We must make sure that our army is exemplary

A Military Judge sensitive to the respect of civilians.Un juge militaire
A Military Judge sensitive to the respect of civilians. Copyrights Benoît Almeras. Goma (Nord-Kivu), September 2013.

It is 7.30 in the morning and the sun is rising over Goma. On the soccer pitch at the Katindo Military camp, hundreds of men and women in military uniform gather and sing in chorus, as children set off to school.

“Twice a week, the soldiers and officers take part in moral discussions”, explains Colonel Muhima, the officer in charge of Bureau No.5, which is responsible for awareness and civilian relations.

“This makes it possible to reinforce cohesion within our army...but also to broadcast the message of increased awareness”.

A senior officer gives a signal and gradually the singing stops.  Colonel Muhima, a small thickset man with 20 years’ military experience, steps forward into the middle ground and gets ready to give his address. Beside him, a soldier with a megaphone in hand, tries to keep pace so that he is heard by all present.

Key data

  • Following some incidents involving soldiers, the command of the FARDC wishes to increase disciplinary measures within its regular army.
  • The UNDP supports the FARDC in order to sensitize the soldiers with respect to international human law and the protection of the civil population.
  • Organized by the UNDP, more than 1300 soldiers were sensitized by a team of 4 trainers.

The colonel clears up his voice and then begins to harangue the soldiers in Lingala, the widely spoken language within the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The first mission of a soldier is to defend the territorial integrity of our country. Who can tell me what the second mission of the soldier is?”

A corporal steps out of the row, weapon at his feet. “The second mission of the soldier is to protect the citizens and their property! Colonel Muhima asks that the soldier be applauded and his comrades give him a round of applause.

“Yes, our mission is also to protect the civilians and their property but there are many infringements committed by soldiers. Extortion and plundering against civilians is prohibited. Civilians are not our enemies!”

The words hit target and the audience repeated the message in unison “Bacivils bazali banguna te”(Civilians are not our enemies).

The colonel then gives way to one of the members of the military audience who outlines, to the soldiers gathered, the role and the functions of the military justice system. He explains to them how soldiers are held accountable to the law and risk severe penal sanctions even during hostilities.

At the end of the meeting, an awareness leaflet is distributed among the soldiers. The leaflet is repeated in Lingala, with key areas intended to sensitize the soldiers about the protection of civilians and their property.

Colonel Muhima commented on the military magistrate’s speech: “It is important that the soldiers realise that nobody is above the law, not even a soldier”.

In the course of the fighting in November 2012, certain members of FARDC were found guilty of serious crimes against the civilian population. It is thus crucial that the awareness is carried out in order to avoid fresh acts of abuse when hostilities with rebel groups begin again.

The UNDP programme wanted to maximize this opportunity to work with Colonel Muhima and the entire staff of the 8th Military region, in order to spread this message about protection of civilians.

To achieve this, in addition to the diffusion of key messages, the UNDP created a team made up of 4 facilitators, in charge of desensitizing the FARDC to fight against human rights violations, to respect international human law, to fight against sexual violence and to protect children.

Between the 6th and 12th of September 2013, this team organized some awareness sessions for 1300 FARDC soldiers stationed at Goma and as close as possible to the frontline.

For Colonel Nkumu, the 2nd in command of the 8th Military region, the sensitization of the soldiers is essential. He summed up the objective with direct and simple words: “We must ensure that the behaviour of our army is exemplary”.

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