This blog is cross-posted and co-authored with the Latin America focused Just the Facts blogger Sarah Kinosian.
Last week Guatemala sent 150 troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission there. The soldiers were members of the Kaibiles, an elite counterinsurgency unit that has a notoriously violent reputation stemming from its brutal training. In early 2013, Adam Isacson wrote a blog on Just the Facts about the Kaibiles and their “notorious human rights past.” As outlined in the blog, the Kaibiles’ training included extreme cruelty such as killing animals, eating them raw and drinking their blood.
The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is the UN’s largest peacekeeping force. In addition to Guatemala, other Latin American countries that have contributed troops include Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. This most recent deployment is the 13th mission Guatemala has sent to the central African nation since the country’s contingent began operating in 2000. The Kaibiles have been part of MONUSCO since 2006.
MONUSCO recently became the United Nations first offensive peacekeeping unit, which includes a specialized “intervention brigade,” in addition to its peacekeeping force, “to support the Government of the DRC in its stabilization and peace consolidation efforts.”
Prior to this change, the UN forces in the DRC were traditional peacekeeping forces in that the use of force was restricted to the protection UN personnel, including foreign peacekeeping troops. The new intervention brigade’s mandate is to “neutralize” armed groups in order to allow for stabilization work. The Associated Press reported so far that Tanzanian, South African and Malawian soldiers would participate in the brigade. It is unclear whether the Kaibiles will be included in this particular brigade.
Concerns over human rights abuses by MONUSCO recently surfaced. Over the weekend, the UN opened an investigation into reports that Uruguayan soldiers had open fired into a crowd, resulting in the death of two Congolese citizens. Uruguay has denied the allegations, saying its troops fired rubber bullets, and blamed the Congolese police for the deadly shots.
In his blog, Isacson pointed out that “it is reasonable to question” why a U.S. sergeant was sent to train at the Guatemalan special operations Kaibil school and why the “U.S. armed forces would report on the event without even acknowledging the cloud that hangs over the Kaibiles.” The same logic could apply to the Kaibiles’ participation in a UN peacekeeping force.