A familiar plague is sweeping its bloody way across the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the plague of village massacres, mass rape and other acts too unspeakable to ever appear in the British press. This troubled country has lost millions of its citizens to rebel fighting over the last few decades, but the recent escalation of violence has now caught the attention of the ‘international community’. The 17 000 UN peacekeepers currently stationed in the Congo have been unable to cope with the scale of the brutality.

In desperation, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, asked Gordon Brown and the EU for help. They said no. Despite pressure from the EU Foreign Policy Chief, Javier Solana, and other EU leaders, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced at the European summit in Brussels earlier this month that Britain would not be donating troops to help stop the bloodshed in the Congo. Such a decision comes despite the existence of a joint Anglo-German Battlegroup that could be quickly deployed. Our leaders have decided is best left inactive. The reasons they cite are that the Battlegroup is designed for a longer lasting mission than the task in the Congo demands (in four months the EU troops could be relieved by UN reinforcements), and that they do not want to create a situation of dual authority with the UN force.

“The government’s excuses pale in comparison to the suffering”

Our government’s approach displays a shocking failure to prioritise properly. Granted that the soldiers in the Battlegroup were prepared for a longer mission, would their adaptation to a new situation be more agonising than thousands more Congolese women being raped? Having two separate allied forces in the same warzone may be confusing, but is a little tension between generals a worse outcome than continued mass slaughter? When one attempts to truly empathise – impossible as this is – with the innocent victims in the Congo, the government’s reasons for excusing itself from involvement pale in comparison to the level of human suffering.

No argument against intervention which champions national sovereignty can apply here. Such concepts are entirely irrelevant when a government cannot prevent the scale of nationwide killing that the Congo is experiencing. Nor should we let the debacle that was Iraq prevent us from ever using our troops again. With a clear exit strategy, such as a phased withdrawal in four months once UN reinforcements arrive, an EU force could help to stem the tide of violence and stabilise the region.

“Brown’s brazen hypocrisy”

Milliband announced in Brussels that the matter should be left to the UN. But while it is true that a larger UN force would be preferable, this is not yet a reality. Gordon Brown has displayed a brazen hypocrisy by resisting intervention at the Brussels summit. Less than twenty four hours earlier he had given a speech marking the sixtieth anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which he mentioned the need of the Congo and stated, “we must not, and will not, turn our backs and walk away.” Mr Brown has since marched a mighty distance from the agony of the Congo, and neither the Congolese people nor, one hopes, his conscience will forgive him for it.