Dear MONUC, Washington, Brussels, London and Kinshasa:
Forgive me for being so abrupt, but I have a question that demands an answer from you – the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the governments in Washington, Brussels, London and Kinshasa.
My question: Was it worth it?
Really. Was it? Was the disarming of 1,071 rebels with the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) in the Kimia II operation these past few months worth the humanitarian disaster you created in the Kivu provinces? We recently got the numbers on just how bad that humanitarian disaster was from the Congo Advocacy Coalition, a coalition of 84 local advocacy groups who are in a position to know.
Here are the results of Kimia II:
- 1,071 FDLR rebels disarmed.
- Approximately 1,000 civilians killed.
- Approximately 7,000 people raped.
- Approximately 900,000 people displaced.
- Approximately 6,000 houses burned down.
Nobody disputes these numbers, so don’t try to pull a fast one by saying the Congolese can’t come up with reliable data. The Congolese are masters at data collection.
It’s a remnant of the obsessive record-keeping the Belgians did while discriminating against tens of millions of people in health care and education. You can go to Brussels today and find out how many untreated cases of intestinal schistosomiasis led to Congolese deaths in 1948. And today there is a standardized form that doctors fill out when a woman or girl has been violently raped. The data is as solid as it can be under the circumstances.
Those numbers represent the human cost of Kimia II. But, you might say, there’s always collateral damage in war. It goes with the territory. And don’t we want to eliminate the threat from the FDLR?
Yes, of course. It’s unfortunate but true that some civilians will probably suffer in the effort to get the territory under control. Some of these abuses were certainly committed by the FDLR. But a lot of them were committed by the FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo).
That said, we have to consider the proportional effects of the effort. And those numbers, dear MONUC and all the Western capitals that supported this operation, are not in your favor.
For every FDLR rebel you disarmed:
- 1 civilian was killed.
- 7 people were violently raped.
- 900 people were displaced from their homes.
- 6 people lost their homes to arson.
Those are raw numbers and maybe they don’t mean that much to you, but they mean a lot to those 914,000 or so people whose lives were destroyed as a result of Kimia II.
Maybe these words from Immacule Birhaheka of Promotion et Appui aux Initiatives FÃ©minines will make clear what you have done. “We’re seeing more cases of mutilation, extreme violence and torture in sexual violence cases against women and girls, and many more of the victims are children.”
Oh, and odds are that you’ve created plenty of new FDLR rebels through this operation. Surely you’re not so naive as to believe that disarming 1,071 people means you can just get rid of rebel after rebel and eventually eliminate the FDLR. That didn’t work in Vietnam and it won’t work here.
What I don’t get is why you insisted on persisting with this operation even when it was clear that Kimia II was causing massive human suffering. We knew within six months of the operation’s launch that it was a disaster. And yet you continued. Why?
When humanitarian advocates, representatives of international NGOs, scholars and the Congolese spent the last four months telling you this operation had to stop because the human cost was so high, did you not believe us?
What suggested to you that involving the FARDC in an operation would mean that civilians would be protected from all the war criminals within its ranks? How can you look at the Congolese civilians you are ostensibly trying to protect and tell them that this was all in their best interest?
I genuinely want to know. Was it worth it?
Laura Seay is an Assistant Professor of Government at Colby College. She studies African politics, conflict and development, with a focus on central Africa.