Democratic Republic of the Congo
Expected Council Action
In October, 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 expected to brief the Council. At the same meeting, the Chair of the 1533 Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Abdou Abarry (Niger), will deliver his annual briefing to the Council.
Also, Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region Huang Xia is expected to provide his bi-annual briefing to the Council in October on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSC Framework) for the DRC and the region and other recent developments in the region.
The MONUSCO mandate expires on 20 December.
Key Recent Developments
The security situation continues to be fraught. On 23 June, Council members issued a press statement in which they condemned an attack on MONUSCO that occurred on 22 June near Beni, which resulted in the death of one Indonesian peacekeeper and injuries to another. On 8 and 10 September, two attacks attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) killed 58 people in Ituri province. The ADF is an armed group that originated in Uganda, and the DRC’s Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) have been waging an offensive against them since 30 October 2019. Hundreds of civilians have been killed or displaced as a result, most from ADF reprisal attacks.
Ituri has also faced attacks by an armed group called the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO), whose fighters are drawn mostly from the Lendu ethnic group and are in conflict with the Hema tribe over natural resources and land. Some CODECO fighters have signed a peace agreement with the DRC government, but several factions are still fighting. In an 11 September statement released by his spokesperson, the Secretary-General expressed his concern about the ongoing violence in the border areas of Ituri and North Kivu provinces.
The DRC continues to face various health challenges. Reported cases of COVID-19 had reached 10,611 by 29 September, including 271 deaths. 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. On 25 June, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the tenth Congolese Ebola outbreak, which started in August 2018, had ended in eastern DRC. This outbreak killed more than 2,280 people. However, another, unrelated Ebola outbreak had already been reported in western DRC on 1 June. This outbreak in Équateur province has resulted in 104 confirmed Ebola cases and 47 deaths. While this area of the DRC does not face the security challenges of the east, it is difficult to reach; some villages are only accessible via water transportation.
Developments in the DRC and the Wider Great Lakes Region
Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi has continued to promote cooperation between the DRC and its neighbours. This regional outreach comes in the context of efforts to stabilise the eastern DRC. On 7 September, Tshisekedi’s spokesperson announced that a regional summit in Goma, North Kivu, would be held in the coming weeks. Presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Évariste Ndayishimiye (Burundi) and João Lourenço (Angola) have been invited. “This high-impact mini-summit will look at three themes—peace and security in the region, diplomatic and political relations among the states and the revival of economic activities in the current context of the fight against COVID-19”, said DRC spokesperson Jolino Makelele.
Mass displacement remains a challenge for the Great Lakes region. According to the Secretary-General’s 3 April report on the implementation of the PSC Framework, the DRC continues to host the largest internally displaced population in Africa, with more than five million displaced individuals, including over 940,000 people newly displaced in 2019. Additionally, as of 29 February, there were over 917,000 refugees from the DRC, most of them in Uganda. Burundi had a total of 102,722 internally displaced persons. Given the widespread movement of people in this area, regional cooperation in the face of COVID-19 is particularly important. Countries immediately initiated measures to contain the spread of the disease in line with the WHO recommendations, and those crossing borders are subject to quarantine measures. Still, there are many informal border crossings where there is little monitoring.
The Council most recently discussed the Great Lakes region in an Arria-formula meeting on 15 July focusing on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the region. The meeting was co-hosted by Council members Belgium, South Africa and the US, along with the DRC. Several briefers from the UN, the private sector and civil society were invited to speak, including Xia. The meeting’s objective was to demonstrate the need for a collaborative and holistic approach to ending illegal exploitation of natural resources, in particular gold and coltan. According to the 2 June final report of the DRC Sanctions Committee’s Group of Experts, illegally exploited gold is traded in much higher volume than legally traded gold, resulting in millions of dollars in lost taxable income. Several armed groups continue to finance their military campaigns through the exploitation of natural resources, occupying artisanal mines and selling gold.
There are ongoing talks about the development of a new UN regional strategy on peace and security for the Great Lakes Region to guide the work of the Special Envoy in support of the implementation of the PSC Framework. The framework was signed in 2013 to help “address the root causes of conflict, put an end to recurring cycles of violence and ensure renewed regional commitments to respecting State sovereignty” in eastern DRC and the Great Lakes Region. The overall political situation between neighbours has improved, but challenges to long-term stability in the region remain.
In this context, on 7 January 2019, the Secretary-General chaired the first meeting of the Standing Principals Group, comprising regional countries that meet regularly and review progress in implementation of the PSC Framework, which recommended the development of a strategy to enhance the UN’s conflict prevention and resolution efforts in the region. In June 2019, the Secretary-General instructed Xia to lead the development of the proposed strategy. Since then, Xia has been consulting with various stakeholders—including UN operations on the ground, civil society, and regional governments—on the best way forward. Once the strategy is ready, Xia will submit it to the Secretary-General for approval.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The Human Rights Council (HRC) is scheduled to consider the comprehensive report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on the situation of human rights in the DRC (A/HRC/45/49) in an interactive dialogue on 1 October during its 45th session. A team of international experts will present their final report (A/HRC/45/50) on the situation of human rights in Kasai, in central DRC, on the same day.
In a 28 August statement, Bachelet expressed deep concern over the death threats directed at the Congolese human rights defender and Nobel Prize laureate Dr. Denis Mukwege. Bachelet emphasised that Mukwege is “a true hero—determined, courageous and extremely effective” who has for years been helping severely injured and traumatised women as well as making a consistent effort to encourage others to try to deal with the “uncontrolled epidemic of sexual violence in the eastern DRC”. Bachelet underscored that his life seemed to be in serious danger and expressed hope that President Tshisekedi’s publicly-expressed commitment to ensuring Mukwege’s security will lead to Mukwege and his team’s safety so the “indispensable work they perform […] can be guaranteed”.
On 25 June, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2528, which renewed the DRC sanctions regime until 1 July 2021. On 10 July, the DRC Sanctions Committee held an “informal informal” meeting to discuss the Group of Experts’ final report, published 2 June, with representatives of Burundi, the DRC, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. On 4 September, another informal meeting was held at which the group presented its programme of work after its mandate was renewed in June until 1 August 2021. The Secretary-General subsequently appointed six people to the Group of Experts, three of whom were new. The next committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for October.
Key Issues and Options
MONUSCO’s mandate is due to be renewed in December, and with that date approaching and continued instability in eastern DRC, Council members may begin considering whether to change the mandate. Resolution 2502, the most recent MONUSCO mandate renewal, set out several tasks that could prepare for MONUSCO’s eventual withdrawal, and member states will want to hear if there has been any progress on those tasks, particularly in the wake of COVID-19. Council members will be especially keen to receive the joint strategy articulated by the DRC government and the Secretary-General, requested by resolution 2502, outlining a progressive transfer of MONUSCO’s tasks to the Congolese authorities in preparation for MONUSCO’s eventual exit.
In the meantime, the Council will continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on the DRC as a whole and on MONUSCO’s troop rotations and community engagement operations.
In general, Council members have maintained an optimistic and united view of the DRC’s political situation, with most of their concern focused on violence in the east and the health crises. Council members are encouraged by the sustained efforts by the region to increase dialogue, even when there are disagreements and in the face of increased violence by armed elements in eastern DRC. Council members may want to hear more about what is being done to address the COVID-19 pandemic in the region.
As the renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate draws closer, however, differences may deepen. Some members would like to see MONUSCO take concrete steps towards an exit strategy. Others are concerned about the DRC’s stability and have stressed that any changes in MONUSCO must be carried out so as not to create a security vacuum. The US in particular remains highly critical of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB)—a unit within MONUSCO authorised to use offensive force against armed groups—and wants to make changes to it. However, South Africa, the main troop-contributing country to the FIB, continues to support it, and its mandate, strongly.
Some Council members may bring up the current situation involving Mukwege. Earlier in the year, peacekeepers who had been guarding the Panzi hospital in Bukavu, run by Mukwege, were removed after COVID-19’s impact on peacekeeper rotation led to some staffing difficulties for MONUSCO. After an international outcry, including Bachelet’s statement, the peacekeepers returned to the hospital by 11 September. While supporting Mukwege and his work, some critics say that properly trained Congolese police would be better suited for this type of security situation and that, if MONUSCO is meant to exit at some point, it cannot keep providing day-to-day security in the DRC.
Council members are eager to see a comprehensive strategy for the Great Lakes region and have repeatedly said that they look forward to hearing from Xia as soon as possible. In July, Germany hosted an informal meeting at its mission to discuss the current status of the plan. Given that the Council is beginning to discuss an exit strategy for MONUSCO, Council members are in favour of examining broader ways to consolidate state authority and create a durable security strategy. Several members have advocated caution, warning that they will support a gradual exit of MONUSCO only if it is clear that the general stability provided by the mission over the years will not be compromised.
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|
|25 June 2020S/RES/2528||Council members adopted a resolution, which renewed the DRC sanctions regime until 1 July 2021 and the mandate for the Group of Experts until 1 August 2021.|
|19 December 2019S/RES/2502||The Council extended MONUSCO’s mandate until 20 December 2020.|
|3 April 2020S/2020/272||Report on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes Region covering 1 September 2019 to 15 March 2020.|
|18 March 2020S/2020/214||This was the report covering the activities of MONUSCO and the situation in the DRC from 27 November 2019 to 16 March 2020.|
|Security Council Letters|
|20 July 2020S/2020/726||A letter from the Secretary-General appointing six people to the Group of Experts until 1 August 2021.|
|29 June 2020S/2020/598||This was a letter transmitting the briefings and statements from the 25 June open VTC on MONUSCO.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|23 June 2020SC/14222||In this press statement Council members condemned an attack on MONUSCO that occurred on 22 June near Beni, which resulted in the death of one Indonesian peacekeeper and injured another.|