up arms supplied or paid for by their prompters against the man. Assad hit them back hard.

As expected, there have been very loud calls for the removal of Bashar al Assad. There have also been huge losses of life. But not much has been heard of the responsibility to protect. Only murmurs. And sometimes it gets muted altogether.

Instead we have seen some ineffective diplomatic efforts led by ex-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to resolve the political mess, most of it created by his masters. Annan's efforts were doomed to fail from the very beginning because the people who send him on a useless errand do not want the efforts to succeed.

When now the Democratic Republic of the Congo is embroiled in a self-destruction conflict and thousands of people are being killed, the silence about the responsibility to protect is deafening.

It is strange that the principle was valid for Libya, and to a limited extent Syria, but inexplicably not for the DRC where the conditions of civilians are perhaps much worse.

Today, the situation in Eastern DRC begs for intervention, but no one is moving to do so. There is an absence of the state in the region, not that this is new. As a result of the absence of the protective role of the state and its assurance of law and order, numerous armed groups have sprung up to protect the interests of specific groups, or to plunder.

Eastern DRC is one of the most militarised and most insecure places in Africa. The Congolese army is present in large numbers but behaves no better than the many armed groups. The biggest UN Peace keeping force in the world is there, but is noticeable by its abject failure to carry out its mandate. Instead, it is very active in making up stories and blaming its failures on others.

Predictably, the existence of many militias and a weak and indisciplined national army has led to the death of millions of people and displacement of hundreds of thousands. The most recent outbreak of fighting between the Congolese army and M23 mutineers, of which other groups have taken advantage, has added to the growing number of deaths and massive dislocation of population.

Yet we have heard no calls for the invocation of the principle of responsibility to protect civilians in DRC. Which begs the question: Do you need a horrible and hateful character like Gadaffi to justify the need to protect? If that's the criterion, then we have passed the threshold in DRC because there are hundreds of such horrible creatures. Or are the lives of Congolese so worthless that it is useless to spend time, energy and resources to save them?

Probably, and ironically and in a perverse way, the UN spends a lot of money to oversee the destruction of DRC.

The latest news is that the Congolese army has been fleeing the fighting and deserting in their battalions, beaten by a few hundred rebels. Whatever elements of the state were present in Eastern DRC are disintegrating and before long that will extend to the rest of the country. That will inevitably lead to further destruction.

But the world has turned a blind eye to the huge security risk and humanitarian crisis in the Congo. The world community has escaped its responsibility to protect civilians from various rogue elements - whether in government or from elsewhere. Or maybe it was never meant to except in some selected instances. That looks more like it.

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