“Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo today claimed control of the main city of Goma and its airport, in the mineral-rich east, as President Joseph Kabila urged people to defend the nation’s sovereignty. M23 rebel troops marched silently in single file into Goma meeting with little resistance,” according to AFP.
“The M23 is well inside Goma,” said a senior United Nations military official.
The fall of the city “could lead to serious human rights abuses against civilian populations,” says the International Crisis Group, which also fears “the settling of accounts or even targeted extrajudicial executions against authorities and civil society activists.”
Only ‘inclusive political dialogue’ can provide a lasting solution to the crisis in the eastern DRC, a coalition of civil society groups declared this week.
The AETA civil society network called on “politicians of all persuasions and social actors to overcome differences that undermine and divide the nation” and to “safeguard the territorial integrity [of the DRC] regardless of internal political divisions.”
The network includes the Réseau d’Education Civique au Congo, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.
“Donors, and probably the Congolese government, will have no choice but to deal with the rebels and call on Rwanda to help,” said Congo analyst Jason Stearns:
Rwanda would draw international criticism for the fall of Goma, the capital of Congo’s North Kivu province, but also regain influence. Donor nations, some of which had frozen aid to Kigali over its alleged backing for the rebellion, would be forced to accept its role in any negotiated settlement with Kinshasa.
“The escalation we’ve all been fearing has taken place,” writes Stearns, author of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters. How did this unfold?” he asks, providing a useful timeline of what’s going on in Goma.
According to the International Crisis Group: The new offensive is a tragic repeat of the threat by Laurent Nkunda’s Conseil National de Défense du Peuple (CNDP) to take Goma in 2008. Once again, the civilian population is paying a heavy price. As in 2008, the same causes could produce the same fearful effects:
- the fall of Goma could lead to serious human rights abuses against civilian populations;
- the settling of accounts or even targeted extrajudicial executions against authorities and civil society activists who have taken a stance against the M23 since the beginning of the crisis in March could raise the death toll and fuel more violence;
- Kinshasa’s capitulation to the M23 could send shock waves throughout the Kivus and relaunch open warfare between the DRC and Rwanda; and
- the UN and the ICGLR, both responsible for conflict management in the region, are being discredited.
As immediate steps, regional and international actors must secure:
- an end to fighting inside Goma;
- M23’s commitment to respect MONUSCO’s mandate to fully protect civilians; and
- M23’s concrete assurances, visible on the ground, to respect civilians and property in areas under their control, and prevent further human rights abuses.
To avoid a regional implosion, the following steps are also necessary:
- explicit condemnation by the UN Security Council, African Union (AU) and ICGLR of external involvement in the fighting;
- immediate efforts by MONUSCO’s leadership to seek to negotiate and secure a formal ceasefire, as well as accelerate the deployment of the Joint Verification Mechanism and the Neutral Force agreed by the ICGLR;
- sanctions by the European Union (EU), UN Security Council, and especially France, the UK and the U.S., as well as the AU, not only against the rebellion’s leaders, but also against their external supporters;
- an investigation by the International Criminal Court into the actions of the M23 and new armed groups, and the request by the court that MONUSCO transfer its files concerning M23 leaders; and
- the immediate establishment of a joint fact-finding mission in the region by the AU, EU, Belgian, South African and U.S. special envoys for the Great Lakes to determine the best course for arriving at the long-term resolution of this crisis.
The immediate priority is to stop the current fighting and protect civilians.
Long-term solutions will require that the UN Security Council, AU and ICGLR ensure that peace agreements and that stabilisation plans no longer remain empty promises. To achieve this, coordinated and unequivocal pressure on the Congolese government and the M23 rebel movement, as well as the latter’s external supporters, is required from international donors and regional actors.