Response from the International Community

Congolese refugees line up to register with the United Nations Refugee Agency in Uganda, about 15km from the Uganda-DRC border, October 2007

One of the tragic lessons of the conflict in the DRC is that when a government fails, usually the civilians suffer the most. The paradox of human rights is that they can serve to protect individuals against governments, but governments with well-functioning judicial systems can also be the best protectors of human rights. In a state where a government has failed or is unable to provide security and protection for its citizens, the human rights situation can be just as devastating as in a state where the government is able to provide security for its citizens but also brutally represses them.

The civil war in the DRC and the continued sporadic clashes between armed rebel groups and the government in the eastern part of the country left a situation in which civilians were often caught in the middle of a struggle for control over the same piece of territory.

After a rescue operation in Kinshasa, DRC, Bangladeshi UN Police Officer drives injured to the Emergency First Aid Unit of MONUC, March 2007

In situations such as these, there may be a role for the international community — in the form of the United Nations or other regional organizations — to try to provide security and protect civilians. However, as the civil war in the DRC has shown, even with the best of intentions, it has been difficult for the UN peacekeeping force to bring essential security to the eastern half of the DRC to stem the humanitarian catastrophe. Also, due largely to the lack of proper policies by the nations supplying the units, allegations of abuse by a few UN personnel surfaced at some UN camps. The UN imposed a zero-tolerance policy against sexual abuse and exploitation by its peacekeepers, and in 2007, security had much improved in the Ituri region. International peacekeeping finally had a beneficial effect.

Dyilo talks to villagers in Ituri district, June 2003
The international community has also been able to move forward in bringing justice to some of the victims of the war. In 2006, the International Criminal Court brought forth its first case ever, charging Thomas Lubanga Dyilo with the war crimes of conscripting children under the age of 15 and forcing them to participate in military hostilities. Dyilo is a citizen of the DRC and the alleged founder of one of the most deadly armed militia groups in the Ituri province.

On July 10, 2012, the International Criminal Court sentenced Dyilo to 14 years in prison for using child soldiers. It was the first guilty judgment ever passed by the court.
Despite the efforts of the UN and the ICC, as of 2012, the situation in the DRC remained relatively unstable and human rights protections were still inadequate. The tragedy of the DRC was that after decades of corruption and mismanagement and the plundering of its natural resources, the government had been unable to provide even the most basic of services to its citizens.

In which situation would it be easier to bring about change:
  • an unstable state with a weak government and exploitive, violent factions
  • or a stable state with a harsh, oppressive government?
How does the failure of states in Africa, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, affect countries far away, like the United States?

Annan Admits UN DR Congo Abuses
Congo News
Questions and Answers on the Arrest of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo
Lubanga Case
United Nations Role in the Congo