Democratic Republic of Congo Grappling with Heavily Networked Armed Groups Funded by Gold Smuggling, Security Council Hears, as Expert Body Mourns Slain Members

Report
from UN Security Council
Published on 17 Aug 2017 View Original

SC/12598

SECURITY COUNCIL
8026TH MEETING (AM)

Government Collaborating with United Nations, but Opposes Proposed Independent Probe of Killings, Stresses Vice-Prime Minister

Tremendous challenges were facing the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the dynamics of the conflict ever-changing, an illicit trade in artisanal gold funding increasingly fragmented but heavily networked armed groups and human rights violations at significant levels, the Chair of the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1533 (2004) told the Security Council today.

Close relatives of Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán, two members of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo murdered on 12 March 2017 in Kasaï Central Province, were present as Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta (Egypt), Council President for August, presented the Group’s final report.

“Despite the numerous risks and challenges they faced, their profound courage, dedication to their work and utter devotion to the cause of peace were a source of inspiration for all,” he said, adding that their tragic loss was a painful reminder of the volatile environments in which United Nations experts operated, as well as of the suffering inflicted on innocent Congolese civilians.

Summarizing the report’s findings, he said the dynamic of the conflict was changing, with increasingly fragmented armed groups operating in a more decentralized yet heavily networked manner, and with a growing interconnection between foreign and local armed groups. Improved efforts to trace the origin of tin, tantalum and tungsten had reduced the ability of armed groups to benefit from the exploitation and trade of those minerals, he said. However, artisanally sourced gold was still being exported from conflict-affected areas, he added, emphasizing the need to address the smuggling of gold in carry-on airline baggage.

Violations of human rights and international humanitarian law remained at significant levels, he said, noting that the Group had focused on child rape in South Kivu Province, an attack on premises of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in North Kivu on 19 December 2016 and the two experts’ assassination.

Reviewing the work of the Committee and the Group of Experts, he said a deliberate effort had been made to involve the Democratic Republic of Congo authorities, as well as those of the Great Lakes region, to promote synergies among United Nations actors working on sanctions-related issues. Emphasizing that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was one of the world’s top gold and diamond producers, yet one of the 47 least-developed countries, he said the fight against illicit trafficking of natural resources was critical for peacebuilding and development.

In the ensuing discussion, Léonard She Okitundu, Vice-Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said the Congolese people and Government felt the pain of the two slain experts’ families and pledged that the perpetrators would be severely punished. Sixteen suspects had been identified and nine arrested, he said, adding that while the Congolese judicial authorities were collaborating with the United Nations, the Government disagreed with a proposed independent international inquiry.

Discussing other aspects of the Group of Experts’ report, he said that — on the heels of the comprehensive political agreement on 31 December 2016 that envisioned elections by the end of this year — 90 per cent of Congolese voters had now been registered. Going forward, the Independent National Electoral Commission, together with the Government and the national council monitoring the agreement, would finalize a timetable for presidential, national legislative and provincial elections.

Regarding security issues, he said Government forces, supported by MONUSCO, were pursuing military operations against foreign and domestic armed groups in the east. Noting that members of the former 23 March movement continued to operate freely — in violation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Addis Ababa agreement they signed in Addis Ababa in February 2013 and the Nairobi Declaration signed later that year — he said the Council should consider sanctions against its leaders. He added that the Government’s efforts alone were not enough to end illegal mining and the pillaging of natural resources. The Democratic Republic of the Congo requested that the United Nations take appropriate steps towards a sanctions regime that could be modelled on the Kimberley Process.

The representative of the United States, emphasizing the importance of a thorough investigation into the murder of United Nations officials, said the Congolese people were frustrated by their Government and tired of waiting for credible elections. In the absence of a fair and inclusive vote, the United States would pursue stronger sanctions against anyone who undermined peace and stability in the country, she said.

Sweden’s delegate said the Group of Experts’ report depicted a “fragile and worrying” security situation. Welcoming a European Union regulation that would require mineral importers to control their supply chains, and detailing violence in Kasaï, Tanganyika, and South Kivu, she called for full implementation of the 31 December 2016 political agreement by and with all Congolese stakeholders. Turning to the United Nations investigation into the deaths of Mr. Sharp and Ms. Catalán, she said: “No stone should be left unturned.”

The representative of Senegal, expressing concern over the proliferation of armed groups despite the efforts of MONUSCO and Government security forces, said cooperation among Member States was essential for the full implementation of sanctions and in order to address the illicit circulation of weapons. Noting the findings of the Group of Experts regarding possible contributions from the diaspora to armed groups, he called for recommendations in that regard.

China’s delegate said it was important for the international community to urge all actors, including those in opposition, to halt violence and support the 31 December 2016 political agreement. In doing so, it must fully respect the Government’s leading role, he said, emphasizing that international solutions would only be effective if they respected the Government’s leadership and the choices of the Congolese people.

Also speaking were representatives of France, Ukraine, Italy, Japan, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, Kazakhstan, Uruguay, Ethiopia and Bolivia.

The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 12:03 p.m.

Briefing

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt), Council President for August, speaking as Chair of the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1533 (2004), said the final report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (document S/2017/672/Rev.1) depicted a complex picture of the tremendous challenges facing that country. The dynamic of the conflict was changing, he said, with increasingly fragmented armed groups operating in a more decentralized yet heavily networked manner, and with a growing interconnection between foreign and local armed groups. Mineral traceability had reduced the ability of armed groups to benefit from the exploitation and trade of tin, tantalum and tungsten. However, artisanally sourced gold was still being exported from conflict-affected areas, he said, emphasizing also the need to address the smuggling of gold in carry-on airline baggage.

Violations of human rights and international humanitarian law remained at significant levels, he said, noting that the Group had focused on child rape in South Kivu Province, an attack on premises of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in North Kivu on 19 December 2016 and the murder of two of its members, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán, on 12 March 2017 in Kasaï Central Province. Drawing attention to the recommendations in the final report, he acknowledged the presence at today’s meeting of Mr. Sharp’s parents and Ms. Catalán’s mother and sister. “Despite the numerous risks and challenges they faced, their profound courage, dedication to their work and utter devotion to the cause of peace were a source of inspiration for all,” he said. Their tragic loss was a painful reminder of the volatile environments in which United Nations experts operated, as well as of the suffering inflicted on innocent Congolese civilians.

Reviewing the work of the Committee and the Group of Experts, he said a deliberate effort had been made to involve the Democratic Republic of Congo authorities, as well as those of the Great Lakes region, to promote synergies among United Nations actors working on sanctions-related issues and to encourage collaboration among regional and international partners in order to forge a common approach that would help lead to peace and stability. Emphasizing that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was one of the world’s top gold and diamond producers, yet one of the 47 least-developed countries, he said the fight against illicit trafficking of natural resources was critical for peacebuilding and development.

Looking forward, he said the coming months would be critical for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during which the Committee would remain vigilant and maintain its dialogue with the country’s interlocutors and those in the wider region. In that context, he said the Committee would consider a visit by its Chair to the region in late October that would seek to obtain first-hand knowledge of implementation of resolution 2360 (2017) and the impact of the exploitation of natural resources on the situation in the east of the country. That visit would be followed by a meeting in New York with States in the region that would, among other things, promote a general discussion on the effectiveness of the sanctions regime.

Statements

ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said that the killing of Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán deeply saddened the Council and the presence of their family members at today’s meeting only reinforced the need to do more to ensure a thorough investigation. Speaking to the families present in the Chamber, she said: “Let us assure you that the whole of France is on your side.” She called on the Secretary-General to establish an inquiry mechanism to ensure justice. The Committee’s final report was of high quality, as it highlighted the risk of continued security deterioration in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said, expressing particular concern about the violence in Kasaï. Civilians had always been the first victims of increased insecurity and the humanitarian situation had been particularly difficult for women. Impunity for those who committed human rights violations must end. Meanwhile, the deadline for elections was fast approaching, she continued, stressing the need to hold credible and inclusive elections by 31 December at the latest.

MICHELE J. SISON (United States) said she was humbled by the presence of Michael Sharp’s parents and Zaida Catalán’s mother and sister. Mr. Sharp and Ms. Catalán had pursued truth and justice and worked to bring light to horrific crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The murder of United Nations officials could not end without a thorough investigation, she said, also stressing: “We must uncover the truth surrounding Michael and Zaida’s death.” Meanwhile, the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo must do more to strengthen the legitimate trade in natural resources, she continued, adding that illicit trafficking bolstered armed groups and only perpetuated conflict. The Congolese people were frustrated by their Government and tired of waiting for credible elections. In the absence of fair and inclusive elections, the United States would pursue stronger sanctions against anyone who undermined peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she warned. The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo remained responsible for ensuring security for all its citizens, who were fleeing their homes in mass and deprived of basic resources.

IRINA SCHOULGIN-NYONI (Sweden) said the report illustrated the “fragile and worrying” security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Information that ex-combatants were being re-mobilized was worrisome, she said, calling for greater attention to the reintegration of former fighters. As a donor to the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, Sweden welcomed the recommendation to revise that programme to focus on job creation and professional training. On revenues from conflict minerals, which fuelled the insecurity, she welcomed the European Union regulation requiring mineral importers to control their supply chains. Detailing violence in Kasaï, Tanganyika, and South Kivu, she went on to call for democratic progress with the full implementation of the agreement reached on 31 December 2016 by and with all Congolese stakeholders, stressing that free, fair, credible and inclusive elections were the only way out of the political crisis. “No stone should be left unturned,” she said, expressing support for the United Nations investigation into the murders of the Expert Group members.

VOLODYMYR PAVLICHENKO (Ukraine), describing “outrages” across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including arms smuggling, human rights abuses and ethnic clashes, said the drastic destabilization in Kasaï Province demonstrated that no part of the country was immune. “At the same time, one cannot deny that the existing sanctions regime has played an important role in diminishing some threats,” he said, pointing out that it had narrowed opportunities for armed groups to benefit from illegal involvement in the exploitation of natural resources. Voicing concern about the further deterioration of the country’s security environment, which was linked to its political stagnation, he emphasized the importance of accountability and called upon the Secretary-General to quickly establish a mechanism to follow up on the killings of two Expert Group members, as his predecessor had done in response to the Terrain Hotel tragedy in South Sudan. Regarding the 1533 Committee’s modus operandi, he did not understand when recommendations — addressed to the Council by its own Group of Experts — were prevented, and called on Committee members to cooperate with the Chairman and each other to ensure the body’s effective functioning.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) stressed that the killers of the two United Nations experts must be brought to justice. Today’s meeting was meant to analyse their invaluable work in helping to explain the complex humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the east of the country. Expressing deep concern for the exploitation of natural resources, he stressed that curbing illicit trafficking was essential to ensuring security. Calling on the Government to redouble its efforts to stem illicit trafficking, particularly in gold mining, he expressed serious concern about reports that some Government officials were involved. The two experts had lost their lives investigating human rights violations in the Kasaï Province, he reiterated, calling on Congolese authorities to cooperate with the Expert Group. The perpetrators must be prosecuted and brought to justice. He also expressed concern about the slowness of implementing the 31 December Agreement, urging the Government to implement that accord, quickly define the electoral calendar and hold the elections as swiftly as possible. He also expressed support to the sanctions regime.

YASUHISA KAWAMURA (Japan) said the report was an important tool in reviewing and shaping the Democratic Republic of the Congo sanctions regime going forward. Paying tribute to Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp, he said their professional and insightful work had made strong contributions to the work of the Group of Experts. He advocated for a prompt and thorough investigation to bring the perpetrators of those killings to justice and called on the Secretary-General to establish a follow-up special investigation without delay. “We must avoid any recurrence of this type of tragedy in the future,” he stressed. The Democratic Republic of the Congo stood at a critical juncture, with profound and interlinked political and security concerns, he continued, reiterating calls to the Government to hold peaceful and credible elections which could lead to a democratic transfer of power by the end of the year. The deeply alarming deterioration of security in Kasaï and in eastern part of the country must be urgently addressed. Emphasizing that sanctions were not tools for punishment, but rather a means to support national efforts to maintain peace and stability, he called for full implementation of the sanctions regime and said the Committee must do more to revitalize engagement among all stakeholders.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), stressing that the two experts gave their life to the goal of bringing peace, pledged that their barbaric murderers would be found and brought to justice. On sanctions, he noted that while they were important elements at the Council’s disposal, such restrictive measures must never be an end in themselves. Expressing serious concern about the resurgence of clashes, he urged the Government and MONUSCO to do more to ensure security on the ground and stressed that human rights violations were unjustifiable. Emphasizing the need to implement the 31 December 2016 political agreement, he said, however, that any possible adjustment to the timetable of holding elections must only be decided by the Government and opposition rather than imposed by outside forces. The extraction of natural resources remained a major concern in the entire Great Lakes region, he continued, emphasizing that countries must work together to stem illegal and illicit trade. He also welcomed Kinshasa’s cooperation with the United States and Sweden regarding the investigation into the experts’ murder.

JONATHAN ALLEN (United Kingdom) said the Council owed it to the families of the experts and their interpreter Betu Tshintela to speak loudly and reiterate its strongest resolve that their killers would be brought to justice. They were the Council’s eyes and ears on the ground, he said, adding that whenever United Nations staff members were murdered, harmed or abducted, the Council could not stand aside and be silent. Resolution 2360 (2017) and the commissioning of a board of inquiry were first steps, but more must be done, he said, welcoming the Secretary-General’s call for a follow-on mechanism. It appeared that Mr. Sharp and Ms. Catalán’s expertise made them targets, he said, adding: “They were killed for shining a light on the horrific human rights situation in the Kasaïs and we must not let that light go out.” Emphasizing the link between the political and security situation, he said Council members must all agree that the 31 December 2016 accord must be fully implemented. If implementation faltered, “we worry what would happen next,” he said, drawing attention to an uptick in human rights violations linked to the electoral process. Growing reports of widespread sexual violence, the recruitment of children and ongoing violence in the east were clear warning signs. Sanctions must be fully implemented and kept under close review, he said, urging the Democratic Republic of the Congo also to cooperate with the work of the Human Rights Council investigative mechanism.

WU HAITAO (China) said any attack against United Nations personnel was unacceptable and that their security must be ensured. This year, the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had worked to further the peace process while strengthening its governance and security structure. The country nevertheless faced various challenges, particularly in the east where rebel armed groups were a main cause of instability in the country and the wider region. It was important for the international community to urge all actors, including those in opposition, to end violence and support the 31 December 2016 Agreement. In doing so, it must fully respect the Government’s leading role, he said, adding that international solutions would only be effective if they respected the Government’s leadership and the choices of the Congolese people. Sanctions were a means to an end at the service of peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He added that China had always supported the peace process, providing it with assistance and playing a constructive role for peace and development in the country.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal) appealed for a peaceful political transition that respected the aspirations of the Congolese people and called on the international community to provide the country with the financial resources for implementing the electoral process launched after the 31 December 2016 Agreement. Addressing the final report of the Group of Experts, he said the situation in the east remained concerning, with armed groups being the main source of insecurity and violence against civilians. Such groups were multiplying despite the efforts of MONUSCO and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He drew attention to the Group of Experts’ findings regarding possible diaspora contributions to armed groups covered by the sanctions regime and called on the Group to make recommendations in that regard. He emphasized that Member States’ cooperation was essential for the full implementation of sanctions, and noted strengthened regional and subregional cooperation to end the threat of resurgent armed groups.

Natural resources featured prominently in the Group of Experts’ report, with their illegal trade and exploitation providing considerable income to armed groups, he said. In that regard, on 4 August, the 1530 Committee discussed specific aspects of the sanctions regime with key actors, he added, emphasizing the importance of cooperation between various mechanisms and the need to better address corruption and fraud. The illicit circulation of weapons and violations of the arms embargo could only be resolved through strengthened cooperation in order to dismantle trafficking networks and supply chains while at the same time strengthening the capacity of countries in the region to manage their arsenals and ensure traceability. Turning to violations of international humanitarian law, he said the unspeakable deaths of the two experts represented a major challenge to the United Nations role. As a country that participated in peacekeeping missions, Senegal was greatly concerned about threats to United Nations personnel and supported the investigation being conducted by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in cooperation with the United Nations and others in accordance with Congolese law, to shed light on their murder.

BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan) called on the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to hold timely, credible, and transparent elections, and its election commission to work closely with MONUSCO to uphold the highest of standards. “We need to close all loopholes in the implementation of the sanctions regime,” he continued, adding that the fight against the illicit trafficking of resources was instrumental to ensure security. Expressing concern for the violations of human rights, including sexual violence perpetuated against women, he condemned the activities of all armed groups and their attacks on civilians and United Nations personnel. He called for the swift reintegration and resettlement of Congolese and foreign militia. “There is no simple formula to solve all these complex challenges,” he added, also calling for the full implementation of relevant resolutions and the 31 December Agreement.

LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay), expressing condolences to the families of the two experts, said the horrible events that ended their lives were a reminder of the constant sacrifices made by United Nations staff, including soldiers, experts and peacekeepers. He encouraged Council members to examine in detail the executive summary of the United Nations commission of inquiry and its recommendations. He commended the work of Egypt in chairing the Committee and for its contributions on the ground. He also reiterated the need to implement the 31 December 2016 Agreement in all its components, which called for peaceful, credible elections by the end of 2017.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) expressed condolences to the experts’ families and stressed that everything must be done to bring the perpetrators to justice. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was indeed facing challenges, particularly in implementing the 31 December Agreement. The proliferation of violence and weakened institutions continued to hamper any social progress and only perpetuated violence. The activities of armed groups had been fuelled by the illegal exploitation of gold and diamonds, he noted, stressing the need to monitor their illicit trafficking. He expressed concern about the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation and violence being committed particularly against women and children.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) expressed condolences to the families of the victims and stressed the need to bring to justice the perpetrators of those crimes. The absence of a traceability mechanism in the gold mining sector continued to facilitate resource smuggling and illicit trade, while tax shelters continued to make it possible for illegal traders to enter the global financial sector. The changing dynamic of the conflict continued to lead to horrid humanitarian consequences. The control of resource-rich areas was essential for the cessation of hostilities and economic development. Government control of the country’s natural resources enabled political stability, he said, also stressing the need to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sanctions must only be used as a last resort and carried out fairly and transparently. Periodic assessments would also help make necessary adjustments on the ground.

LÉONARD SHE OKITUNDU, Vice-Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said his Government and the Congolese people condemned the deaths of Mr. Sharp and Ms. Catalán and shared their families’ pain. The perpetrators would be severely punished, he stated. While the two experts were serving the United Nations, they were also indirectly serving the country, criss-crossing its territory to denounce all obstacles to peace, working with passion and love and paying with their lives so that troubled areas would find peace again. “We must honour their memory and give meaning to their sacrifice,” he said.

On the final report of the Group of Experts, he said the political situation had been dominated by implementation of the 31 December 2016 Agreement, with 42 million voters — 90 per cent of the total — already registered and MONUSCO helping to deploy resources in the Kasaï Province to enumerate voters there. Once that work was complete, Parliament would be asked to amend the electoral law and that of the distribution of seats. Voting would take place in conformity with a calendar to be defined by the Independent National Electoral Commission, he said, adding that that body — together with the national council monitoring the political accord and the Government — would soon take stock of preparations to determine the exact timing of presidential, national legislative and provincial elections.

Regarding security issues, he said Government forces, supported by MONUSCO, were pursuing military operations against foreign and domestic armed groups in the east. The operational capacity of the Allied Democratic Forces had significantly been diminished, resulting in a certain calm in its area of operations. As for the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), he said 340 of its combatants who surrendered three years ago remained in cantonment in three locations despite requests for their repatriation or resettlement in third countries outside the Great Lakes region. Combatants from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) meanwhile were also in cantonment under MONUSCO auspices in two locations, he said, asking the United Nations to assume its responsibilities to resolve their situation.

He said members of the former 23 March movement continued to operate freely, in violation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework agreement they signed in Addis Ababa in February 2013 and the Nairobi Declaration signed later that year, carrying out political and military activities in neighbouring countries where they found refuge. The Council should consider sanctions against that group’s leaders. He added that the Government’s efforts alone were not enough to end illegal mining and the pillaging of natural resources. The Democratic Republic of the Congo requested that the United Nations take appropriate steps towards a sanctions regime that could be modelled on the Kimberley Process.

Turning to Kamuina Nsapu, he said that group was founded a year ago this month in Kasaï-Centrale, with its followers spreading terror in four provinces, using civilians as human shields and attacking Government premises in small groups. State authority had been restored in most of the area since, with the Ministry of Justice stepping up its investigations. A national commission of inquiry had meanwhile been established to look into allegations of human rights violations by Government forces in the Kasaï Province, he said, adding that seven soldiers had been arrested in connection with a massacre at Mwanza Lomba.

Addressing the deaths of the two United Nations experts, he said 16 suspects had been identified, nine of whom had been arrested. Nineteen hearings had been held, with a visit to the scene of the crime scheduled for 21 August. The Congolese judicial authorities were collaborating with the United Nations, with MONUSCO providing logistical support, he said. Noting the work of international experts as well, he said his country had suffered great loss of life, with militia ruthlessly killing men, women and children who all deserved justice to be done. Concluding, he gave his Government’s position on two of the Group of Experts’ recommendations. He said it disagreed with a proposed independent international inquiry into the deaths of the two experts, given that it was already collaborating with existing United Nations mechanisms and the victims’ home countries, in line with Human Rights Council resolution 35/33. Regarding a recommended extension of the Group of Experts’ mandate to 30 December 2018, he said that matter had been resolved in resolution 2360 (2017) which extended the mandate to 1 August 2018.

For information media. Not an official record.