January 2018 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 December 2017
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AFRICA

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Expected Council Action

In January, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix will brief the Council on the latest UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) report and on recent developments in the country.

MONUSCO’s mandate expires on 31 March 2018.

Key Recent Developments

The political uncertainty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continues to be a serious concern. President Joseph Kabila, whose second and last term in office ended in December 2016, remains in power. According to an agreement reached between Kabila and the opposition on 31 December 2016, elections were to be held by the end of 2017. Before the deadline, the DRC Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) and government officials had said that elections would not be possible by the end of the year, citing logistical difficulties with voter registration and violence in several regions in the country. The opposition is of the view that Kabila is purposely stalling elections to remain in power.

The political tensions have been exacerbated by the DRC government’s curbing of political freedoms of the opposition and curtailing the freedom of the press. A report released by the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo (CENCO) on 21 November 2017 asserted that between April and October 2017, government forces killed at least 53 protesters during anti-government demonstrations. In what the report called a disproportionate use of force, 52 people were shot dead and one died from tear gas.

Over the last few months, the AU, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Community for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) all took the view that holding elections by December 2017 was unrealistic and that publication of a clear timetable for elections was vital and necessary to avoid further tensions and possible escalation of violence.

On 5 November 2017, the CENI announced a new electoral calendar, with presidential, legislative and provincial elections set for 23 December 2018. The announcement came about a week after Ambassador Nikki Haley (US) visited the DRC and called for elections to take place by the end of 2018. Opposition figures denounced the new calendar and called for protests, while the authorities in major cities have banned protests and have reportedly arrested opposition leaders. On 27 November, CENCO, which brokered the 31 December 2016 agreement, urged President Kabila to pledge that he will not seek a third term in order to ease fears of unrest.

In an 11 December 2017 statement, the EU called for respect for the freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration, warning that its technical and financial support for the elections depends on such respect. It further extended sanctions against 16 senior members of the Kabila regime for one year.

Representatives of the guarantors of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region—the UN, AU, ICGLR and SADC—met on 22 November 2017 in Addis Ababa to discuss coordinated regional and international support for the electoral process. The Special Representative and head of MONUSCO, Maman Sambo Sidikou,  and the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Said Djinnit, also attended. The guarantors welcomed the publication of the new electoral calendar and called for the DRC to ensure the required political space throughout the country, including freedom of peaceful assembly and equitable access to state media.

Council members issued a press statement on 28 November 2017, taking note of the new electoral calendar and emphasising the critical importance of ensuring the elections are not postponed beyond 23 December 2018. They also called for transparent, credible and inclusive elections. Council members noted the need for the release of political prisoners and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. They further called upon all political actors to refrain from violence of any kind. 

In parallel to issuing the press statement, Council members were negotiating a draft resolution on the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region (PSC Framework). The Council adopted resolution 2389 on 8 December, reaffirming that the PSC Framework remains an essential mechanism to achieve durable peace and stability. The resolution invites the Secretary-General “to assess the progress, challenges and shortcomings in the implementation of the Framework, and to present his vision, supported by concrete recommendations, to the Council in his next report”, which is due by 31 March 2018.

Meanwhile, the violence in the Kasai region has continued. Intercommunal conflict and clashes between militias and government forces in the region began in August 2016 when the leader of the Kamwina Nsapu militia was killed in fighting with the DRC police. Violence has also continued in the east. A 7 December 2017 rebel attack on a MONUSCO base in North Kivu claimed the lives of 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers and wounded dozens of others. Five DRC soldiers were also killed in the attack. Reports suggest that the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist group originating from Uganda and currently based in eastern DRC, is responsible. “This is the worst attack on UN peacekeepers in the Organization’s recent history” said the Secretary-General in a statement the following day. Council members condemned the attack and reiterated that targeting peacekeepers may constitute a war crime under international law in a press statement on 8 December. Lacroix visited the DRC after the attack and also met with Kabila and visited Goma on 15 December. The Ugandan military announced that more than 100 ADF rebels were killed on 22 December in eastern DRC, in an operation coordinated with the DRC.

On 12 December 2017, the International Organization for Migration reported an alarming deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the DRC as fighting continued to spread throughout the country, with more than 4 million internally displaced people.

In a landmark case, a military court in Bukavu, South Kivu, sentenced 12 militia members to life in prison on 13 December 2017 for events that took place between 2013 and 2016, involving rape and violence against dozens of girls and young children. Ten were convicted of crimes against humanity and two for being members of an armed group.

The Secretary-General announced on 27 December 2017 that Leila Zerrougui (Algeria) will replace Sidikou, who will complete his role as Special Representative and Head of MONUSCO in January 2018.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In a 15 October statement, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on the authorities in the DRC to halt their inflammatory rhetoric against protesters and to ensure that demonstrations across the country in response to the announcement of the delayed elections are handled in line with international human rights laws and standards. “The inflammatory comments by police authorities ahead of the protests are deeply alarming,” the High Commissioner said. “I call on the government and security forces to work to defuse tensions instead of creating the conditions for suppression, confrontation and violence”.

Sanctions-Related Developments

The Council adopted a presidential statement on 7 November 2017, reiterating its readiness to sanction individuals who undermine the peace, stability or security of the DRC, including those who attack UN personnel, such as members of the Group of Experts. (Two of the group’s experts, Zaida Catalán [Chile/Sweden] and Michael Sharp [US], were murdered in Kasai in March 2017.)

The outgoing Chair of the DRC 1533 Sanctions Committee, Ambassdaor Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta (Egypt), briefed the Council on 8 December for the last time, along with other outgoing chairs of subsidiary bodies.

On 11 December, the committee met with the Group of Experts assisting it to discuss the group’s midterm report. The report focuses on the continued illegal exploitation of natural resources in the DRC, such as gold. During the meeting, the group’s coordinator, Zobel Behalal (Cameroon) cautioned that more information is needed before the ADF can be deemed responsible for the 7 December attack on MONUSCO.

Key Issues and Options

With a new electoral calendar published, a key issue is ensuring the elections are free and fair, are not postponed further, and the electoral process is not accompanied by violence. The Council will likely monitor the developments closely and take action if signs of delay begin to emerge in early 2018. It may opt to visit the DRC during the preparatory period to take stock of the electoral process and deliver messages to stakeholders. It may strengthen and emphasise MONUSCO’s existing mandate to provide technical assistance and logistical support for the electoral process. It may also choose to resort to the imposition of targeted sanctions against those identified as interfering with the electoral process, including perpetrators of election-related violence.

Another important issue is addressing the continued violence in the east, as well as the increasing violence in Kasai, and the adequacy of MONUSCO’s mandate and posture to address these threats. In the longer term, the Council will need to assess—particularly in light of the electoral and security challenges—MONUSCO’s mandate and troop levels, both of which were altered in resolution 2348 that renewed MONUSCO’s mandate in March 2017, along with a request to the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic review of the mission by 30 September. These assessments may lead to discussions on the suitability of the current mandate and possible changes in MONUSCO’s mandate during its renewal in March 2018.

Council Dynamics

Council members remain concerned about the ongoing political crisis. The 28 November 2017 press statement reflects a consensus that the publication of a clear timetable for elections should help to avoid further tensions and the possible escalation of violence. Previously, there were divergent views in the Council on the importance of holding elections in 2017, as stipulated by the 31 December 2016 agreement, with some members insisting that the DRC adhere to that timetable and others emphasising the importance of a realistic schedule. The position expressed by Council members in the press statement reflects a compromise, recognising that elections have been postponed by another year but insisting they not be postponed any further. It also reflects a closer alignment with the position of regional actors. However, it remains to be seen whether Council members will be able to maintain consensus in the event of further delays in the electoral process.

Some Council members are of the view that the new electoral timetable and continuing violence in parts of the country, including direct attacks against MONUSCO, necessitate a new strategic review of MONUSCO’s mandate and posture. During negotiations over resolution 2348 in March 2017, several Council members were of the view that plans for downsizing MONUSCO and an eventual exit strategy would be premature prior to the successful implementation of the 31 December 2016 agreement. However, the US insisted on a shorter time schedule for the strategic review to advance discussions of the future of MONUSCO.  With the new electoral calendar now in place, some members have been signalling their interest in having an updated assessment of the situation and MONUSCO’s role in that context.

France is the penholder on the DRC and Kuwait will chair the 1533 Sanctions Committee in 2018.

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DRC 

Security Council Resolutions
8 December 2017 S/RES/2389 This resolution was on the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region.
31 March 2017 S/RES/2348 The Council renewed MONUSCO’s mandate until 31 March 2018.
Security Council Presidential Statements
7 November 2017 S/PRST/2017/23 This was a presidential statement that reiterated the need for the government of the DRC to fully investigate the killing of the two members of the Sanctions Committee Group of Experts and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Security Council Meeting Records
8 December 2017 S/PV.8127 This was a briefings by the chairs of subsidiary bodies of the Security Council.
Security Council Press Statements
8 December 2017 SC/13114 This condemned an attack by rebel groups that killed 15 peacekeepers and five Congolese soldiers.
28 November 2017 SC/13095 This was a statement on the electoral process in the DRC in which the Council noted that presidential, legislative and provincial elections are now scheduled for 23 December 2018.