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Special Envoy Updates Security Council on New Strategy for Consolidating Peace, Preventing Conflict in Great Lakes Region

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Speakers Express Concern about Ongoing Violence, Illicit Flow of Natural Resources

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A new strategy to prevent conflict and consolidate peace in Africa’s Great Lakes region will bring fresh support to leaders working to end violence by armed groups, especially in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council during a videoconference meeting today, while describing diplomatic relations across the region as being broadly “on the right track”.

Huang Xia, Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, presented the Secretary-General’s latest biannual report on the implementation of the 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region (document S/2021/306). He also updated Council members on progress towards drawing up an action plan to implement the new United Nations Strategy for Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region, which his office first submitted to the Secretary-General in late 2020. That plan seeks to draw on the best of the United Nations various offices and agencies in support of the region’s humanitarian-development-peace nexus, he said.

Noting that leaders of the Great Lakes region countries — especially President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda — have continued to demonstrate their commitment to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, he said they are working together to find lasting solutions to ongoing violence being committed by armed groups in some parts of the region, namely eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Among other things, the Framework’s guarantors — which include the United Nations, the African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) — plan to convene the first meeting of the Contact Coordination Group established to oversee the non-military measures to assist in the neutralization of armed groups next week.

Welcoming the commitment demonstrated recently on that front by Angola upon taking up the helm of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, he praised the region’s political will and pledged the United Nations support. The recent period saw a range of positive diplomatic developments, including encouraging gestures between leaders of Burundi and Rwanda, which have planned meetings on such crucial issues as securing the border area and ensuring the return of refugees. He also hailed several exemplary verdicts handed down against the head of armed groups in recent months by national courts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and by the International Criminal Court. However, he noted with regret that some of the region’s recent elections were tarnished by violent incidents. “It is not impossible to dream of a Great Lakes region free of electoral violence,” he insisted.

Emphasizing that many of the region’s challenges have been exacerbated by COVID-19, he recalled that nearly 2 million cases have been reported among the signatory countries to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework over the last year. Governments have shown resilience and determination, and thanks to the global COVAX facility they have been able to administer over 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to date. Concluding, he promised to support the many ongoing efforts towards rapprochement under way across the region and pledged support for the development of an action plan for the new United Nations Peace Consolidation strategy. He also called for a new approach to addressing the illicit flow of natural resources, announcing that his office plans to convene a high-level workshop aimed at drawing up a three-year action plan on that crucial issue.

Mohamed Fathi Ahmed Edrees (Egypt), briefing the Council in his capacity as Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, spotlighted the latter’s recent engagement with regional actors in support of the Special Envoy’s mandate. Since its first meeting on the Great Lakes region in November 2017, the Commission has emphasized the importance of mobilizing support for peacebuilding and regional cooperation initiatives in the broader context of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework. During a more recent meeting, in June 2020, it discussed ways to support regional socioeconomic cooperation among the countries of the Great Lakes region as a key component of building and sustaining peace and fostering sustainable development.

Stressing that such support has been rendered even more crucial amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing challenges posed by Ebola, he warned that those health challenges risk deteriorating regional macroeconomic indicators, disrupting economic activities and increasing pressure on national budgets — thereby affecting national capacity to address peace and security challenges. He recalled that, among other things, the Commission’s engagement has supported strengthening the role of women in peacebuilding and development, especially amid the pandemic. Small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly those owned by women, have seen the worst impacts of the crisis, compared to larger businesses. Meanwhile, informal cross-border trade — another important source of income for many women — has also diminished amid the coronavirus.

Outlining the Commission’s close collaboration with international financial institutions and regional actors, he said it also stays abreast of the World Bank’s regional and country-specific support to the Great Lakes region. The Bank’s Great Lakes initiative, with total commitments of approximately $1 billion in support of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, aims to promote peace, stability and economic development through economic cooperation and regional integration. At the Commission’s June meeting, the Bank also presented additional resources to support country responses to COVID-19. He went on to welcome and encourage continued contributions by the Peacebuilding Fund, recalling that its past and ongoing support amounts to $167 million and covers Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, the United Republic of Tanzania and Uganda.

Going forward, he said, the Commission also plans to work with the Special Envoy and countries of the region to help implement the new United Nations Strategy for Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region. Among other things, he said, the Commission could assist with mobilizing support for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants; promoting the upcoming Kigali Investment Forum, organized jointly by the Special Envoy’s office, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and the Rwanda Development Board; and further building its partnership with international financial institutions, including on instruments to support a coordinated response to COVID-19 and post-COVID recovery.

As Council members took the floor, several speakers voiced support for the Great Lakes’ longstanding Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, describing it as the cornerstone of efforts to build lasting stability across the region. However, many echoed the briefers’ concerns about ongoing violence, reports of human rights violations and the impact of COVID-19, especially on women. Some also voiced regret that the region’s leaders have not been able to successfully eradicate the illicit exploitation of and trade in natural resources, which among other things degrades the environment and provides funding to dangerous armed groups.

The representative of France drew attention to several positive developments in the region, including enhanced cooperation between Rwanda and Uganda as well as Burundi. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the encouraging momentum since President Tshisekedi’s election must continue in order to further reduce tensions and build confidence. He condemned ongoing attacks by armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and called for stepped-up efforts to ensure full respect for human rights, international humanitarian law and the rule of law, as well as promoting the full participation of women in peace processes. Humanitarian needs remain large, especially for refugees and internally displaced persons, but France and the European Union will continue to extend their support. He added that States in the region and their partners must continue to address the root causes of conflict and fully implement the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Great Lakes region. At the same time, the United Nations Strategy for Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region must be swiftly operationalized through the drafting of an action plan.

The representative of Ireland said that the deteriorating security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the eastern provinces, highlights how vital the Council’s engagement remains. “If we are to build sustainable peace in the Great Lakes, then deep and meaningful regional cooperation will be essential,” she said, adding that the progress outlined in the Secretary-General’s report, including the positive roles played by SADC and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, is encouraging. Economic development may be an engine of progress, but it cannot be pursued as an end in itself, and no time can be lost in agreeing on a time-bound action plan based on the United Nations Strategy for Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region, she said.

The representative of China called for the steadfast implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, noting that trust among countries in the Great Lakes region is getting stronger and that the concept of resolving disputes through dialogue has taken hold. Emphasizing the need to eliminate the root causes of conflict, he urged the region to boost economic cooperation and promote peace through development. At the same time, the international community should make COVID-19 vaccines more available and affordable for the region. He hoped that the Special Envoy will adhere to a problem-driven approach, leverage the advantages of various United Nations entities and come up with practical plans for the region. The Office of the Special Envoy and the Peacebuilding Commission should meanwhile be further strengthened. He emphasized that support for the Great Lakes region is a collective responsibility for the international community and that the Council’s contribution should be strengthened, not weakened.

The representative of Norway called upon all the region’s stakeholders to support recent progress in coordination and cooperation, as well as efforts to strengthen regional diplomacy. Continuing to implement the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework can only bring about more stability and have a positive impact on the humanitarian situation, he said, while emphasizing that bolstering civilian protection remains crucial. He voiced deep concern over reports of ongoing human rights violations in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere, including against children, health workers and humanitarian actors. Urging the Special Envoy to use all the tools at his disposal to address the root causes of conflict in the region — including the adverse effects of climate change, the illicit trade of natural resources and the need for reforms to end impunity — he welcomed the new strategy for peace consolidation, conflict prevention and conflict resolution and called for all relevant stakeholders to be actively engaged in its development.

The representative of Tunisia, speaking also on behalf of Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, welcomed the relative decline in cross-border security incidents during the reporting period, but added that the situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo “continues to be a bleeding sore in the region”. The perpetrators of deadly attacks must be held accountable and brought to justice, but at the same time, the establishment of national and regional disarmament, demobilization and reintegration frameworks must be accelerated. He also encouraged implementation of the 2019 Nairobi Declaration on Justice and Good Governance. He supported the reconfiguration of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) along the lines proposed by the Secretariat with a view to ensuring that it remains fit for purpose and underscored the need for enhanced collaboration between the Mission and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Turning to the situation in the Central African Republic, he welcomed the adoption of resolution 2566 (2021) on reinforcing the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and supported dialogue between the Government and civil opposition. He also recognized the Peacebuilding Commission’s valuable role in supporting regional cross-border cooperation. Emphasizing the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, he invited States in the region to step up their cooperation on cross-border humanitarian issues, including refugee flows, and called on the international community to extend adequate assistance to vulnerable groups. He went on to encourage a regional approach to the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons, commended the Special Envoy for his efforts to promote peace and security in the region, and looked forward to his proposals for ensuring the transparent and sustainable management of natural resources.

The representative of India pointed to several positive political developments in the region worthy of the Council’s appreciation as well as a reduction in cross-border incidents. He expressed concern, however, about increased terrorism and encouraged greater collaboration between national security forces to address common threats. He welcomed the Special Envoy’s support for regional efforts to address the illegal exploitation and extraction of natural resources, adding that the contributions of regional organizations will be crucial in that regard. Turning to the United Nations Strategy for Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region, he said that its implementation must be in line with national priorities. He went on to note his country’s close bilateral relationships with the region, with made-in-India COVID-19 vaccines making their way to eight Great Lakes countries.

The representative of Mexico described the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework as a vital tool for the Great Lakes region countries as they work to combat their common challenges. Condemning the ongoing violence being committed by armed groups in some parts of the region, as well as the recent disproportionate responses to several civil society protests, he nevertheless praised recent diplomatic progress — especially between Burundi and Rwanda. Stressing that the combination of violence and the illicit exploitation and trafficking of natural resources has had a particularly damaging impact on civilians, he declared: “It is urgent for there to be consequences.” In that vein, he expressed hope that the workshop planned on that crucial issue will create renewed momentum, while joining other speakers in welcoming the United Nations new peace consolidation strategy.

The representative of Estonia said the pandemic, along with a series of recent security incidents, continues to negatively impact the Great Lakes region. Citing socioeconomic instability, human rights violations, gender-based violence and conflict that still risks drawing youth into armed groups, he stressed that the rule of law and accountability for human rights violations are critical for the prevention of abuses. Welcoming the recent court rulings against perpetrators of serious crimes, as well as the acquittal of journalists, he said those developments bring the Nairobi Declaration on Justice and Good Governance closer to implementation. He emphasized that peaceful political and electoral processes are crucial for the region’s stability, calling upon all stakeholders to ensure that the elections upcoming in some countries remain peaceful, free and credible, while also calling for greater cooperation and economic integration among States in the region. In that vein, he welcomed recent improvements in bilateral and multilateral relations, especially commitments undertaken to tackle common threats including forced displacement, cross-border security, violations by armed groups, the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the pandemic.

The representative of the United States, recalling that her country expressed its position on the situation in the Great Lakes region at another recent meeting of the Security Council, spotlighted its concern over protests last week in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which turned violent. Stressing that they demonstrated the anger of the civilian population over ongoing armed group attacks, she said the Congolese people, colleagues in MONUSCO and the tens of millions of people in the region “need us to be ambitious, and they need us to be swift”. The Council must work to reduce the illegal flows of minerals, arms and fighters that continue to fuel violence. Voicing support for the new United Nations regional strategy for the Great Lakes, she urged the Special Envoy to act swiftly by pursuing high-level shuttle diplomacy and supporting the full implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework. Together, the international community can help the Great Lakes region countries overcome their troubled history and fulfil their rich potential, she said.

The representative of the United Kingdom said that her country remains deeply concerned about human rights violations and abuses, including incidents resulting from increased armed group activity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. She also welcomed coordination between the Special Envoy and the Head of MONUSCO, including on the Mission’s withdrawal strategy. Recognizing that abundant natural resources in the Great Lakes region are a source of funding for armed groups and a driver of conflict, she supported the Special Envoy’s work to assist regional Governments to address the management of natural resources.

The representative of the Russian Federation echoed concerns expressed in the Secretary-General’s recent report over the humanitarian conditions in the Great Lakes region, as well as the impact of COVID-19 and resulting economic shocks — including the looming threat of a debt crisis. She also voiced concern over the ongoing violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and the fact that the region’s leaders have not yet been able to address the illicit trafficking of natural resources. Welcoming regional States’ desire to improve cooperation to confront those challenges, she drew attention to the various agreements reached by leaders at the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region summit in November 2020, as well as to improving bilateral relations and cooperation on economic matters. All of those efforts warrant the wholehearted support of the international community, she stressed, praising the renewed impetus brought about by the United Nations new peace consolidation strategy. The Russian Federation will continue to support the Special Envoy’s good offices functions and, as a member of the Group of Friends of the Great Lakes Region, intends to continue to assist with stabilizing the region as a whole, she said.

The representative of Viet Nam, Council President for April, spoke in his national capacity, underlining the centrality of regional cooperation. Praising the genuine commitment of States in the Great Lakes region to enhance relations through bolstered dialogue and cooperation, both at the bilateral and multilateral levels, he welcomed the high-level engagement among members of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region and SADC to tackle security issues. “We are convinced that the current spirit of partnership will continue to bear fruit,” he said. On the root causes of instability, he described the security situation in certain parts of the region as a source of continued concern. At the same time, the humanitarian situation is still marked by a significant number of people requiring protection and assistance and the pandemic continues to exacerbate socioeconomic difficulties and the plight of vulnerable populations. It is therefore fundamentally important that those drivers be addressed in a comprehensive and pragmatic manner, through intensified diplomatic efforts, more cooperation in the governance of natural resources and strong support from the global community.

The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo called for redoubled efforts to breathe new life into the Framework Agreement through new initiatives, including strengthened regional cooperation in terms of military and non-military cooperation as well as conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Politically, the dynamic driven by regional Heads of State — including the Presidents of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Uganda and Rwanda — must be supported and strengthened to ease tensions, build confidence and better coordinate efforts to neutralize negative forces. Underscoring the threat posed in the east of his country by the Allied Democratic Forces, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Lord’s Resistance Army, he said that the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has contacted its counterparts in neighbouring States to come up with strategies to address the thorny question of insecurity, as recommended by the Arusha Accords. He added that a virtual summit meeting of leaders of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region on 20 October 2020 recommended the creation of a contact group to coordinate a package of non-military measures to combat negative forces.

Recalling the Council’s recent meeting on MONUSCO, he said that the people are tired of crying and counting their dead. They do not feel protected and they want something done in response to the terrorism of armed groups, particularly the Allied Democratic Forces. In that regard, the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is promoting a community-based approach to retore security and stability at the local level, but which will require significant resources, including from MONUSCO and the Peacebuilding Commission, among others. He listed other initiatives that would help promote peace, including economic cooperation and regional integration, the repatriation of refugees, regional judicial cooperation, increasing the participation of women and youth in peacebuilding efforts, and intensifying MONUSCO’s offensive operations. Turning to humanitarian concerns, he noted that his country is not only confronted with COVID-19, but also still grappling with Ebola and measles, among other diseases. Displaced persons living without shelter, health care or basic sanitation should prick the conscience of the international community. Underscoring efforts by the President of his country in the area of human rights, he said that data in the Secretary-General’s report concerning alleged violations by State actors should be reviewed.