Speaking in Addis Ababa on Monday, Ban told reporters he is discussing with members of the U.N. Security Council “a different approach” to strengthen the capacity of MONUSCO, the existing U.N. peacekeeping mission in the DRC.
Although he did not use the term “peace enforcement,” he did use it during a speech one day earlier to African leaders gathered in the Ethiopian capital.
“We are considering establishing a peace enforcement capacity within [MONUSCO] to address the threat of armed groups in eastern DRC,” Ban said.
“Peace enforcement” falls somewhere between standard U.N. peacekeeping operations and full-scale military missions like the one in Korea in the early 1950s.
Previous examples include a U.N. operation in the Congo in the early 1960s, the U.N. Protection Force in Bosnia starting in the early 1990s and, most recently, the mission in Somalia in which 18 American troops were killed in the Oct. 1993 “Battle of Mogadishu.”
The U.S. no longer contributes combat troops to U.N. operations, and any peace enforcement capacity to bolster MONUSCO would likely come from African nations. Tanzania alone has offered troops so far.
Ban’s comments come at a time of growing concern about the fighting in the mineral-rich eastern DRC, a region which has seen continuing violence ever since the four-year conflict known as the Second Congo War officially ended in 2003.
In the most recent phase, a rebel group known as the March 23 movement (M23) has been fighting the DRC government since last April. Neighboring Rwanda and Uganda are alleged to support the rebels, but strongly deny the claims.
Two months ago M23 seized control of the regional capital, Goma, and remained there for several days before withdrawing. MONUSCO did not intervene to prevent the city’s capture or act to expel the rebels.
Last Thursday the U.N. Security Council agreed, after weeks of wrangling, to allow MONUSCO peacekeepers to use surveillance drones to monitor the area.
Just how many people have been dying as a result of the long DRC conflict is unclear. In 2007, a much-cited report by the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian group, said 5.4 million people had died there since 1998, with most deaths from diseases and malnutrition that would be easily prevented if the fighting was not taking place.
A 2010 Human Security Report, published by the Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada disputed those figures, but still estimated that almost a million people had died between mid-2001 and mid-2007.
In an interview with The New Republic, published on Monday, President Obama invoked the situation in DRC while answering a question about Syria.
Saying that he wrestled with questions about what the U.S. could or should do about the Syrian civil war, Obama asked, “how do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?”
U.N. peace enforcement differs from peacekeeping in that there is usually no cease-fire in place, and the intervention is not generally wanted by all parties to the conflict.
A 1993 report by the U.S. Army’s Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, explained that “unlike peacekeepers, peace enforcers are not welcomed by one of the belligerents. Rather, the peace enforcers are active fighters who must force a cease-fire that is opposed by one or both combatants; in the process, they lose their neutrality.”
“Peace enforcement operations are likely to disregard state sovereignty, particularly if the mission takes place on the soil of the combatant who opposes peace and has not invited the peace enforcers into his territory,” the report said. “For this reason, an international mandate is normally necessary for the operation to be considered legitimate.”
Asked in Addis Ababa on Monday about questions about the “neutrality” of U.N. operations in conflict zones, Ban drew a distinction between neutrality and impartiality.
“The United Nations sometimes cannot take a neutral position,” he said. “The United Nations takes impartial positions. When there is a clear violation of human rights, clear violations of fundamental principles, the United Nations has to take sides, criticize those perpetrators.
“Should the United Nations keep neutral in the face of such violations of human rights?” Ban continued. “The United Nations can never be always neutral, but the United Nations [works in an] impartial way.”