Hard Question to our Website – AFRICOM and DRC

Posted on Vince Crawley’s Africa Blog on February 24, 2010: http://vincecrawley.wordpress.com

When AFRICOM Works with DRC Troops, How Do We Know Our Training Won’t be Used Against Civilian Population?

U.S. Africa Command recently began working with the Light Infantry Battalion program in the DRC, with the goal of training a model battalion for the DRC military (known as the FARDC). This is an initiative by the U.S. Department of State, with the U.S. military in support.

A couple of days ago, an anonymous visitor posted a newspaper article on our Website about human rights abuses by militaries in the Congo. After the article, our visitor added,

I read this article and thought to myself, why are more people not getting involved?. The USA protects most other countries from things like this. Why do we Americans just turn our heads and look the other way? These people are dieing, suffering from hunger, disease, and the people that are ment to protect them are murdering them.”

Shortly after this posting came into our Website, we had a group of African journalists visiting us in Stuttgart. One of their main questions was, If the United States trains African militaries and improves their capability, how can we guarantee these well-trained troops won’t attack civilian populations or overthrow their government?

There are no easy answers, and these questions deserve thoughtful response. So, in consultation with the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, as well as with officials in Washington, we crafted an answer to the question and posted it on our website.

The question was in response to an article about U.S. Africa Command’s General Ward visiting the DRC in April 2009. http://www.africom.mil/getArticle.asp?art=2940&lang=0– When the public provides feedback to our articles, the feedback appears directly below the main article, and our Public Affairs response then appears below the question.

The public feedback on our site read as follows, beginning with a story in the U.K. Guardian newspaper told through the eyes of a victim of violence in the DRC:

On 2/22/2010 10:24:49 PM, Anonymous in Unspecified said:

Congo: “The soldiers meant to protect us are the same ones killing people”

Mupole Natabaro, 30, from Musurundi, recalls being gang-raped and left for dead by government troops who killed her family.
(by David Smith in Goma guardian.co.uk, Friday 5 February 2010 19.03 GMT)

One day the FDLR rebels attacked the government soldiers’ positions. They fought but the FDLR was not strong enough so they ran into the forest.
Then the government army came to the village. They said they were coming to protect us but they were nervous and their behaviour changed. They raped and killed people and burned them in their houses. Many died that day.
I was hiding in the bush near the village. I heard that my parents, younger brothers and three sons were killed on the same day.
I was running in the forest and met a government soldier. He took me and raped me. After that he went to call his colleagues to do the same thing. Five of them raped me. I felt bad. I was hurt in my stomach.
The soldiers took off all my clothes and left me in the forest. To the people who found me, I was like a dead person. They carried me to a nearby village and took care of me.
When my husband heard about what happened to me he said he could not live with me any more he could not be my husband any more. When I heard that I was really shocked. I have no parents, no children, no husband. It’s a bad situation. I’m not even able to buy soap.
I was shocked that the soldiers who came to protect us did this. If it was the FDLR I could understand better, but with the government army, it’s insane. They were former CNDP [another armed rebel group].
It’s not wrong for the UN to support government soldiers, but the soldiers meant to protect us are the same ones killing people.
It seems like this is the end of my life. I don’t know if I will survive after this. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I have hope in God. Only God knows the future. Maybe God can send good people to help me get better.
I still think about that day. When I think of my parents and sons and the poverty and misery I now live in, I don’t have peace. When I think about those government soldiers I’m angry, but at church they teach us to forgive. I sometimes say to God: Forgive those guys. [END of ARTICLE]

I read this article and thought to myself, why are more people not getting involved?. The USA protects most other countries from things like this. Why do we Americans just turn our heads and look the other way? These people are dieing, suffering from hunger, disease, and the people that are ment to protect them are murdering them. Anyone on this planet that can just forget what is goin on in the Ccongo and not say their peace, or do something to help is just as bad as the murderers and rapists. I watched a viedo of a man 19 years old that was from Rowanda say that if at time of war it is ok to rape the women. What are we teaching our children? In any country, this is wrong.

Our reply is below. Ordinarily I sign these answers myself, but this really was a team effort, including thoughtful input from several people.

On 2/24/2010 5:37:26 PM, AFRICOM Public Affairs responded

Thank you for sharing this poignant article and furthering awareness of this issue. Tragic stories like these, involving women and children, are an unfortunate reality in the DRC.

It is our mission at U.S. Africa Command to work with the DRC and other African partners to, over time, prevent conflict and instability that lead to violence, destruction, and reduce the quality of life of people throughout Africa. We are partnering with African militaries to create more stable environments in which democratic institutions can develop and assistance can reach those who need it the most. A key part to this objective is the reform of the country’s military to ensure it protects, rather than preys upon, its people.

On Feb. 17, 2009, U.S. and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) representatives gathered near Kisangani to mark the establishment of a light infantry battalion, which is intended to be a model unit for the future of the Congolese military. (See article at http://www.africom.mil/getArticle.asp?art=4032&lang=0 .) The soldiers of this unit will undergo 6 to 8 months of training, as part of a U.S. government partnership with the DRC government. This training will support the DRC with its desire to transform its military into a professional, accountable and sustainable institution that provides meaningful security to the people of DRC. Human rights considerations and the respect for human rights in military operations will be incorporated into each aspect of the training, so as to prevent instances of rape and abuse described in the article you mention. In accordance with the Leahy Amendment of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, recipients of U.S. military training and assistance have been vetted through the U.S. Department of State for human rights abuses.

The main objective of the training is to develop a more professional DRC military force that respects civilian authority, protects its nation and citizenry, and contributes to regional stability.

In separate but related activities, US Africa Command legal experts have been involved with this issue for nearly three years now, primarily with the teaching of seminars through the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies. The goal of the many of the seminars is to address sex- and gender-based violence in the DRC by strengthening the capacities of the investigators and magistrates in the military justice system to investigate and prosecute these crimes, and in turn to move the FARDC closer to its goal of attaining professional, disciplined military standards.

We all hope that over time, stories like this one become less common, as the international community works together with the DRC, African nations and global partners towards a more stable, secure and prosperous DRC and Africa.

With deep respect,
The U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs team

For more on this issue, please see a group of articles I posted to our Website two years ago, in February 2008: U.S. Military Legal Experts Train DR Congo Military in Preventing, Prosecuting Sex Crimes

This includes a U.S. Embassy press release about  a U.S. military workshop on gender-based violence issues, as well as a United Nation press release on the same issue.

4 Responses to “Hard Question to our Website – AFRICOM and DRC”

  1. 1 andre November 11, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Join like Minds for similar military discussion at http://eastafrican.userboard.net/

    your contribution will be highly appreciated.

  2. 2 LT Jim Condon February 26, 2010 at 7:31 am

    I appreciate your reply and I respect you for at least trying to field some very tough questions. I believe there is value to a long-term plan but I don’t believe we can just sit back and let these things happen. Clearly there are no easy solutions in our approach to Africa. I would only hope that politics and economics would be secondary to our common human decency.
    Keep the articles coming 🙂

  3. 3 LT Jim Condon February 25, 2010 at 10:56 am

    With all due respect to the US Africa Command Public Affairs team – not sure this policitally correct response is going to assuage anyone. This was a horrific accounting of a far too common occurance and the reader’s question begs an empathic, human response.
    I’m not quite sure why you even bothered to answer the question when all this does is leave readers scratching their heads and chalking this up to someone’s effort to gloss over war crimes.
    Is our response to rape and genocide really to help educate and train these perpetrators to be better and more refined soldiers? I wonder if this would work with convicted felons in the states?

    Jim Condon, LT, MSC, USN

    • 4 AFRICOM February 25, 2010 at 12:49 pm


      Thanks for your note. It’s always a tough call. Emotional or accurate? Ideally both. Answer? Or let it sit there in silence, another unheard voice in the digital wilderness among the hundreds of other public comments we receive, and the tens of thousands out there?

      I wanted us to answer it. I got you and many others to read the original news article. And to read the heartfelt question/comment. So it wasn’t necessarily wasted effort.

      The United States is working with foreign militaries in DR Congo and elsewhere. The goal is that such outrages never happen again or, if they do happen, they are dealt with swiftly, effectivley and lawfully. But in trying to reach that goal, we and the international community and the people of Congo find themselves in a long, dark, frightening tunnel. At night. So that it’s not clear how long the tunnel is or whether the end is reachable.

      Do we work together to try and reach the end of the tunnel? Or do we say, it’s so horrible, so difficult, that it can’t be done.

      Americans like to try, and to work with others who want to try, even if there’s a high chance of failure.

      With deep respect,
      Vince Crawley
      U.S. Africa Command public affairs

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