Global Policy Forum

UN Fully Exempts Congo Government from Arms Ban


By Patrick Worsnip

March 31, 2008

The United Nations on Monday fully exempted the Democratic Republic of Congo's armed forces from an arms embargo on the war-ravaged African country, in a move a major human rights group called premature. A resolution passed unanimously by the 15-nation Security Council extended until the end of the year the five-year-old embargo on rebel groups in Congo, but said it "shall no longer apply" to the Kinshasa government.

Formerly, the government could import arms for military units that have been through a national integration program after a bloody civil war, but not for those that have not. A recent U.N. report estimated that 78,000 combatants were still to be demobilized or enrolled in integrated army brigades. The latest U.N. resolution, drafted by France, enables arms imports for all government units.

Rebel and militia violence has persisted in eastern Congo long after the formal end of 1998-2003 civil war in the mineral-rich central African state the size of Western Europe. A fresh peace deal two months ago has been plagued by delays and daily cease-fire violations.

Congo's U.N. Ambassador Atoki Ileka told reporters the situation had changed in his country since a 2006 election that led to a new government being formed last year. "We have elected officials, so that government ... should be exempt of any kind of embargo," he said.

Security Council diplomats said the main aim of the resolution was to stop arms getting to rebel groups and to simplify the embargo to make it more effective. "The reality is that the previous system was not working," one diplomat said. The diplomat, who asked not to be identified, said a further aim was to induce the Kinshasa government to cooperate more with the 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo, known by its French acronym MONUC.


The resolution removes a requirement that military supplies to the government be imported through designated "receiving sites" subject to inspection by MONUC. The onus for informing the United Nations of arms transfers to Congo will now be on supplier states, diplomats said.

But the London-based rights organization Amnesty International said now was not the time to relax the embargo. "Arms and munitions are still being used by members of the regular army and police, as well as by armed groups, to commit daily abuses against civilians, including widespread killings and rapes," it said in a statement last week. "Our main concern is that many of these unintegrated brigades are effectively armed groups," Amnesty researcher Andrew Phillip told Reuters on Monday. "This resolution is sending the wrong political message, effectively caving in to the Congolese government."

But French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said he was very satisfied with the resolution. "To help the (Congolese) government by imposing a limited and transparent system of information on arms trade is also a way of rebuilding capacity," he told journalists. "It's quite natural if you are rebuilding the state of law ... not to treat the same way armed groups and the government."

More Information on the UN Security Council
More Information on the Democratic Republic of Congo
More General Analysis on Small Arms and Light Weapons
More Information on Small Arms and Light Weapons


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