US Proposes Stricter Rules for EACRF Troops in DR Congo

Members of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) deployed as part of the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) ride in a vehicle in Goma, in eastern Congo, Nov. 16, 2022.

The working rules for East African Community Regional Forces (EACRF) in the Democratic Republic of Congo are set to become tougher if the US garners the support it seeks from the United Nations Security Council for its proposals. Washington’s aim is to learn from the mistakes of the departing UN Stabilisation Mission in the Congo (Monusco) and implement stringent safeguards to prevent violations of civilian rights by troops.

Although the EACRF may leave the DRC after December 8, following Kinshasa’s decision not to renew their mandate, the US insists that new forces deployed in the DRC should adhere to these new regulations. At a recent UN Security Council session focused on the DRC, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the UN, urged Council members not to endorse greater Monusco support for the EACRF “without appropriate safeguards, in line with UN policies to address human rights, accountability, and command and control concerns.” She emphasized the importance of these safeguards, as they are vital to ensure that the security situation does not worsen inadvertently.

Monusco is scheduled to begin its exit from the DRC in December, which aligns with the DRC’s election month. In light of these changes, President Felix Tshisekedi has reached out to countries in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), having lost faith in the EACRF. However, SADC has not yet deployed troops, and the US asserts that redirecting funds or resources from Monusco should only happen if new missions agree to the new regulations.

“We call on regional troops deployed to eastern DRC, whether bilaterally or through the East African Community, to coordinate with each other and Monusco. And they must avoid human-rights violations and abuses and illicit activities, including illicit mineral extraction,” stated Ms. Thomas-Greenfield. Monusco, present in the DRC since 1999, has also been accused of violations, including rape and sexual exploitation. In recent cases, Monusco expelled some South African soldiers found guilty of sexual exploitation.

In the DRC, the exit of these missions could leave a gap in security, which is already a concern given the escalation of animosity between Rwanda and the DRC. The two nations accuse each other of fueling rebel activities, with an increasing risk of conflict closer to the borders with Rwanda and Uganda.

The situation is further complicated by ongoing clashes between the M23 rebels and the Wazalendo self-defence group in the North Kivu region. This fighting could exacerbate the existing tensions. Even the EACRF reported an ambush by an “unknown armed group” targeting Ugandan troops in the mission.

Efforts to resolve these issues have faltered despite agreements reached between Rwanda and the DRC. Mr. Huang Xia, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, expressed concerns about the deteriorating security situation in the DRC and the lack of progress in addressing it.

Rwanda and the DRC continue to reinforce their military positions, and the absence of direct high-level dialogue and the persistence of hate speech on both sides add to the mounting tensions. This alarming situation has also been fueled by clashes between M23 rebels and the Wazalendo self-defence group, which is further central to the tensions between Rwanda and the DRC. While Kigali accuses Kinshasa of backing the FDLR, the latter accuses Kigali of supporting M23. The Luanda Process, aimed at enforcing a ceasefire and cantonment, has been disrupted, exacerbating the conflict.

Diplomatic solutions are being pursued by the UN, but the burden is also placed on the DRC to ensure free and fair elections. The US emphasizes that these elections should be open to everyone, including women and minority communities, to ensure peaceful outcomes. The situation remains highly complex and challenging, with significant regional implications and ongoing efforts to find resolutions.

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