Security Sector Reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo

On August 11, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, IRIN, published an article arguing that military training in Democratic Republic of the Congo cannot occur in the absence of larger security sector and governance reform. The piece,Can the DRC army stop abusing human rights?, contended “Stamping out human rights abuses by the army in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) entails more than classroom training sessions.”

IRIN noted that in recent history “tens of thousands of former rebels” had been integrated into the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) without adequate vetting or human rights training. With the “absence of any real military justice, civilian oversight or accountability” this has translated into serious human rights abuses.

According to IRIN focusing policies on building a professional military and accountability are important when a country’s armed forces are poorly equipped and underpaid.

FARDC human rights abuses

In May, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office published a report linking members of the U.S.- trained 391 Commando Battalion to widespread atrocities, including the mass rape of at least 102 women and 33 young girls in November 2012 in Minova, eastern DRC. According to the report, the abuses were done “in a systematic manner and with extreme violence.”

Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense authorized news outlets, which retains Congressionally protected free speech rights, described it as the realization of U.S. diplomats and military officials’ “worst fears:” efforts at building up a Congolese unit of benevolent soldiers had effectively failed.

According to the Washington Post, U.S. Special Operations Forces had spent eight months training the 750-member battalion as part of a U.S. effort to reform and professionalize Congo’s military. The battalion was trained under the Operation Olympic Chase program, funded through the State Department and executed in cooperation with U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

AFRICOM maintained the training was part of a long-term, multiagency approach to build model units.  The Washington Post reported that the training is part of the Pentagon’s attempt to increase “its training in irregular warfare and counterterrorism with friendly countries as part of a broader strategy to combat extremist groups and stabilize war-torn regions.” They estimated that “at any given time, U.S. Special Operations forces are deployed on training or liaison missions to as many as 80 countries.”

Global Security, a security focused NGO, estimates that the cost of this particular training, which lasted 12-weeks, was about $33 million.

The U.S. Department of State had decided in 2009 to decrease funding for areas like the rule of law, and human rights and instead increase funding for stabilization operations and security sector reform. This suggests that U.S. policy makers saw military training, the model unit approach, as an important step towards peace and security in the DRC.

The U.S. State Department funds military training in the DRC through two accounts: International Military Education and Training and Peacekeeping Operations.  In 2009, the State Department allotted $41,006,000 these two accounts.

The U.S. State department condemned the abuses in a statement.

Leahy Law

The Leahy law requires that individuals from foreign forces be vetted for human rights abuses before they can receive training from the United States. But U.S. military leaders, among them the head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, Admiral William McRaven, have argued the Leahy can be too restrictive and prevent Special Operations forces from training units that need the most help. Many analysts, however, think that the Leahy Law is not strong enough, because it does not prevent partnerships with chronically abusive militaries.

The IRIN report underscored that training “model units” in a country in conflict fails to address the larger context, including a military with a history of systematic human rights abuses. In response to the report, Thierry Vircoulon, the Central Africa project director for the International Crisis Group, stressed that:

The state of the army in itself is a disaster, so you train people and you send them back to a dysfunctional army,” he said. “You are trained, but you still have a very low wage, no logistics, a very poor command system and no sense of belonging and cohesion because the Congolese army is still a patchwork of very different groups. Even if you’re trained, at the end of the day, you’re still a hungry and unpaid soldier.

Effective security sector reform will require more than training of elite forces. 

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