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On DRC, Legal Acrobatics About Shooting at Intervention Brigade, Civilians

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 29 -- When a Tanzanian soldier in the UN's new Force Intervention Brigade in the Congo died in battle this week, the statements of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his envoy Martin Kobler did not call it a war crime. (Click here for Inner City Press story and "Rest in Peace")

On August 29 the UN Security Council agreed to a press statement on DRC with this convoluted paragraph:

"They recalled that intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a peacekeeping mission in accordance with the Charter of the UN, as long as they are entitled to the protection given to civilians or civilian objects under the international law of armed conflict, constitutes a crime under international law."

So if a member of the FIB is attacking to "neutralize" armed groups, can he or she be " entitled to the protection given to civilians or civilian objects under the international law of armed conflict"? The answer appears to be no.

For weeks Inner City Press has asked the UN to clarify its understanding of the applicability of the international law of armed conflict to its FIB, without success. In a UN basement conference room an expert, on camera, told Inner City Press it is not a war crime to shot at a combatant. Click here. And that is what the FIB has become. But how far does the slippage go?

Inner City Press on the August 29 noon briefing asked about Rwanda getting bombed, and how did it. Spokesperson Haq said couldn't confirm most recently bombings; then his office sent this:

From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
Date: Thu, Aug 29, 2013 at 12:52 PM
Subject: re: question on DRC
To: Matthew.Lee [at]

Regarding your question on DRC, here is our answer:

The Mission reports that it can confirm firing incidents into Rwanda territory originated by M23 positions between 22 and 29 August. The Mission further reports that it has not witnessed any FARDC firing into Rwanda territory during this period.

We'll see.

While the UN deploys attack helicopters in Eastern Congo, and bombs from inside the DRC have reportedly killed a woman in Rwanda, France has called an emergency UN Security Council session on the DRC on Thursday.

The idea is to strong-arm Rwanda on a draft press statement France proposed. Actually, Rwanda is proposing adding the fact that the "repeated mortar shells and bombs landing in Rwandan territory" come "from the DRC." How controversial. Without that change, Inner City Press has obtained the draft and puts it online here.

The modus operandi is to hand information to Reuters. 

At last Friday's noon briefing, video here from Minute 10:15, Inner City Press asked the UN's outgoing deputy spokesperson Eduardo Del Buey about the answer, when Inner City Press and another journalist asked UN Peacekeeping acting chief Edmond Mulet Thursday if the M23 rebels had entered the security zone established around Goma.

  "No," Mulet said. "Just mortars." He went on to refer to the separate "red line" established when M23 agreed in Kampala to pull out of Goma. (The portion of that agreement that gave M23 one third of the security force at the Goma airport remains unimplemented.)

  But later on Thursday, the wire service Reuters reported "a senior U.N. official, who asked not to be named, said that on Thursday the rebels entered a security zone surrounding Goma" -- which Mulet, the acting chief of DPKO, had just denied. Inner City Press and the other journalist waited to ask Mulet again, and got the same answer.

  So who is this "senior UN official who asked not to be named"? In UN Peacekeeping, only Herve Ladsous, long absent from UN Headquarters, is senior to and could over-rule Mulet.

  Ladsous has in the past spoon-fed answers of dubious veracity to this same Reuters UN bureau bragging for example about the Congolese Army imposing accountability for the 135 rapes in Minova in November 2012.

   But with only a few arrests for the 135 rapes, Ladsous' DPKO continues supporting the 391st Battalion, even as it is now implicated in corpse desecration.

That the UN would try to use Reuters, willingly, resonates with a documented instance in June 2012 when Reuters UN bureau chief Louis Charbonneau gave to UN official Stephane Dujarric an internal UNCA anti-Press document, three minutes after saying he would not do so. Story here, audio here, document here, in which Charbonneau tells Dujarric, "You didn't get this from me."

  So is Reuters' "senior UN official who asked not to be named" someone junior to Mulet, or as another journalist suggested, no one at all?

  On Friday, Del Buey said he knew what Mulet had said, and has "seen other reports." He said he'd have to check. But last Friday was his last day at the UN (the Free UN Coalition for Access wished him well, video here at Minute 9:55).  So we'll see. Watch this site.


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