Dispatches from the Field: The Security Council in Goma
GOMA: On Sunday (6 October) Council members spent a second day of intense meetings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. The main focus of the Goma leg was the intervention brigade of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and its recent joint offensive with the DRC military, or Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC), against the March 23 Movement (M23).
Briefing on the Joint Operation
Council members were taken to the “Kivati Triple Tower” site which is about 1 km from the DRC/Rwanda border where in late August the UN intervention brigade joined the FARDC in an offensive against the M23. While at the site, Council members received briefings on the security situation in Goma from the MONUSCO Force Commander, the commander of the intervention brigade, the North Kivu FARDC commander. They also heard about the political implications of the intervention brigade’s cooperation with the FARDC from the head of MONUSCO’s North Kivu Office .
From the security perspective the various commanders characterised the joint operation in late August as a success. It was the first aggressive posture deployed by the intervention brigade and it effectively pushed back the M23. In addition, it boosted the confidence of the FARDC. In MONUSCO’s assessment the joint operation had also changed the perception of the peacekeepers in the eyes of the civilian population who had been unhappy with what they saw as a lack of effective engagement from MONUSCO in neutralising armed groups in the area.
Council members were also briefed on the political effects of this operation. Defections by members of armed groups seeking demobilisation increased, with a significant portion coming from M23 fighters. Significantly, it was following this operation that the Kampala talks resumed with reduced demands from the M23. There have also been several local peace initiatives which have been held over the past six weeks since the joint operation.
However, MONUSCO officials warned Council members that these peace initiatives are at risk of being unsustainable “islands of calm” if the larger issue of the lack of state authority in the majority of North Kivu, exacerbated by a proliferation of armed groups–in particular the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda ( FDLR), Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU), and the M23– is not comprehensively addressed. They stressed that a successful conclusion to the Kampala with all major signatories of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region (PSC Framework) keeping their commitment of non-interference was essential. The MONUSCO leadership also made it clear that in their view, as long as the FDLR remains active, the M23 will not cease fighting.
Round Table Discussion with Civil Society
During their visit to Goma, Council members also attended a round table discussion with civil society to hear from NGOs working on the ground–in particular on child protection issues and on sexual violence in conflict. The NGOs told Council members that the widespread insecurity and gross violations of human rights caused by foreign and national armed groups could not be understated. A clear message from these civil society groups to Council members was the need to fight impunity as a priority as well as the need to maintain high-level pressure on all signatories of the PSC Framework to implement their commitments. Civil society representatives also requested that the Security Council help the intervention brigade to accelerate its support to the FARDC in neutralising armed groups in the region as this would help in the fighting impunity.
While acknowledging the security situation was much better in state controlled areas and that significant progress was being made by the DRC government in stopping child recruitment and ending sexual violence by national security forces, civil society representatives expressed scepticism that the government would be able to deliver accountability to victims through an impartial and effective judicial system. They strongly recommended that Council members consider establishing mixed courts which could be more independent and not subject to political interference. In the exchange of views Council members expressed their shared desire to fight impunity but also reported the reality of the Council’s own varied experiences with setting up mixed courts.
Visit to an IDP Camp
The last stop on the Council’s tour around Goma was the Mugunga III IDP camp where Council members met with women leaders of the community. It was an emotional exchange with the women describing their displacement, deaths of family members and their own experiences of sexual violence at the hands of armed groups. They pleaded for peace and to return to their homes. The women in the group had harsh words for Rwanda and the M23’s responsibility for such violations in the region, including continuous shelling of their camp.
Council members welcomed assessments by MONUSCO, civil society and community leaders that the intervention brigade was having a positive security impact in North Kivu. They see resolution 2098 and the intervention brigade it established as a success as it has allowed MONUSCO to better fulfil its core mandate to protect civilians. Both the 1 million civilians in Goma and the IDP camp that the Council visited on Sunday are more secure than they had been in July. However, Council members also stressed that although they were pleased that the intervention brigade had helped improve the security situation, ultimately the DRC government needed to be responsible for protecting civilians.
Rwanda’s support to the M23 has been a delicate issue on this visiting mission given that Rwanda is currently an elected member of the Security Council. While the DRC’s 25 July arrest warrants and extradition requests to Rwanda for four M23 leaders (who have also been listed by the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee) was not raised in discussions with the DRC government, it may come up in discussions on Monday in Kigali. The four crossed into Rwanda on 16 March–the same day Bosco Ntaganda and about 700 of his men fled to Rwanda.
On Monday (7 October), Council members will visit a demobilisation camp in Rwanda for ex-FDLR combatants, and visit the Gisozi genocide memorial followed by a meeting with President Paul Kagame before departing for a meeting with President Yoweri Museveni in Entebbe, Uganda that same afternoon.