December 2020 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 November 2020
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Democratic Republic of the Congo

Expected Council Action

In December, 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) ahead of considering an extension of the mission’s mandate, which expires on 20 December.

Key Recent Developments

Intense military operations by the DRC’s Forces armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) continue in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in an effort to dislodge armed groups from the area, in particular the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Since 30 October 2019, the FARDC has been leading a new, increased offensive against the ADF, which originated in Uganda. Fighting has been violent, and civilians have borne the brunt of the repercussions, especially ADF counteroffensives. For example, on 21 October in Beni, hundreds of prisoners escaped during an attack that police blamed on the ADF. On 28 October, the ADF killed 19 people in the village of Baeti and destroyed 40 homes. Then, more than 20 civilians were killed and several were kidnapped on 31 October in the village of Lisasa. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has claimed responsibility for several of these attacks, but MONUSCO has yet to find any evidence of a direct connection between ISIL and the ADF.

Ituri province continues to face 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. This is despite concerted action by Congolese ex-combatants to promote disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration. Some CODECO fighters have signed a peace agreement with the DRC government, but several factions are still fighting.

Since parliamentary elections were held in March 2019, President Félix Tshisekedi has been governing with a coalition made up of his party supporters, collectively known as the Cape for Change (CACH), and that of former President Joseph Kabila’s coalition, the Common Front for the Congo (FCC). As the DRC approaches presidential elections in 2023, these groups have increased their jockeying for power. CACH and the FCC have argued over ministry posts, military reshuffles, appointments to the judiciary and national electoral council, and anti-corruption policies. Political infighting led to a series of serious protests across the DRC during July. The first protests objected to what demonstrators saw as attempts by Kabila to gain more power and influence ahead of elections through the appointment of a Kabila ally to head the national electoral council, but those were soon followed by counter-protests by Kabila’s supporters. These violent protests have died down in recent weeks, but their root causes remain. International partners have called on political leaders to set aside differences for the good of the Congolese people, but little has been resolved.

The Council discussed MONUSCO and the Secretary-General’s 21 September report via videoconference (VTC) on 6 October. Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative and head of MONUSCO, briefed Council members. Zerrougui highlighted the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the DRC, the political situation in the country, and continuing violence against civilians. She also told the Council that the DRC will need sustained international support to continue important work on strengthening institutions and preserving security gains.

Zerrougui also touched on her efforts to create a joint strategy in collaboration with the DRC government for the responsible drawdown of MONUSCO. This strategy, officially called the “Joint Strategy on the Progressive and Phased Drawdown of MONUSCO”, was transmitted to the Council on 26 October. While Council members had considered holding a separate discussion—possibly under “any other business”—during consultations to exchange views on the joint strategy, it seems the Council decided to wait and discuss the document in its December meetings. Last year’s resolution 2502 requested this strategy as a preparation for the eventual phased withdrawal of MONUSCO. The strategy’s general suggestion is for MONUSCO to gradually consolidate its footprint in the provinces where active conflict persists: North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri. In other areas of the country, the UN would focus on good offices and development-related assistance.

Human Rights-Related Developments

Addressing the Human Rights Council (HRC) at its 45th session on 2 October, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet presented the comprehensive report on the situation of human rights in the DRC (A/HRC/45/49) as part of an interactive dialogue. Bachelet underscored that her report pointed to several incidents that may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. In her statement, Bachelet observed that threats against human rights defenders, members of civil society and journalists; arbitrary detention; and harassment continue, noting that the report documented 857 human rights violations and abuses over the 12-month period beginning in May 2019.

During the same interactive dialogue, a team of international experts presented their final report (A/HRC/45/50) on the situation of human rights in Kasai province, in central DRC. Presenting the report, Bacre Waly Ndiaye, chair of the team, observed that Kasai’s humanitarian crisis was a threat to security. He emphasised that impunity was a major issue that required vigilance. While noting the progress in the creation of commissions of inquiry by military justice, he pointed out that the killing of two UN experts in March 2017 and the disappearance of their Congolese escort “had yet to be elucidated”.

Sanctions-Related Developments

In the Council’s open VTC meeting on 6 October, Ambassador Abdou Abarry (Niger) in his capacity as Chair of the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee outlined the committee’s activities in 2020 since he assumed the chairmanship in January. This was the Council’s, and Abarry’s, first briefing about the committee’s activities since 24 July 2019.

Since that previous briefing, the committee has held four meetings: three in 2019 and one in 2020. Because of COVID-19 measures, the committee has also met informally via VTC five times in 2020. In an informal VTC meeting on 4 September, the coordinator of the Group of Experts informed committee members of the group’s programme of work under the new mandate established in resolution 2528.

Key Issues and Options

As members approach the expiration of MONUSCO’s mandate, discussions have already begun on how to reflect in a new mandate the renewed concentration of violence in eastern DRC. December’s meeting is likely to include a focus on the joint strategy submitted in October as well as the Secretary-General’s latest report, which the Council was due to receive on 27 November. Resolution 2502, in operative paragraph 49, “requests the Secretary-General to engage with the Government of the DRC to articulate a joint strategy and identify a set of measurable benchmarks”. While it does talk about conditions on the ground that need to be met for changes to MONSUCO, the joint strategy document does not include data-driven elements. Council members may want to ask Zerrougui for more concrete recommended actions than were set out in the joint strategy.

Council members may also call for compromise by the DRC’s political leaders in the wake of the summer protests, especially ahead of any consideration of reducing MONUSCO’s footprint. Council members could issue a presidential or press statement to put pressure on Congolese stakeholders to compromise.

Council Dynamics

While Council members have been generally unified on this file throughout 2020, the upcoming mandate renewal will highlight divergences on the best way to move forward with a MONUSCO transition.

The US and South Africa appear to remain diametrically opposed on the role and utility of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), a military part of MONUSCO authorised to take offensive action. The US is a strong critic of the FIB and would ultimately like to see it dissolved, suggesting instead that MONUSCO’s mandate incorporate a robust offensive capability. South Africa, a significant troop-contributing country to this particular force, remains a vocal supporter of the FIB and argued for an increase in its capacities. South Africa believes that the security situation has not improved sufficiently to warrant the FIB’s dismantling. In 2019, France elaborated compromise language in resolution 2502 aligning the FIB more explicitly with other MONUSCO structures and goals. However, the US may want more changes after another year has passed. The joint strategy scarcely mentions the FIB, so member states may be guided by their capitals on this point.

Council members may also differ on the troop ceiling, which also caused difficulties in 2019. Some Council members suggested that any increase in police in Kasai and Tanganyika provinces must be balanced by a decrease in troops. Resolution 2502 ultimately authorised a ceiling of 14,000 military personnel and 591 police personnel while maintaining the numbers of military observers, staff officers, and personnel of formed police units. Before this change, the troop ceiling was 16,215 military personnel and 391 police personnel. In 2020, these same members may push for further alterations, especially as the joint strategy suggests withdrawing MONUSCO from Kasai by June 2021 and from Tanganyika in 2022.

Members may also diverge on the length of the mandate. Some members have suggested a technical rollover in December, arguing that the impact of COVID-19 and the breadth of the proposed changes may be too great for this moment.

The penholder on the DRC is France. Ambassador Abdou Abarry (Niger) chairs the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee.

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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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
21 September 2020S/2020/919 Detailing developments in the DRC from 17 June to 18 September 2020, this report also provided information on adjustments to MONUSCO’s footprint ahead of a potential, responsible drawdown.
Security Council Letters
27 October 2020S/2020/1041 In this letter, the Secretary-General shared the “Joint Strategy on the Progressive and Phased Drawdown of MONUSCO”.
13 October 2020S/2020/987 A letter from the President of the Council that contains some of the statements from the 6 October VTC on MONUSCO, including the briefing by MONUSCO’s SRSG.