Amnesty International has said it strongly opposes any withdrawal or reduction of the numbers of UN peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo, after the government requested that the current force (MONUC) withdraws from the country by June 2011.
"Instead of requiring the peacekeepers to leave, the government should work with the UN in resolving the many protection challenges that remain," said Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Africa Programme.
Massacres, rape, looting and other attacks on the civilian population and humanitarian agencies by armed forces and groups continue unabated, primarily in the war-torn east of the country.
MONUC, the biggest UN peacekeeping mission in the world with 20,500 personnel, remains the only force in the DRC capable of providing a measure of protection to the civilian population.
"The security and human rights situation has remained dire over the past year. Withdrawing or reducing the peacekeeping force could have disastrous consequences," said Tawanda Hondora.
"UN peacekeeping bases are often the only places where people can seek safety when clashes occur."
The UN Secretary General proposed in 2007 a number of benchmarks that needed to be met before considering any large-scale MONUC withdrawal.
They included stabilization of areas where the conflict is at its worst; completion of the disarmament and demobilization of armed groups; and creating national armed forces with capacity to defend the people of the DRC while respecting human rights and the rule of law.
None of these have so far been achieved.
"Government forces do not have the capacity to assume the security functions currently fulfilled by MONUC, and the government has not shown the political will to make its forces capable," said Tawanda Hondora.
MONUC is not only a military peacekeeping force but includes over 5,000 civilian staff that provide vital capacity-building support in areas of human rights, humanitarian affairs, good governance, policing, the courts and the penitentiary system.
MONUC has been deployed to the DRC since 1999. Following the end of the 1998-2003 war, the force is now focused on the Kivus, eastern DRC, where armed conflict continues.