Maud Kells shooting: Trouble in the Congo
Dr Luke Moffett is a law lecturer in international criminal justice at Queen’s University Belfast
The shooting of Maud Kells from Cookstown at the weekend in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) brought home the dangers of the DRC to Northern Ireland.
Since 1996 the DRC has seen some of the worst violence since the Second World War with over six million people killed.
While peace has been secured through numerous agreements over the past decade, the eastern and north-eastern part of the country remains unstable.
This is large due in part to the inability of the state to govern a country, the size of Western Europe, beyond its capital in Kinshasa.
The absence of the state and invasion of neighbouring countries such as Rwanda and Uganda in the 1990s has caused the proliferation of dozens of rebel armed groups in the eastern part of the country, including the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army.
To protect civilians the DRC has the largest peacekeeping operation in the world with over 22,000 peacekeepers (MONUSCO) along with thousands of Congolese troops trying to rebuild law and order, including mobile military courts.
There remains a lot of work to be done in securing peace in the Congo and stability in the region.
In late 2012 pro-Rwandan rebels invaded the eastern DRC city of Goma, before being repulsed by UN peacekeepers and Congolese forces. Just before Christmas Ugandan rebels, the Allied Democratic Forces, massacred dozens of villagers in eastern DRC.
At the weekend, Burundian rebels tried to cross from the DRC into Burundi, which left 95 people dead.
On January 7 2015 the head of the UN peacekeeping force Martin Kolber announced military action against members of the remnants of the Hutu rebel group, the FDLR, which in 1994 was involved in perpetrating the genocide in Rwanda, which killed nearly a million people.
There are also concerns with the Congolese President Kabila, who is becoming increasing dictatorial and undermining the constitution as he seeks a third term.
That said this violence is generally contained and sporadic.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all travel to eastern and north eastern DRC.
There are number of ex-pats from the UK and Ireland who work for various NGOs, churches or as researchers in eastern DRC.
While it is relatively safe to move about during the day, officials can stop you for bribes, and you generally avoid contested areas.
Yet the beauty and vibrancy of the DRC and its people, and empathy their plight overcomes all these concerns.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced from their homes and living under a plastic tarp with their family, with limited access to clean water and food, is the continuing reality for many in eastern DRC.
The island of Ireland has always had a strong connection to the DRC, whether through Roger Casement’s human rights exposé on the Belgian government’s brutal exploitation in the 1890s, and the role of Irish peacekeepers in the 1960s in securing the newly former independent government.
The shooting of Maud Kells while of great concern to a fellow countrywoman doing worthwhile work, should also cause all of us to think how we can help alleviate the on-going situation in the Congo.
Belfast Telegraph Digital