Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Security Council undermines UN Group of Experts

A disturbing precedent is being set in the UN Security Council with regards to UN expert panels. As a reminder, these panels have been a key tool in the international communities' arsenal for dealing with conflict. They allow the Security Council to identify spoilers and impose targeted sanctions. Perhaps most valuably, they expose hidden business and political networks that contribute to the continuation of the conflict. In the case of the Congo, they have helped identify mineral traders, government officials and foreign businessmen who are profiting from the conflict. They have performed a similar function in Somalia, Liberia and Sudan.

The last Congo panel submitted its report in November 2009. A new panel was named early this year, led by Canadian Phil Lancaster. However, when Nick Vysny, a British human rights advocate, was put forward to join the team as the regional expert, he was blocked by the Chinese delegation to the UN. Each of the fifteen members of the Council can in principle block nominations, but this is rarely used when nominating members of expert panels. The only other time I can recall is when the Russian delegation opposed to nomination of Johan Peleman to the Somalia panel some years back due to his investigation of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. This time, however, the Congolese government vehemently opposed Nick, merely on the grounds for having previously worked for Human Rights Watch. The Congolese expressed their reservations to the Chinese, who then opposed his nomination.

The Chinese opposition was not categorical. They probably could have been swayed, especially if the US, UK and France had really pushed. But they didn't. The Americans were involved in various quarrels with the Chinese over trade, the Dalai Lama, the environment and Iran. So it appears that they either didn't want to spend their political capital on a marginal issue like the Congo or they just didn't care. In any case, Nick was blocked from taking part.

Why did the Congolese feel so strongly about Nick? It wasn't personal - it was about his affiliation with Human Rights Watch, for whom he had worked in Goma for several years. The Congolese have been on a war path with HRW since their publication of their report "We Will Crush You," in November 2008. In particular, Kabila was incensed by the suggestion that he was personally responsible for ordering the killing of Bundu Dia Kongo members in Bas-Congo in March 2008, an accusation that could in theory could amount to charges of crimes against humanity.

All of this doesn't make a lot of sense and it sets a bad precedent for future expert panels. The fact that the Chinese can block an investigator for his previous work for a reputable organization like Human Rights Watch is not good. It could undermine a key peace-building tool.

6 comments:

texasinafrica said...

Wow, what a shame. Nick knows his stuff and would be an excellent asset to the Group.

Eugenia said...

This is disturbing. I wondered if you thought there is a chance we go further down this road with the GoDRC similarly pressing the Chinese (or another SC member) to outright not renew the mandate of the Group of Experts next time?

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Jason Stearns said...

It is possible that that kind of pressure will begin to mount, especially as MONUC begins to draw down, as well. But it is difficult to overcome institutional inertia - no one wants to the member state to shoot down an expert panel, even the Chinese. Their blocking of Nick was relatively anonymous - it didn't come to the public's eye, but it would be difficult to shoot down the panel without more of a public controversy, which China would probably avoid.

James said...

A major problem is that the UN Group of Experts for DRC, which was supposed to be independent, has become politicized, partisan, and corrupt. I do not see any value in keeping it, except perhaps finding jobs for former/retired UN employees and NGO activists helping corrupt and undemocratic governments to hunt down their opposition leaders.

Apart from that, what is the value of the UN group of Experts for the DRC? It serves and has served more the Rwandan government than the Congolese people. For example, the latest report was recently used by a Rwandan official during their ceremonies to call for hunting down Rwandan opposition leaders, including the lady running against Kagame. Why? because our genius UN Experts wrote that the opposition leader participated in a meeting that was attended by the wife of an FDLR member and concluded that this constituted a proof that the Rwandan opposition leader supported/worked/funded FDLR. Is there any Congolese who would mind shutting down the useless UN Group of Experts on DRC?

Georges M. said...

people should keep quiet when they don't know what they are talking about .................... its all politics and business and the UN panel of experts have they own personal agenda anyway and some decisions already taken

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