UN Equipped Congolese Army That Carried Out Atrocities

United Nations peacekeeping officials were explicitly warned months ago by their legal advisers not to participate in combat operations with the Congolese Army if there were a risk that Congolese soldiers might abuse human rights, internal documents show. But the mission went forward — and the abuses took place as feared.

According to United Nations documents provided to The New York Times, the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs wrote to the head of the peacekeeping department in April and said that peacekeepers “cannot participate in any form of joint operation” with the Congolese Army, “if there are substantial grounds for believing there to be a real risk of them violating international humanitarian law.”

The warnings proved prescient. A few months later, Congolese government soldiers, who had been supplied with ammunition and food by United Nations peacekeepers, killed hundreds of civilians, gang-raped girls and even cut the heads off some young men, according to human rights groups.

Many United Nations officials seemed to fear this could happen and the documents from the legal affairs office reveal the level of internal debate — and discomfort — about working hand in hand with the Congolese Army, which over the years has been widely blamed for looting, raping and killing the very population it is responsible for protecting.

“We knew this was a risky operation,” said Alain Le Roy, under secretary general for peacekeeping operations, in an interview Wednesday. But, he added, “We have no other option.”

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