African Union urged to step up efforts against FDLR militia

The African Union has expressed concern over the worsening acts of terror by outlawed groups on the continent.
FDLR members are accused of genocide, mass rape and other human rights violations. (Al Jazeera Photo)
FDLR members are accused of genocide, mass rape and other human rights violations. (Al Jazeera Photo)

The African Union has expressed concern over the worsening acts of terror by outlawed groups on the continent.

This was during an extra ordinary Peace and Security Council summit in Nairobi, Kenya last week.

The meeting, attended by several African Heads of State and government decried the growing terror activities and transnational organised crime such as illicit trafficking in firearms and mercenarism, as well as the threat this situation poses to peace, security, and stability on the continent.

Addressing the Nairobi meeting, Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo said terrorist groups, including FDLR that continues to cause instability in the region, are getting more sophisticated.

The FDLR is a French acronym for Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. The group has been operating in the DR Congo for the last 20 years and is composed of elements blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

Similar concerns were echoed on Thursday last week by Smail Chergui, the African Union commissioner for peace and security, who, after a courtesy call on President Paul Kagame said his office was working toward peace and stability in the region by bringing to an end groups like FDLR and others that threaten regional stability.

However, scholars who have spoken to The New Times indicate that the AU should act more and talk less.

 What can AU do?

Dr Charles Kabwete Mulinda, the Head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences, said the organisation can bring stability to the region by taking firm actions.

“The first thing would be to compel countries hosting militia groups to cease supporting of such groups. For the case of FDLR, more pressure should be put on the DR Congo and UN forces operating in that country to implement the decisions agreed upon regarding disarmament and repatriation of the members of the militia group,” Dr Kabwete said.

Dr Kabwete said military action as agreed upon under the framework of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in Angola in July this year could lead to the group’s elimination, if supported by the AU. 

The meeting gave the group up to December to voluntarily surrender or face forceful disarmament. The six-month ultimatum ends in December and has a midterm review meeting in October.

“They should make it clear that once the six months elapse, international peacekeepers will not hesitate to disarm them forcefully,” the scholar said.

The decision won the backing of the UN Security Council. 

Dr Mukesh Kapila, a professor at Manchester University, UK, and author of “Against the Tide of Evil” which gives insights into inaction by world organisations to stop atrocities like the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, said it was time the AU sent in troops  to disarm the militia group.

“AU needs to send in troops to disarm the militia and set up a special tribunal to try FDLR cadres who have been committing atrocities,” Dr Kapila said. 

“In addition, DRC needs support to bring law and order to its eastern region,” he told The New Times from Geneva, Switzerland.

In a related development, minister Mushikiwabo said  last week that lack of political will had been a hindrance in dealing with the militia group.

Mushikiwabo was addressing journalists after a meeting with the new United Nations Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, Said Djinnit, on Thursday.

She said the group was not a mystery in any way but all that is required is political will. 

“When decisions are made on ending the threat of FDLR, there seems to be invisible hands that seem to want to give it a new lease of life and to cleanse it,” the minister said.

Djinnit, who replaced former Irish President Mary Robinson as UN envoy backed the mini-summit’s position, saying it would guide the way forward once the deadline passes.

“That is the decision of the region, the presidential statements said the same thing, I have said the same thing in DRC, so we will be operating under that framework,” Djinnit said.

FDLR is a designated terrorist group and its top military and political leaders face international sanctions.

Despite this, however, some countries in the region have previously floated the idea that the group repatriate after a negotiated settlement with the government of Rwanda, which the latter has rejected.

Rwanda says the militiamen should repatriate under predesigned mechanisms of Disarmament, Demobilise, Repartriate, Resettle and Reintegrate (DDRRR) which is supported by the UN.

Under the same framework, over 11,000 former members of the militia group have since been repatriated and have been reintegrated into society.

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