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Interview with the new head of EUPOL DRC (Congo)

Credit: Council of the European Union

I was able to meet Jean–Paul Rikir, the new head of the EUPOL Congo police mission (1), with a colleague from the Belgian daily Le Soir, in the corridors of the Council of the European Union. An exchange of views which completes the one I had with his predecessor, Superintendent Custidio, last year (2) and allows us to discover undoubtedly one of the least known missions of the EU. The situation in Congo still remains mixed. And police reform has a long history.

The EUPOL Congo mission has been extended and you are taking charge of it, what is the objective now?

The previous mandate focused on helping to design the reform. Our mandate will above all be to implement this reform, to monitor all the projects decided during the previous phase, and also to provide support for the training of Congolese police officers. We train trainers, not the Congolese police directly.

COPS ambassadors have just visited you, what did they ask you?

They asked us for concrete results, concrete actions during this one-year “implementation” mandate.

How is the reform of the Congolese police managed, EUPOL participates in it?

In Kinshasa, the police reform monitoring committee, the CSRP, brings together all the actors concerned by the reform: Congolese, EUPOL, MONUSCO, and those from other countries providing aid. There are two levels to this CSRP. The political committee, headed by the Minister of the Interior with the 7 ministers, the police commander, representatives of civil society, heads of EU missions and international missions... And a technical committee, headed by a former member of the Congolese police and having as deputy the EUPOL deputy around 7 projects (human resources, logistical infrastructure, sexual violence, etc.). NB: CSRP details

Why does police reform seem so difficult to put into practice?

Congo is a state that needs reforms in many sectors: the army, taxation, mining resources, health. Everything has to be done again. Police reform is just one. And when you look at how in our Western societies where everything is regulated, a reform, although prepared by the police gendarmerie merger (in Belgium) took time to come into force, we cannot ask our Congolese colleagues to go further. quickly.

Your predecessor spoke of a necessary change of culture within the Congolese police...

I'm convinced. The problem in policing is not just institutions but the change in values. This change in mentality is the most difficult.

Being a former policeman helps you?

Yes, a lot. Being a former police officer allows me to put myself in their shoes. What they are experiencing - the transition from a military police force (even if it was no longer quite so) to a civilian police force - I experienced it 10 years ago. And a few of us went to the same schools. I thus find certain colleagues who have been on the same benches, in Liège for example. That helps. And then, there are also common values, between colleagues. A police officer will always speak and understand another police officer more easily.

How is the collaboration going with the other EU mission, deployed in the EUSEC country?

We have certain functions that are shared. We also often meet together to jointly assess the situation. Certain expert positions in the field are also common (paramedics, project managers on sexual violence or human rights).

And the existence of bilateral partnerships does not bother you?

We probably don't have X million to put on the table like British cooperation. But we have staff. There is a certain complementarity between all these missions. To give you an image, we are all pulling on strings. But what’s most important is pulling in the same direction. For my part, I maintain the best relations with Program governance, the private company commissioned by the British to carry out the program.

We know that this is often a problem, do you have the necessary staff?

We are currently 35 out of 49 budgeted positions. There are 14 left to fill. It is an average mission, well sized for its objective, present in Kinshasa and Goma. A multidisciplinary team which goes into the field, escorted by MONUSCO.

You didn't mention Bukavu. Are there no more positions?

The Bukavu branch actually disappears. But we stay nearby, across the lake in Goma. This will not lead to a reduction in activities in South Kivu. It takes 40 minutes by MONUC helicopter and 4 hours by the slower boat to get from one side to the other. But we don't have enough staff, and maintaining a permanent presence in Bukavu forced us to juggle constantly (when one was on leave or traveling, we had to send another as reinforcement to always have 2 people on site).

Still as difficult to fill the positions therefore. Why you think ?

We still have difficulty attracting personnel for these missions. It's true that it is more difficult to convince people to go to Congo than to Georgia or Palestine. But there are also more concrete questions in our countries. There are candidates. That's not really the problem. It’s the leaders who need to be convinced. We must publish jobs, let candidates go, and promote the experience upon their return. If the military is used to projection, to working outside the borders, this phenomenon is rather new for the police who are intended to work more within the borders and are not used to projection. It's quite recent after all, less than ten years, in fact, since the European security and defense policy existed...

Perpetrated sexual violence remains a problem in Congo: what can the police do?

It is a technique of war to destabilize the enemy; an atrocity committed by troops in the field on any side is war. And the policeman can't help it. We are on another ground. For domestic sexual violence, it is necessary to bring into the Congolese system, women as equals of men, a cultural issue, only training and discussion can bring about.

The Congo still seems to be the scene of human rights violations by those in power, such as this opponent (Armand Tungulu) who died in prison? What is the possibility of EUPOL to act on such acts?

I don't want to talk about a blunder or a blunder, but what happened there is absolutely regrettable. Everyone regrets it: it’s Africa, it’s the Congo…. But regarding EUPOL, it must be clear that we have a non-executive mandate. We do not participate directly in interrogations.

But as a policeman is not-he doesn't mindnot ?

How could it be otherwise. Obviously a man who died in prison, after a suicide they say, bothers me. Not just as a police officer. Simply as a human being. Now I am convinced that a reformed police force should have better results. The transformation of a military police force into a civilian police force, better contact between the police and the citizen will make it possible to avoid this kind of thing in the future.

Read also

(1) New heads at EUPOL and EUSEC RD Congo

(2) Interview with Adilio Custidio, head of the Eupol Congo mission

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).