Monday, May 26, 2008

Bemba Arrested on War Crimes Charges

Former presidential candidate and vice president of the Congo was arrested on Saturday, May 24, 2008 in Beligum by Belgian authorities serving an international court warrant. Forty-five year old Bemba was arrested as a result of charges (four counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity) brought against him by International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in May 2007.

During the midst of the conflict in the Congo, Bemba's rebel group, the Congo Liberation Movement (MLC in French) was accused of mass rape, pillaging and torture in neighboring Central African Republic while protecting former President Ange Felix Patasse from rebel attacks in 2002 led by Francois Bozize who is now President of the former French colony.

Bemba may be held for 60 - 90 days in Belgium before being transferred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Bemba has been in exile in Portugal for over one year, even though he was elected to the Congolese senate after having lost the presidential race to rival Joseph Kabila. Bemba is in exile because he feared for his life after clashes with Kabila's presidential guard in March of 2007.

Kengo Wa Dondo, president of the Congolese senate maintains that Bemba is still a member of the Congolese parliament and will await the decision of the Belgians who are holding Bemba. Francois Mwamba of the MLC has called for the immediate and unconditional release of their party's leader. Contrary to proclamations from diplomats and experts the removal of Bemba from the Congolese political seen will deal a crucial blow to the MLC.

The more important question for the international community is how they square arresting Bemba for crimes committed in Central African Republic in 2002 when they are consorting with Larent Nkunda and dressing him up in suits while his troops continue to commit human rights abuses and violently rape women today in the Congo? The atrocities being committed by Nkunda's men far outstretch anything ever done by Bemba. Congolese people cannot help but find this whole affair duplicitous whereby Rwanda and its allies continue to be left off the hook and protected at the highest levels of Western governments and buttressed by humanitarian groups and think tanks in Washington while the Congolese people continue to suffer and die.

The truth of the matter is that Rebel leaders dating back to 1996 have the blood of Congolese people on their hands. Although not widely reported in the media it is these rebels that western backers have thrown their financial and material resources behind at the expense of the non-violent pro-democracy forces and the people of the Congo. It was no accident that Jean Pierre Bemba and Joseph Kabila wound up in a run-off for the presidency in 2006.

Key Sources:
International Criminal Court Statement

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

UN Under Fire in the Congo

The United Nations (UN) has had a checkered history in the Congo, since the role it played in the removal and subsequent assassination of Patrice Emery Lumumba, Congo's first elected Prime Minister, in the 1960s. (see Thomas Kanza's Rise and Fall of Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah The Challenge of Congo).

It is often stated that the United Nations Mission in Congo (known by its French acronym, MONUC), has the largest U.N. peacekeeping troops in the world at almost 18,000. Although, factually correct, it is a misleading statement. The UN presence is paltry in a country the size of Western Europe compared to other parts of the world (see below chart).

Although the United Nations spends over $1 billion per year to maintain a presence in the Congo, that presence has been plagued with numerous missteps and wrongdoings. UN troops have been involved in the raping and prostitution of Congolese women and girls and of late, have been accused of smuggling natural resources and selling weapons to rebel groups. See below the latest articles, reports and statements regarding the UN presence in the Congo.
1. UN: Tackle Wrongdoing by Peacekeepers: Investigation Division Ignores Gold Smuggling and Arms Trading in Congo
2. Human Rights Watch Letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (PDF)
3. Head of UN Mission in Congo Denounces Trafficking Allegations
4. INTERVIEW-Congo abuse charges unfair, may hurt peace role -UN
5. UN troops 'armed DR Congo rebels'
6. Mission Impossible (BBC)
7. Congo spotlight on India and Pakistan