In an unprecedented move, the UN Security Council authorized an "intervention brigade" to respond and "neutralize" ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN’s resolution is bold in that it’s the first calling for offensive action by a peacekeeping initiative.
There is currently a peacekeeping force of 20,000, known as MONUSCO, in Congo, but the new resolution authorizes a group to work within this unit to enforce rather than keep peace. As the New York Times explains, "Eastern Congo has been engulfed in fighting since the 1994 Rwanda genocide, in which at least 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu militias before a Tutsi-led rebel army took power in Rwanda. More than a million Rwandan Hutus fled across the border into Congo, and Rwanda has invaded Congo several times to take action against Hutu militias there."
The group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is responding to the violence on the ground and is concerned with the rampant use of sexual violence and rape as a weapon of war. According to the head of the MSF mission in Goma, Thierry Goffeau, "Given the frequency of sexual attacks, rape has become commonplace. The individuals responsible act with impunity and are rarely punished. At the same time, very few victims file charges because they are afraid of reprisals." Angelina Jolie and British foreign secretary William Hague are also speaking out against rape in the DRC.
However, the move towards offensive action by UN peacekeepers has also raised some concerns. The complicated history behind Black Hawk Down and the United States intervention in Somalia serves as a troubling reminder of what complications may result from such actions. Also confusing is what role regular MONUSCO peacekeeping troops will hold alongside the new unit charged with disbanding armed groups in Goma.
The UN resolution does state the enforcement brigade unit is to be used "on an exceptional basis, and without creating a precedent or any prejudice to the agreed principles of peacekeeping." Peacekeeping forces are often hard-pressed to address ongoing impunity without any mandate to use force. How things develop with the newly approved intervention force in the Democratic Republic of Congo may completely reshape the way future peacekeeping missions address continuing regional conflict.