DR Congo

Briefing Security Council, Special Representative Reports Challenges, Opportunities in Lead-up to Democratic Republic of Congo Elections

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Permanent Representative Demands Terrorist Designation for Armed Group, Action against ‘Mafia-Like’ Weapons Networks

There are not only challenges, but also opportunities in the run-up to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s nationwide elections in 2023, the Secretary‑General’s new Special Representative in that country said today, as she urged the Security Council and the international community to act as one to help restore peace and stability there and to overcome the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Bintou Keita, who is also the Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), said that, during her first meetings with President Félix Tshisekedi and Prime Minister designate Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde Kyenge, she sensed “a momentum for change” and a chance to push forward with reforms that can help to resolve years of conflict in the country’s eastern provinces.

Speaking by videoconference, she continued: “I have been encouraged by the President’s determination and willingness to mobilize all necessary resources to address the security and stabilization needs of the Congolese people in the east, as well by the pragmatic, constructive and open engagement that I enjoyed with the Prime Minister-designate and all other senior Congolese officials.” Going forward, the international community must speak and act in unity, she added, emphasizing that the full support of Council members is indispensable.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on MONUSCO (document S/2021/274), she said that, in her meetings with Congolese leaders, she emphasized that the new Government must act promptly in several priority areas that dovetail with the Mission’s own to-do list, including security sector reform; the protection of civilians; the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants; strengthening judicial systems; and preparations for the 2023 elections. In doing so, the Government must address pressing security, humanitarian and development needs without delay, she added.

Turning to MONUSCO’s phased drawdown, she reported that the Mission is expanding cooperation with the United Nations country team, among others, as it prepares to close its field offices in the Kasaï region in June, and in 2022, in Tanganyika Province. However, MONUSCO is not yet able to consider its withdrawal from the North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri Provinces due to persisting extremely serious security and protection challenges, she said. “To silence the guns, there is no military solution, but political strategies,” which take into account a host of social, economic and governance needs, including improved transparency and accountability in the mining sector.

Stressing the importance of the regional dimension, she said the Mission’s work with the Government will have only limited sustainability without a new regional vision and common platform to find non-military solutions to the drivers of cross-border conflict. In that regard, she said that she will, with the Council’s support, redouble engagement with the United Nations Special Envoy to the Great Lakes. She also noted that President Tshisekedi’s ascension as Chair of the African Union is another opportunity to silence the guns in Central Africa and set the subregion on the path to peace, security and sustainable development.

Sandrine Lusumba, Executive Coordinator of the civil society group Women’s Solidarity for Peace and Integral Development, outlined the lessons learned by her organization over decades fighting for the rights of women. The sustained activities of armed groups in the eastern provinces, as well as intercommunal tensions throughout the country, continue to pose daily challenges, especially for women, and require a full, rapid and coordinated response involving both civilian and military partners, she emphasized. Spotlighting the severity of the human rights violations, she called for particular efforts to combat impunity, protect civilians and push truth and reconciliation initiatives forward.

Despite its long presence, MONUSCO’s ability to protect civilians is limited, she continued, noting that the Mission’s reputation has been tarnished by several cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by both civilian and military personnel. Investigations and prosecutions are rarely carried out by troop-contributing countries, who serve as the only judges in such cases, she added. Since the political transition two years ago, which brought significant hope to the Congolese people, the situation seems not to have improved any further, she said, describing the recent killing of the Italian ambassador as a telling sign of how unstable the situation is for civilians, despite MONUSCO’s presence.

Outlining the severe instability and its tragic results for civilians in the town of Beni and elsewhere, she called upon the Council to dedicate efforts to tackling the driving causes of conflict, including by supporting the management of natural resources. United Nations units should monitor threats and attacks against women — including women politicians, activists and human rights defenders — as part of their early warning process, she stressed. Meanwhile, MONUSCO should prioritize community participation and apply a gender lens to all its mandated tasks and hold consultations with women’s organizations at every stage of the planning for its drawdown, she said.

In the ensuing discussion, Council members expressed concern at increasing violence and the ongoing humanitarian situation, as well as human rights abuses. Many speakers condemned the 22 February attack on a United Nations convoy in North Kivu, in which three people were killed, including Italy’s Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Delegates also emphasized that MONUSCO’s drawdown and exit must be carried out with due consideration for the situation on the ground.

The representative of France called for renewed intercommunal dialogue and stronger efforts to combat the illegal exploitation of natural resources throughout the Great Lakes region. He pledged his country’s support for providing COVID-19 vaccines to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other countries around the world through the global COVAX Facility. Condemning all human rights violations, he welcomed efforts to hold those who perpetrate them accountable. Emphasizing that preparations for MONUSCO’s transition require strong commitment from all partners, he said the establishment of a joint working group comprising the national authorities and United Nations actors is critical for tackling such issues as reform of the justice and security sectors. While the authorities have much work to do, MONUSCO must also adjust to better protect civilians, he said, stressing the need to reconfigure the Mission’s Force Intervention Brigade as soon as possible.

The representative of Norway condemned the surge in violence and persistent attacks on civilians in the east, including those reportedly carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The Government bears primary responsibility for addressing such abuses, he emphasized. “Fighting impunity is key, and we urge the authorities to redouble their efforts to ensure that perpetrators are held to account.” The Government must also speed up its efforts to combat sexual violence, she said, stressing that women must be included at all levels of decision-making and welcoming the establishment of a women mediators’ network. The root causes of conflict — including illegal deforestation and degradation of natural resources — must be addressed through greater bilateral and regional cooperation. She went on to underline that the national authorities and the United Nations country team must be ready to take over MONUSCO’s tasks upon the Mission’s exit, starting in Kasaï in June and Tanganyika in 2022.

The representative of China, stressing the need for political stability, said the formation of an inclusive Government reflecting the popular will is the most urgent task at hand. Ongoing violence and communal clashes in the east, and the attack on a United Nations convoy in February, demonstrate the need to tackle the root causes of conflict through security and development tools, as well as regional cooperation, he said. Full consideration must be given to the situation on the ground during MONUSCO’s drawdown and withdrawal, he added. Calling for greater investment in the Government’s disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme, he described the humanitarian situation as dire, emphasizing that the international community must step up its assistance while also strengthening the country’s independent development capabilities.

The representative of Niger, also speaking on behalf of Kenya, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, commended MONUSCO’s role and reiterated the strong condemnation of the recent deadly attacks committed against humanitarian actors. Also deploring the instability in the east, he urged the authorities to investigate human rights violations — including those that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity — and hold perpetrators accountable. On the humanitarian front, he expressed concern at the increasing number of people in need of assistance, a situation exacerbated by intercommunal violence and a fresh outbreak of Ebola. More than 21 million Congolese people remain food insecure, he noted.

Calling upon the international community to redouble its support and on the national authorities to do everything possible to facilitate humanitarian access and the delivery of assistance to those in need, he said it is critical to strengthen community-based approaches and to use early warning systems in identifying threats against civilians. That could also help to combat anti‑MONUSCO sentiment, he said. The continued support of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other countries in the region demonstrates their solidarity, he noted, including in such crucial areas as combating armed groups and improving the management of natural resources. He went on to stress the need to take the structural aspects of the security situation into account in all plans for MONUSCO’s transition and upcoming drawdown.

The representative of Mexico said the MONUSCO drawdown should be gradual, based on the security situation and a greater State presence on the ground. He urged the Government to continue its security sector reforms, as well as its disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme while also addressing the root causes of violence, including intercommunity strife. Regional partners should work with the Government to end the illegal exploitation and trafficking of natural resources, he emphasized. Mexico welcomes the recent prosecutions and court verdicts regarding rape, sexual slavery and other crimes against humanity, and calls for strengthening national judicial mechanisms with a focus on survivors, he said.

The representative of Ireland welcomed President Tshisekedi’s prioritization of women’s participation in peace negotiations during his term as African Union Chair, as well as his commitment to ensuring that women will make up 30 per cent of his new Government. However, significant challenges remain, he said, adding that deteriorating security, particularly in the eastern provinces, highlights how vital MONUSCO’s engagement remains. Commending the use of early warning mechanisms and alert networks, combined with community engagement for the protection of civilians, she emphasized that the Mission’s withdrawal must be conditions-based, coordinated with other agencies, in step with the security situation on the ground and include reforms in the justice, disarmament and security sectors. She went on to describe the deadly ambush of a WFP convoy in February as tragic but not exceptional, saying it serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing insecurity and danger the Congolese people face every day. Against that backdrop, she called for accountability for human rights violations and condemned attacks against humanitarian workers in the strongest terms, stressing that more than half the population is in need and aid workers must be able to operate freely.

The representative of Estonia warned that developments in the political situation are taking place amid human rights violations and abuses in the eastern provinces, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity. She emphasized the critical need for the security and defence forces to enhance their preparedness and effectiveness, and to investigate and prosecute perpetrators in a timely and coordinated manner. The violations and abuses, including conflict‑related sexual violence, continue to be perpetrated by both State agents and armed groups, she said, adding that further cooperation among MONUSCO, the national authorities, United Nations Joint Human Rights Office and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) would help to combat impunity and ensure justice for civilians who suffer atrocities. Pointing out that COVID-19, the resurgence of Ebola, migration, food insecurity and protection issues continue to aggravate existing challenges, she called upon the authorities to tackle the root causes of conflict — including illegal exploitation of natural resources and trafficking in small arms — and for further consensus-building between MONUSCO and local protection actors, in the context of the Mission’s transition.

The representative of India said the steps taken by the Government, with MONUSCO’s assistance, to reform the security and justice sectors are encouraging, expressing hope that the new national structure combining the mandates of all agencies responsible for demobilization, reinsertion, community reintegration, and stabilization will become a reality soon. That would allow FARDC and MONUSCO to narrow their focus areas in effectively dealing with armed groups, he said, encouraging greater participation of women’s organizations and women leaders in all processes. He went on to recall that peacekeepers from his country played an important role in protecting the country’s territorial integrity following its independence in 1960, pointing out that Indian peacekeepers, including a female engagement team, are serving in MONUSCO today. Last week, India handed over 200,000 “made-in-India” COVID-19 vaccines to the United Nations for all peacekeepers, he noted.

The representative of the Russian Federation noted that the situation remains unstable, with non-State groups gaining influence, territory and illicit control over natural resources. Expressing concern over the rise in violence against civilians, she described the deadly February attack on a WFP convoy as an outrage. The contributions of MONUSCO have helped to stabilize the situation in the Kivus and other provinces, she said, nevertheless voicing concern about the inability of the Congolese authorities to address the illicit flows and trafficking of natural resources. Welcoming recent political developments, she expressed hope that the new Government will help to address that challenge and further stabilize the security situation. While the humanitarian situation remains challenging, success has been registered in stemming the spread of COVID‑19 and stamping out a new Ebola virus outbreak, she said. Regional organizations, including SADC, continue to play an important mediating role and the Russian Federation stands ready to support them, she added.

The representative of Viet Nam underscored the importance of addressing the root causes of conflict in order to end the people’s prolonged suffering. Greater focus is needed on promoting dialogue between communities, addressing economic difficulties and illegal exploitation of and trade in natural resources. It is also important to strengthen regional and subregional cooperation, he said, welcoming President Tshisekedi’s assumption of the African Union chair. MONUSCO’s support, especially in terms of protecting civilians and strengthening State institutions, remains extremely crucial amid persisting violence in the eastern regions. Hard-won achievements must be preserved by ensuring a conditions-based transition of the Mission, he said, adding that his delegation looks forward to receiving the detailed transition plan requested in resolution 2556 (2020).

The representative of the United Kingdom said that, despite numerous multifaceted challenges, it is important to recognize the progress being made. It is crucial that the Government now drives forward urgent reforms, particularly those that will ensure free and fair elections in 2023, improve the economy for all and establish peace and security in the eastern provinces. Echoing calls for women’s full participation at all levels of decision-making, she reiterated her delegation’s concern about increased violence by armed groups in the east. The United Kingdom calls upon all national, regional and international actors to use their influence to stop them from accessing weapons, from trading and making money, and from enjoying political protection while committing atrocities with impunity, she said. Turning to MONUSCO’s transition, she welcomed positive momentum at the provincial level towards the Mission’s withdrawal from the Kasaïs, while emphasizing that the Government must remain fully engaged in the process and spearhead efforts to tackle the root causes of conflict.

The representative of the United States said the danger faced by so many Congolese every day is almost inconceivable. In 2020 alone, ADF killed more than 840 people, she added, noting, however, that the armed group is not the only one operating in the country. “We must do more to stop the violence,” she emphasized, adding that her country has designated ADF as a foreign terrorist organization. She urged other States in the region, with the support of MONUSCO and the Council, to develop strategies to stop the group’s external funding and recruitment. Welcoming MONUSCO’s efforts, alongside women’s organizations, to map places in which women and girls are at risk, she expressed strong support for the integration of female engagement teams into the Mission’s major units. She also encouraged the Office of the United Nations Special Envoy for the Great Lakes to be more forward-leaning and to press regional actors to improve good governance, strengthen the rule of law and promote human rights. She went on to voice support for MONUSCO’s efforts, in conjunction with the Government, to strengthen the Force Intervention Brigade’s capacity to prevent and respond to attacks by ADF.

The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said the political situation is still dominated by changes in the leadership of national institutions after the President’s decision to replace the Cap pour le changement — Front commun pour le Congo, which failed to meet the expectations of the Congolese people, with a new coalition, the Union sacrée de la nation. He expressed confidence that the new coalition will be able to advance reforms and put the country on the road to peace and sustainable development. He also noted the President’s election to a one-year term as Chair of the African Union, saying peace and security are his first priorities.

Discussing the security situation, he said armed groups are still sowing death and destruction in the east, despite the efforts of the security forces and MONUSCO. Such groups have become a “lucrative business” for their backers through the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the trafficking of small arms and light weapons, he added. Despite an offensive launched in October 2019, such groups remain active, particularly ADF, he emphasized. Proposing the creation of a mechanism — based on cohesion, dialogue and political will — to help restore hope among the people, he also urged improved coordination with the Special Representative’s efforts. At the same time, action must be taken against mafia‑like networks that supply weapons to armed groups, he said.

Commending MONUSCO’s sharing of intelligence it has gathered on armed groups through its use of drones, he said that his country expects the United Nations, and the Council in particular, to empower the Mission to effectively fulfil its mandate and to wage asymmetric warfare against armed groups, in accordance with resolution 2556 (2020). To achieve results on the ground, strategies must complement each other harmoniously, he said, adding that the Ministry of Defence and MONUSCO must conclude a new technical arrangement defining areas for intervention. Going forward, the Mission should assist the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, and other States should follow the United States in designating ADF as a terrorist group with links to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), he stressed.

Turning to the Mission’s gradual and phased withdrawal, he said it should be based on agreed parameters and measurable data, especially during the transitional stages. He commended MONUSCO’S assistance to Government efforts to combat impunity. On the human rights front, he highlighted several initiatives, including a new law on the rights of persons with disabilities and measures to ease overcrowding in prisons. In the coming days, the Government will start discussions on abolishing the death penalty, he noted.

In light of those efforts, it is surprising that the country is still singled out over human rights violations, he continued, citing the alleged abuses by Government officials, including police officers, mentioned in the Secretary‑General’s latest report. He went on to state that the humanitarian situation has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the persistence of Ebola and measles, putting a strain on health-care facilities. Appealing for international solidarity, particularly to address the plight of internally displaced persons, he also announced that the military prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the deadly attack on a WFP convoy in North Kivu Province in February.