The New Times (Kigali)

10 January 2013

Congo-Kinshasa: Does DRC Need Surveillance Drones?

Photo: Sylvain Liechti/UN
Fleeing conflict (file photo).

As efforts towards a negotiated solution to the crisis in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continue, the UN is pushing for deployment of surveillance drones in the area.

In a closed meeting on Tuesday, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous asked the Security Council to support deployment of surveillance drones in the east of the DRC, purportedly to improve the UN peacekeeping mission's ability to protect civilians.

Brieuc Pont, the spokesperson of the French Mission to the UN, also tweeted that "the UN in Congo needs additional and modern assets, including drones, to be better informed and more reactive."

But analysts are skeptical about the drone's effectiveness to bring lasting peace in the vast country.

Conflict in the region has escalated since last April, when M23 rebels mutinied from DRC's national army (FARDC).

Hundreds of Congolese civilians have since been displaced in North Kivu Province, some fleeing to Rwanda and Uganda.

Several diplomats, however, reportedly expressed reservations.

According to the Inner City Press news agency, countries including Russia, China, Azerbaijan and Guatemala, through their Permanent Representatives, also expressed concern about Ladsous' proposal.

Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda's Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, told The New Times vial e-mail yesterday that whereas Rwanda welcomes the Secretary-General's intention to reconfigure MONUSCO [UN mission in Congo] by strengthening its capabilities and enhancing its operational mobility in order to implement its mandate, it is reserved on the use of a technology, whose implications are still being assessed.

Nduhungirehe said, "We recognise that the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in peacekeeping operations has far-reaching implications on national sovereignty and territorial integrity and thus believe that, as suggested by the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping (C-34), a clear legal, financial and technical assessment is needed before any endorsement of such technology is put forth".

"Therefore, we express reservations about the introduction of UAVs to peacekeeping operations when the issues that go along with it are still being discussed," the diplomat added.

This position of Rwanda, he said, has nothing to do with Congo.

"Rwanda expressed it as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) which has expressed the same reservations. Last year, before even the creation of M23 and before the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) proposed to use UAVs in MONUSCO, we already had the same stand.

"Our position would have been exactly the same if the UAVs were proposed for Côte d'Ivoire, Somalia or Sudan! It's a matter of principle, of sovereignty and territorial integrity of states."

France, the US and Britain are reportedly some of the countries in support of the proposal.

Analysts say there are unanswered questions about who would receive the information from the drones and how widely it would be disseminated, among other issues. There are suspicions, especially in developing nations, that drones will become a new intelligence-gathering tool for the West.

Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, a political scientist and senior research fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research in Uganda, told The New Times that it is not clear why the UN only targets eastern DRC for such military interventions yet the country has many other regions infested with armed groups.

"I would think that the surveillance drones should be deployed in all the DRC regions that have armed groups, especially the various Mai-Mai militias and FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, who are largely blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda]. Why is the UN so much concerned with M23?"

According to Inner City Press new agency, the concerns ranged from the control of information - that is, who would get it - to compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation rules, and the tender process, among others.

Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) Spokesperson Col. Felix Kulayigye also said that the deployment of surveillance drones in eastern Congo can only be a viable option if UN doesn't deploy them in a selective manner.

Susan Thomson, a professor of peace and conflict studies at the Colgate University in New York, tweeted yesterday, "I am against the use of drones anywhere in the world. Period. Those arguing Rwanda to submit are not making a rights-based one. Shame."

Ladsous was France's Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN Security Council in 1994 during the Genocide against the Tutsi, and at the time, he allegedly supported the escape of the genocidal machinery into eastern DRC.

DRONES are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVS). They are essentially planes remotely flown by pilots from the ground or follow pre-programmed flight missions.

While their use in war and intelligence missions is a thing from the 1980s, it has been increasingly adopted by industrialised countries such as theUnited States, the United Kingdom, Italy, among others.

There are different types of drones which are divided into two major categories: those used for reconnaissance and surveillance missions and those that are used in actual warfare that carry missiles and bombs and release them to kill when remotely ordered.

The use of drones has been quickly growing in recent years due to their ability to stay in the air for many hours without having people in their cockpits. One drone may cost between $20 and $50 million to make but it remains a perfect war tool since its users don't have to lose their lives on the battlefield.

The British and U.S. drones have physically been in Afghanistan and Iraq and their control is done by the United Sates Airforce via a satellite from their Nellis and Creech bases outside Las Vegas in Nevada. Ground crews launch drones from the conflict zone, then operation is handed over to controllers at video screens in specially designed trailers in the Nevada desert.

One person could fly the drone, another person could stay in contact with the troops and commanders on the ground in the war zones while another could operate and monitor the cameras and sensors.

Drones were first used in the Balkans war, and then in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it's the CIA's undeclared war in Pakistan that has made them popular in recent years during American attacks on Al-Qaida leaders.

Most drones are manufactured in the United States by engineers at companies like General Atomics Aeronautical Systems based in San Diego, California.

Many human rights activists and researchers have highly criticised the use of drones in intelligence and warfare because of their low ability to separate innocent civilians from warriors during their attacks.

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InFocus

Does DR Congo Need Drones?

Fleeing conflict (file photo).

The United Nations' call for the deployment of surveillance drones in the country has drawn scepticism from analysts who are doubting its effectiveness to bring lasting peace. Read more »