The peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) faces a paradox. MONUSCO is mandated both to protect civilians and to support operations by the Congolese national army (FARDC), a military whose soldiers are regularly responsible for endangering civilians by committing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

CIVIC’s new Policy Brief, Enabling Support by Mitigating Risk: MONUSCO’s Implementation of the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, details how MONUSCO navigates these two responsibilities through the application of the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy (HRDDP). The HRDDP requires that all UN entities determine the risk that support to non-UN security forces could result in violations of international law and, if a risk exists, either take steps to mitigate the risk or withdraw support.

Effective implementation of the HRDDP in the DRC is more important than ever. Since his inauguration a year and a half ago, Congolese President Tshisekedi has emphasized that the defeat of armed groups in eastern DRC is a priority of his administration. Under his tenure, the FARDC has launched new operations against a number of armed groups, including the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the Beni region and the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) in Ituri province—two armed groups responsible for committing rampant atrocities against civilians in recent years. When military operations are pursued to reduce these threats, it is important to recognize that they also carry risks for civilians. Increased operations leads to an increased risk of harm. Of equal concern, despite some recent efforts toward security sector reform, the FARDC maintains commanders under international sanctions and continues to collaborate with non-state armed groups.

In recent years, MONUSCO has been under pressure to transition its activities to Congolese actors to pave the way for its exit from the DRC. Transition will require increased support to and capacity-building of Congolese security forces. Indeed, a 2019 Independent Strategic Review of MONUSCO argued for the Mission to reinforce capacity building for Congolese authorities and progressively transfer “tools and capacities relating to the protection of civilians” to Congolese security forces. Increased support to the FARDC will likely require that MONUSCO dedicate more time and resources to the HRDDP. Furthermore, UN agencies, which will remain in the country and continue to provide assistance to Congolese security forces after the Mission’s withdrawal, will likely need to strengthen their capacity to implement the HRDDP.

CIVIC’s Policy Brief identifies ways in which MONUSCO has strengthened application of the HRDDP over time. For example, MONUSCO has developed a robust set of mitigating measures, actions which either the Mission or Congolese security forces can take to lessen the likelihood that Mission assistance could contribute to civilian harm. Mitigating measures—such as training on international humanitarian law and close monitoring of FARDC operations by MONUSCO—allow the Mission to support activities even when there is some risk of violations. The Mission has also consistently engaged with Congolese interlocutors at the national and field level, including through local monitoring committees, in order to explain the policy and the steps Congolese security forces can take to improve the likelihood of Mission support. Critically, MONUSCO has increased its capacity and the speed with which it can conduct risk assessments by creating dedicated HRDDP posts and an HRDDP secretariat within the Mission’s human rights component.

This month, Member States are negotiating peacekeeping budgets for the July 2020-June 2021 fiscal year. During budget negotiations, Member States impose overall budget ceilings, resulting in cuts to posts that can be divorced from the needs and protection threats on the ground where missions operate. In recent years, some Member States have used these negotiation dynamics to target human rights posts. Our research makes clear, however, that HRDDP implementation is contingent on adequate personnel and resources.