The Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC as it is commonly called, has long suffered the ravages of civil war. While the United Nations has long tried to avoid direct confrontation with rebel groups, it has now been given the mandate to use lethal force, and this time it appears that the UN won’t be afraid to use it. Having stood by idly during the Rwandan genocide and numerous other events, the UN is now looking to take a strong-armed stand against the M23 rebel group that has been terrorizing the DRC in recent months.

M23 Rebel DRC

UN has a tarnished image

The strong stance carries its risks for the United Nations. If the UN fails to back up its word, its image may suffer even further damage. In the aftermath of failures across Africa, the UN’s image has been deeply tarnished and some have come to question the organization’s ability to engage in peace keeping operations. Another failure may prove that the UN is simply not up to the task in regards to peacekeeping, or in this case peace making operations.

UN has already failed to stop attacks from M23 rebels

The UN has already failed in recent months to stop the aggressive attacks of the M23 rebels. Despite offering air support to the DRC’s national army, the UN was unable to stop the rebels from seizing Goma last year, an important city in eastern DRC. Rebels occupied Goma for about 10 days before retreating. Earlier this month, fighting between rebels and government forces renewed and the situation has grown more tense in recent days.

The UN is now fielding a 3,000 strong Intervention Brigade to disarm rebels and quell violence in the DRC before the country is once again plunged into chaos. The UN operation in the DRC is actually the largest UN operation in the world, though so far it has largely failed to uphold its mandate to ensure stability and protect citizens from harm.

Military Sans Frontiers asked UN to keep away

The force and potential military campaign is not being met warmly by all members of the international community. Aid workers warn that military activities could destabilize the region and disrupt humanitarian efforts. Medical Sans Frontiers has actually asked the UN to keep its military away from the organization’s facilities out of fear that it could disrupt humanitarian efforts. Still, if the UN does not intervene, the long-term consequences could be much worse.

M23 rebels took up arms in April of 2012 and hammered government forces in the region, forcing a general retreat. Many members of the international community accuse Rwanda of supply arms to rebels, though the Rwandan government strongly denies any involvement and claims that it is being made a scapegoat. M23 rebels claim that it was actually the DRC government that violated agreements of a previous peace accord in which rebels were to be integrated into the national army. Rebels claim that they were never properly integrated and were neglected by the national government.

The United Nations has set a Thursday deadline for rebels to turn in their weapons to the nearby UN base. After Thursday, only soldiers and members of the UN are supposed to carry arms. Anyone wielding weapons will be considered a rebel and subject to being disarmed, even if that means the use of force. The UN has promised to back up its mandate with military action, if necessary. This marks a departure from previous UN efforts which have largely focused on observation or supporting DRC government troops. Now the UN is looking to get its hands dirty and to engage directly in combat, if necessary.