Democratic Republic of the Congo
Expected Council Action
In June, the Security Council will hold a briefing and consultations on the Secretary-General’s most recent report on the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Special Representative and head of MONUSCO Leila Zerrougui is likely to brief Council members. The briefing and consultations will be held by videoconference (VTC). Additionally, Council members will need to renew the measures under the 1533 Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) sanctions regime, which expire on 1 July. The mandate of the Group of Experts assisting the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee expires on 1 August and is traditionally renewed with the sanctions measures themselves.
The MONUSCO mandate expires on 20 December.
Key Recent Developments
On 24 March, Security Council members held an informal closed VTC meeting on MONUSCO and the situation in the DRC. This meeting was the first Council session since 12 March. Discussions about how to hold this consultation, and conduct other forthcoming Council business, focused on how to categorise the meeting. Many Council members were comfortable using the terminology “consultations of the whole”—typical for closed meetings of members of the Council—but one Council member objected, saying that any meeting held via VTC could not be considered a formal Council meeting. To proceed with Council business, therefore, it was decided to hold the MONUSCO discussion as a “closed VTC”, and that method has continued while special temporary measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic are in place at UN headquarters.
During the meeting, in which Special Representative Zerrougui and Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix participated, both briefers discussed the relatively stable political situation in the DRC, Zerrougui’s meetings with DRC stakeholders to develop a transition strategy, and ongoing operations in eastern DRC against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group.
Ahead of the 2023 DRC elections, Zerrougui has been using her good offices to seek to mend the relationship between the DRC’s main political parties and work with civil society to consolidate the political gains made so far after DRC’s first peaceful transfer of power. While noting the remaining significant challenges, Zerrougui said that there have been enough improvements and work toward stabilisation of the DRC that she believes the conditions could be present for the phased withdrawal of MONUSCO.
Lacroix detailed the implementation of an action plan in response to recommendations from an independent assessment report, prepared by Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, on the protection of civilians and neutralisation of armed groups in Beni and Mambasa territories. Cruz travelled to eastern DRC in December 2019, after MONUSCO came under criticism for the implementation of its protection of civilians mandate. Cruz’s report was released on 16 January, and he briefed Council members under “any other business” on 20 January. In the 24 March briefing, Lacroix described several steps his office had taken in response. The first was to begin preparations to strengthen the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), so it could conduct targeted offensive operations jointly with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition, Lacroix told Council members that the FIB would be reconfigured with the introduction of three Quick Reaction units to replace one of the battalions currently deployed and the addition of more staff officers between June and September. He said any changes in MONUSCO as requested by resolution 2502 would be carried out so as not to create a security vacuum. Resolution 2502, the most recent MONUSCO mandate renewal, set out several tasks that could prepare for MONUSCO’s eventual withdrawal.
After the closed VTC, Council members decided to adopt press elements to be shared with the public, apparently to maintain some record of this more informal meeting. In the press elements, Council members encouraged work towards a sustainable exit for MONUSCO and welcomed the role of regional states. They also welcomed the progress made against Ebola while recognising the challenges that lay ahead with COVID-19.
COVID-19 has affected the DRC, including MONUSCO operations. As the disease spread, the Congolese government acted quickly to shut its borders. Reported cases in the DRC reached 2,300 as of 26 May, with approximately 66 deaths. While the DRC has a response system set up for mass disease events because of Ebola and other contagious diseases, there are still concerns about the country’s capacity to respond. Most of the reported COVID-19 cases have been in the capital, Kinshasa, whereas Ebola’s epicentre was in the east. There have been criticisms of the continued existence of overcrowded prisons and mixed messaging from the government on the best way forward. With MONUSCO officials cognisant of the risk of any mission personnel becoming a vector for the disease, peacekeeping troop rotation has been halted, leaving many troops in the DRC well beyond their planned departure dates.
Along with COVID-19, several other diseases affect life in the DRC. Ebola remains an underlying threat. On 3 March, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported that the “last patient with a confirmed case of Ebola” was discharged from one of its facilities, but on 10 April a new instance was reported in Beni, followed by at least six more cases. MSF reported that the last patient in Beni was discharged on 14 May, but the Ebola epidemic has not yet been officially declared as having ended. An ongoing measles epidemic has led to nearly 320,000 cases and more than 6,000 deaths, mostly of children, since January 2019. Malaria and cholera are also threats to the population.
Human Rights-Related Developments
At a 17 April press briefing, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm about the worsening security situation in Djugu and Mahagi territories, Ituri province, where more than 150 people had been killed in the preceding 40 days in a series of attacks by Djugu-based perpetrators. “The brutality of the attacks, with perpetrators using machetes to kill women and children, raping, looting property, destroying houses and killing livestock, suggests the aim is to inflict lasting trauma on the affected populations, forcing them to flee, and so gain control over the territory, which is rich in natural resources”, he said. The spokesperson called on the authorities to strengthen the presence of security forces and state officials in the region, to investigate all alleged abuses and human rights violations, and to hold those responsible accountable.
Since 1 January, Ambassador Abdou Abarry (Niger) has chaired the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee. The first meeting under his leadership was held on 21 February. On 22 May, committee members held an “informal informal” VTC meeting to discuss the Group of Experts’ final report.
Key Issues and Options
With MONUSCO’s mandate not up for renewal until December, the Council will continue to monitor the situation on the ground, especially given the complications caused by COVID-19. After Lacroix’s detailed briefing in March on changes in response to the Cruz recommendations, Council members are likely to want to follow up on those actions and better understand if they have had an impact.
Council members are also expected to seek information on COVID-19’s impact on MONUSCO, from troop rotations to operations in the east to community engagement efforts.
As for the sanctions regime, due to be renewed in June, Council members will be looking closely at the Group of Experts report to determine if any changes are needed. On 6 February, Seka Baluku, leader of the ADF, was added to the sanctions list, and members may want to know if this has had any impact. Given Zerrougui’s statements in March about the ongoing improvements in the DRC, members are likely to support the continuation of measures that emphasise cooperation. Some members may be interested in what more could be done to protect the country’s natural resources from illicit and conflict-fuelling exploitation.
It has been three years since Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp, two members of the Group of Experts assisting the 1533 Committee, were killed while conducting investigations in the DRC. While a trial began in 2017 in Kananga in front of a military tribunal and 50 defendants were named, there has been little progress in uncovering the details of what happened. In a Human Rights Watch (HRW) press release, entitled “Still No Justice for Murders of UN Experts in Congo”, HRW detail what they consider the slow reactions by the Congolese government, and cite many elements of concern, from a lack of defence representation to accusations of torture by those in pretrial detention and allegations of interference in the investigation by Congolese security forces. Several of the defendants are from military or intelligence backgrounds, making this case extremely sensitive. UN member states continue to follow up on the case and the UN has sent a team to assist in technical matters. Member states may mention the lack of accountability for these killings in their interventions.
Despite differences about the future of MONUSCO, Council members were able to come together when renewing the operation’s mandate and adopted resolution 2502 unanimously. In general, Council members have maintained an optimistic view of the DRC’s political situation, with most of their concern focused on violence in the east and the health crises.
COVID-19 has become a significant topic for all issues on the Council’s agenda, including the DRC. Its impact on peacekeeping missions may be brought up during discussions in June. Indonesia and South Africa, both large troop contributors to MONUSCO, will be interested in hearing more about troop rotation constraints. The two countries remain concerned about the effect on their troops’ capacities and the need for rotation as soon as possible. Additionally, several Council members may raise issues about improvements in the performance of peacekeepers. The US, in particular, remains highly critical of the FIB.
On the upcoming sanctions regime’s renewal, member states are mostly aligned, and it seems likely that an extension will occur.
The penholder on the DRC is France. Ambassador Abdou Abarry (Niger) chairs the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DRC
|Security Council Resolutions
|19 December 2019S/RES/2502
|The Council extended MONUSCO’s mandate until 20 December 2020.
|26 June 2019S/RES/2478
|The Council renewed the 1533 sanctions regime until 1 July 2020.
|18 March 2020S/2020/214
|Report covering the activities of MONUSCO and situation in the DRC from 27 November 2019 to 16 March 2020.