Mission Drawdown in Democratic Republic of Congo Must Not Create Stability Vacuum, Jeopardize Civilian Protection, Senior Official Tells Security Council

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The withdrawal of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) must not create security vacuums and jeopardize the protection of civilians, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today, as speakers called for a gradual, responsible and conditions-based transition.

Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, said that, despite a lull in armed clashes between the 23 March Movement (M23) and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC), the security situation in the country’s eastern region has continued to deteriorate in Ituri and North Kivu. Also, the withdrawal of M23 from the occupied areas has been tactical as it still controls a large part of the Masisi and Rutshuru territories and its offensive repositioning in recent weeks has raised fears that hostilities could flare up again at any moment.

Nonetheless, she stressed that the relative security gains in North Kivu are overshadowed by the deteriorating situation in Ituri, which has suffered from the security vacuum created by the redeployment of FARDC. Over 600 people were killed by armed groups during the reporting period, she said, citing the Coalition of Congolese Democrats (CODECO), Zaïre militia and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) as the main perpetrators.

She then detailed MONUSCO’s efforts to assist the Congolese authorities with the pre-cantonment and disarmament of M23. Further, the Mission has provided direct protection to the civilian population through protection by projection. To date, between 50,000 and 70,000 displaced people are under the direct physical protection of MONUSCO in the Roe site, located in Djugu territory in the province of Ituri. Additionally, the Mission has repelled CODECO’s attacks against civilians on numerous occasions and contributed to the fight against ADF.

In the ensuing discussion, numerous Council members commended MONUSCO’s contribution to maintaining stability, protecting civilians and supporting the electoral processes, while some urged the Mission to strengthen its communication with the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Government.

Gabon’s delegate, also speaking on behalf of Ghana and Mozambique, said that despite the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s vast reserves of natural resources – “the future of modern technology and global development” – its people are languishing in poverty. Recent attacks against displaced persons camps are the “very height of inhumanity”, he said, describing the spread of terrorism and violent extremism as a grave threat to the region.

Turning to the electoral process, the speaker for Ecuador emphasized that the protection of human rights defenders, journalists and civil society must be of utmost priority in the lead up towards the elections. Against the backdrop of the worsening humanitarian crisis – with 26.4 million people suffering acute food insecurity – he stressed that the “herculean” work conducted by MONUSCO must be supported.

Adding to that, the representative of the United Kingdom said the Council must carefully consider the implications of MONUSCO’s departure for the civilian population. “We should learn lessons from previous peacekeeping closures and make sure we don’t repeat mistakes” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said, expressing support for the Mission’s geographical approach to transition as well as its conditions-based withdrawal.

Meanwhile, Rwanda’s delegate expressed disappointment that “despite having full awareness of the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) Government’s collaboration with FDLR, both MONUSCO and [the Council] have failed to take any substantive action.” The proliferation of anti-Tutsi genocidal ideology – widely observed in that country today – reveals the extent of FDLR’s reach, he said, adding that both FARDC and FDLR have consistently violated Rwanda’s territorial integrity.

The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo highlighted the growing danger posed by M23/RDF (Rwanda Defence Force), a proxy of Rwanda, the activities of ADF terrorists affiliated to Da’esh, and that of CODECO. He rejected allegations that FDLR are a genuine military and security threat to Rwanda. “Nobody can point to a single moment in time when the FDLR has attacked Rwanda over the last five to 10 years,” he asserted, noting that such claims are often used as a pretext invoked to further the agenda of those seeking to pillage his country’s natural resources and to fulfil their dreams of territorial extension.

The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 11:59 a.m.

Briefing

MARTHA AMA AKYAA POBEE, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, said that, over the past three months, the security situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has continued to deteriorate in Ituri and North Kivu, despite a lull in armed clashes between the 23 March Movement (M23) and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). Thus far, the ceasefire between M23 and FARDC has relatively held and contributed to some security gains, she observed, adding that the relative calm in Rutshuru territory has enabled more than 45,000 people from the Bishusha group to return to their homes. However, the withdrawal of M23 from the occupied areas has been tactical as it still controls a large part of the Masisi and Rutshuru territories. Moreover, its offensive repositioning in recent weeks has raised fears that hostilities could flare up again at any moment as the group continues to create insecurity, reportedly killing 47 civilians in North Kivu over the recent period.

In this context, she welcomed the continued efforts of regional leaders to prevail on the parties to implement the Luanda road map and the Nairobi process. Also, she reiterated the readiness of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) to assist the Congolese authorities with the pre-cantonment and disarmament of M23. Last week, MONUSCO, the East African Community Regional Force and the expanded joint verification mechanism undertook a reconnaissance mission at the Rumangabo base to assess the conditions for the pre-cantonment of M23. It is urgent that the Movement withdraws completely from the occupied territories, lay down its arms unconditionally and joins the demobilization, disarmament, community recovery and stabilization programme. Nonetheless, the relative security gains in North Kivu are overshadowed by the deteriorating situation in Ituri which has suffered from the security vacuum created by the redeployment of FARDC to North Kivu. Over 600 people were killed by armed groups during the reporting period, she said, citing the Coalition of Congolese Democrats (CODECO), Zaïre militia and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) as the main perpetrators. A particularly heinous example was the CODECO militia attack on the Lala site for internally displaced people on 11 and 12 May, during which 40 displaced people were killed and 800 shelters were burnt. At the same time, the persistent activities of armed groups in South Kivu for the control of mining sites, in particular Mai-Mai militias, demonstrate the need to resolve the root causes of the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo for peace to be restored.

In response to the persistent insecurity in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO continues to do its utmost to protect civilians, she underscored, drawing attention to Beni, Bunia, Bukavu and Goma, where workshops supported by the Mission have responded to security challenges. In parallel, MONUSCO has provided direct protection to the civilian population, notably through protection by projection. To date, between 50,000 and 70,000 displaced people are under the direct physical protection of MONUSCO in Roe site, located in Djugu territory in the province of Ituri. The Mission has repelled CODECO’s attacks against civilians on numerous occasions. Joint operations between FARDC and the Force Intervention Brigade of MONUSCO have also actively contributed to the fight against ADF. Voicing concern about the long-standing humanitarian crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, she reported that 6.3 million people have been displaced in the country, and since March 2022, 2.8 million people have fled their homes in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces. This situation has been aggravated by inflation, epidemics, natural hazards and food insecurity, faced by 26 million people – more than a quarter of the population. Also, gender-based violence has increased by 23 per cent nationwide and the surge in sexual violence against children is particularly horrifying, she said, highlighting the link between these violations and the proliferation of armed groups in areas where displaced people are hosted. Accordingly, she appealed to the donor community to contribute to the 2023 humanitarian response plan, which – as of 18 June – was funded at 28 per cent.

Additionally, pockets of instability have resurfaced in the western and southern parts of the country, she said, noting that violence has persisted in the provinces of Mai-Ndombe, Kwilu and Kwango, and spread to Maluku in the province of Kinshasa, resulting in the death of 67 people in the last three months. Tensions and violence have also been reported in Kindu, Tshopo and Katanga. She expressed concern about the human rights situation, including the restriction of civic space, the increase in hate speech and a rise in violence against women political leaders. Turning to the December 2023 elections, she said that MONUSCO has been providing logistical support to the Electoral Commission and training for police officers. Calling for a gradual and responsible transition, she emphasized that MONUSCO’s departure is planned and initial steps are being taken in several areas. However, MONUSCO’s withdrawal should not jeopardize the protection of civilians, she said, warning against security vacuums. “The Mission cannot responsibly depart from areas where MONUSCO is the only protection presence,” she added. Reiterating the need to ensure that regional initiatives are coordinated with MONUSCO, she pointed to the quadripartite summit, which will take place on 27 June in Luanda, Angola, under the facilitation of the African Union. The United Nations country team and the Mission are currently working to mobilize the necessary funding to implement the transition plan for Tanganyika, which amounts to $26 million over a two-year period, she said, appealing to the donor community for their support.

Statements

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said efforts to ensure the withdrawal of M23 and to demobilize armed groups should be accelerated. He called on M23 to withdraw, noting information from the United Nations group of experts confirming that the Movement is holding on to the positions it has conquered in recent months in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Moreover, Rwanda’s continued military support for M23, as well as the support given by certain members of the Congolese armed forces to armed groups such as the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) must end. The priority must be to fully carry through the Nairobi and Luanda regional processes to a successful conclusion. Inter-Congolese consultations must continue to disarm and demobilize Congolese armed groups and States in the region must demobilize and repatriate foreign armed groups, he added. Noting the Council’s preparation to renew the sanctions regime established under resolution 1533 (2004), he called for those restrictions to be imposed against those who continue to obstruct peace and perpetrate atrocities.

DAI BING (China) said the Democratic Republic of the Congo is at a critical juncture and strongly condemned armed groups and their recent attacks at a displaced persons camp. “China urges the armed groups to immediately stop their violent activities,” he stressed. On the upcoming elections, he welcomed progress made in electoral legislation and voter registration and urged all parties to resolve their differences through consultation. Turning to the region, he said that it is important to strengthen common security efforts and deepen cooperation. He also welcomed bolstering the role of the Nairobi and Luanda processes and supporting regional countries in resolving differences through dialogue. China expects the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region to further redouble his diplomatic efforts. He further underscored MONUSCO’s contribution to maintaining stability, protecting civilians and supporting the electoral processes. China urges MONUSCO to strengthen its communication with the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Government, he said.

ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania) welcomed the regional efforts to advance peace processes in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and welcomed Angola’s leadership in deploying troops to protect the ad hoc verification mechanism staff from M23. Underscoring the need for enhanced coordination between FARDC and MONUSCO, she said that the M23 withdrawal from the occupied areas should be complete. Turning to the security and humanitarian situation in the east, she sounded the alarm over the dramatic surge in violence in Ituri and North Kivu, perpetrated mainly by CODECO and ADF, which have increased deadly attacks against civilians. In particular, she condemned in the strongest terms the attack perpetrated by CODEDO on the camp for internally displaced persons. Citing the natural resources of the country as “a driver of conflict”, she called on the Congolese and foreign armed groups to end the spiral of violence that has plagued the country.

FERGUS JOHN ECKERSLEY (United Kingdom), voicing concern about ongoing and intensified violence, as well as increasing weapons proliferation within communities, called on all parties to deliver commitments agreed through the Nairobi and Luanda political processes. Noting MONUSCO’s vital work, he said the Council must carefully consider the implications for the civilian population in the context of the Government’s request for MONUSCO to be withdrawn, pointing out that while the United Nations and international partners can play a supporting role, the Government must be willing and able to assume its responsibilities to the civilian population. “We should learn lessons from previous peacekeeping closures and make sure we don’t repeat mistakes in DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo],” he stressed. Welcoming MONUSCO’s progress on provincial strategies, he endorsed a geographical approach to transition, noting his country’s full commitment to supporting a conditions-based withdrawal of the Mission. He encouraged the Government to continue engaging in serious dialogue with MONUSCO to agree on a process that enables a responsible and sustainable reconfiguration of the United Nations presence in the country.

PASCALE CHRISTINE BAERISWYL (Switzerland) called on the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to strengthen investigations to respond to armed attacks on civilians. Moreover, inclusive dialogue is needed to move forward the political processes, she said. At the national level, this dialogue must be established between the Congolese authorities, the political opposition and civil society. This is particularly important in the run-up to the elections. At the regional level, dialogue between the States of the region remains key to the success of the Luanda and Nairobi processes, she continued, welcoming the quadripartite summit to be held on 27 June in Luanda. Switzerland calls on the Government to step up its efforts to stabilize the country, through the restoration of State authority, good governance and security sector reform. She pledged to continue to work closely with the Congolese authorities, the United Nations and the communities to support a peaceful transition, leading to a peaceful society and sustainable development in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

ROBERT A. WOOD (United States) said the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region need political will, a commitment to dialogue and a willingness to make hard decisions and pursue much needed reform. “They also need MONUSCO,” he emphasized. Noting important steps taken by the Government to achieve a lasting peace, he said its report on weapons and ammunition management will provide valuable insight into Government capacity and enable the international community to assist in the prevention of small arms trafficking and diversion. Voicing concern about collaboration of the country’s armed forces with non-State armed groups in the east, he called once again on the Government to fully professionalize its security forces and work to end such cooperation. Rwanda’s continued direct support to the United Nations-sanctioned M23 is a violation of Council resolutions and must stop, he stressed, urging other Council members to press the Government of Rwanda to withdraw its troops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and cease support to M23 immediately.

MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), also speaking on behalf of Ghana and Mozambique, said elections are drawing near in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reiterating the need for the country’s political stakeholders to move towards peace, tolerance and social cohesion to avoid political tensions descending into widespread electoral violence. Recent attacks against displaced persons camps are the “very height of inhumanity”, he said. Ghana, Mozambique and Gabon call on all local armed groups to stop the violence and demand the complete withdrawal of foreign armed groups from Congolese territory. The spread of terrorism and violent extremism is a grave threat to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to the region. He underscored the role of the African Union and other regional organizations in strengthening wider coordination and synergies.

Turning to MONUSCO’s transition, he said it was important to ensure an orderly drawdown in consultation with Congolese authorities. Further, he welcomed progress made by Democratic Republic of the Congo in strengthening its system to manage arms and munitions. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has vast reserves of natural resources. “Some of these natural resources are the future of modern technology and global development,” he said. And yet, its people are languishing in poverty. There are many people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who have been traumatized by the violence and atrocities they have witnessed over the years. The United Nations and the wider international community must stand committed to providing aid to them, he underscored, also commending the work of MONUSCO in that regard.

ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan) voiced deep concern over brutal human rights violations and abuses and the humanitarian crises caused by numerous armed groups. In particular, he condemned the recent attack on the internally displaced people camp in Ituri Province attributed to the members of CODECO. MONUSCO remains an anchor for international efforts to stabilize the increasingly volatile environment, he said, calling for a smooth transition. He emphasized that the cessation of hostilities and protection of civilians are of the utmost importance, adding that support of any kind to armed groups must stop immediately. Moreover, the national and local election process should become an opportunity to lay out a common future for all. The worsening security environment in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has caused a massive outflow of refugees into neighbouring countries, he observed, highlighting the importance of an integrated regional approach to address this humanitarian challenge.

ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation), voicing concern about the activities of armed groups and the worsening humanitarian crisis in the country, underscored the importance of regional States’ efforts in the Nairobi and Luanda negotiation processes, stressing that the priority is to achieve an end to hostilities and a comprehensive and inclusive dialogue. She also commended the efforts of the African Union and the countries of the region to revitalize the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region, which must be fully implemented. Voicing support for the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region, Huang Xia, to establish inter-State dialogue, she said only a political solution can result in a comprehensive settlement and cessation of hostilities. She further voiced support for MONUSCO’s efforts and its leadership, stressing that the Mission’s presence in the conflict zone remains the key stabilizing factor in the protection of the Congolese population.

HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) said that the Council’s visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in March allowed it to witness first-hand the challenges faced by the country and the “herculean” work conducted by MONUSCO. On the election process, he expressed hope that the various stakeholders will move in the right direction and heed the voices of civil society and women. The protection of human rights defenders, journalists and civil society must be of utmost priority always, but especially in the lead up towards the elections. It is vital to see the full implementation of the decisions agreed upon in the Nairobi and Luanda processes, he added. Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to worsen the humanitarian crisis there, with 26.4 million people suffering acute food insecurity. The work conducted by MONUSCO and humanitarian organizations must be supported in order for aid to be provided in accordance with international law.

DARREN CAMILLERI (Malta) said that the upcoming general elections present a unique opportunity and commended the temporary conclusion of voter registration and the attention given to gender parity. Expressing concern regarding the recent law establishing the self-defence reserve force, he urged authorities to amend the law to align with international standards. Further, he urged for de-escalation and restraint between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda and encouraged the utilization of regional verification mechanisms to defuse tensions. Malta is deeply alarmed with the high figures of human rights violations and abuses, including widespread sexual violence. It is equally worrying that the Democratic Republic of the Congo has the world’s highest number of food-insecure people. As the United Nations prepares to engage in the drawdown of MONUSCO, priority must be given to protecting civilians. “Allowing a security vacuum would mean that the Lila camp attack will not remain an isolated incident,” he warned.

JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) said that M23 – however not a large group in terms of personnel – has a disproportionate impact due to its high level of organization and equipment. It is encouraging to see a marked reduction of hostilities between M-23 and FARDC in the last few months. Unfortunately, just as violence from M-23 seems to abate, there is a horrifying upsurge in attacks by other illegal armed groups, he said, condemning in the strongest terms the 12 June attack on a camp for internally displaced persons in Ituri Province. He also condemned the 16 June attack perpetrated by ADF on a school in Uganda. Turning to the upcoming quadripartite summit between the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the East African Community, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), he said it will improve coordination among subregional efforts in addressing the crisis in the country.

LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates), Council President for June, speaking in her national capacity, said the protection of civilians must remain at the centre of all peace efforts. M23 and other armed groups must lay down their weapons and cease their hostilities permanently and unconditionally, she stressed, calling for a redoubling of efforts to ensure their withdrawal. Voicing concern about hate speech, she underscored that MONUSCO should regularly consult civilian populations and civil society about their protection needs and incorporate this into its protection activities. Local actors must be empowered to condemn hate speech and the stigmatization of communities, she added, noting the importance of including a strategy for the protection of civilians in the upcoming plan on the draw-down of MONUSCO, with a particular emphasis on the protection of internal displacement sites. Humanitarian support must also be scaled up significantly as the plan remains underfunded. Underscoring the importance of regional diplomatic efforts, she voiced support for all initiatives seeking to end the conflict in the East, including the Nairobi and the Luanda processes.

GEORGES NZONGOLA-NTALAJA (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said that the political situation in his country is primarily dominated by the continuation of the electoral process and by regional and international efforts to resolve the crisis in the east of the country. He outlined various progress made on the former front, including registering people who were not previously listed to participate in elections. On the security situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he underscored the growing activity and danger posed by M23/RDF (Rwanda Defence Force), a proxy of Rwanda, the activities of ADF terrorists affiliated to Da’esh, and that of CODECO. Myriad violations of human rights are perpetuated daily. “These terrorist groups distinguish themselves by increasingly targeting displaced persons camps and that is unacceptable” and constitutes as a crime against humanity, he said.

These terrorist groups illegally exploit the resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he continued, urging the Council to join the country in condemning and sanctioning these terrorist armed groups. Suggesting to the Democratic Republic of the Congo that it negotiate with such groups “almost seems obscene”, he said. “Our partners must stop believing that what is playing out in the DRC is nothing but a Congolese problem,” he warned. The conflict that has raged for more than 25 years in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and that has claimed more than 10 million lives “does not have its seed” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a conflict that has been exported from elsewhere and set on Democratic Republic of the Congo soil. Turning to M23/RDF, he said its tradition is one of defying agreements. It has not respected the Luanda agreement and continues to kill people and is never “brought into line”.

The operationalization of the demobilization, disarmament, community recovery and stabilization programme deserves support as it is a key pillar in the peacebuilding process, he continued. Turning to recent allegations he wished to address, he said that the simple truth is that FDLR are in no way a genuine military and security threat to Rwanda. “Nobody can point to a single moment in time when the FDLR has attacked Rwanda over the last 5 to 10 years,” he said. The claim that it does pose a threat is often used as a pretext invoked to further the agenda of those seeking to pillage the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and those seeking to fulfil the dreams of territorial extension. “Stop dreaming. Congolese territory is sacred,” he stressed, pledging that the Democratic Republic of the Congo will not cede one inch of its territory. His Government will continue to focus on meeting benchmarks to provide the minimum security conditions required for a proper drawdown of MONUSCO.

CLAVER GATETE (Rwanda) expressed disappointment over the lack of a MONUSCO statement condemning ongoing acts of genocide against Congolese Tutsi and Rwandaphones. The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has extended financial support, weapons and political cover to numerous illegal armed groups, including the United Nations-sanctioned “genocidal” group FDLR. This has led to a dramatic surge in violence against civilians, he said, noting that 643 civilians were killed by armed groups such as CODECO and ADF in Ituri Province in less than 3 months. “This is a level of violence not seen since 2017,” he said, voicing concern that these grave human-rights violations occurred close to the MONUSCO base and FARDC positions. “The apparent silence” of MONUSCO and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the genocidal nature of these atrocities is concerning, he added.

He then detailed ways in which authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have given license to poisonous anti-Rwandaphone and anti-Tutsi hate speech, public incitement and targeted violence. Moreover, high-level Congolese officials propagate anti-Rwanda sentiment as an expression of patriotism “to score political points”, he stated, calling on the Human Rights Commission to investigate these crimes. The proliferation of anti-Tutsi genocidal ideology – widely observed in that country today – reveals the extent of FDLR’s reach. Both FARDC and FDLR have consistently violated Rwanda’s territorial integrity, including several cross-border rocket-shelling incidents. “Despite having full awareness of the DRC Government’s collaboration with FDLR, both MONUSCO and [the Council] have failed to take any substantive action,” he underscored, noting that Rwanda has been made the scapegoat for insecurity in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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