Dispatches from the Field: The Security Council in Kinshasa
KINSHASA: On the first full day of their Great Lakes Region visiting mission, Security Council members focused on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Region (PSC Framework) and the March 23 (M23) rebel movement. On Saturday (5 October), Council members held a series of high-level meetings with the president, prime minister and foreign minister of the DRC. Overall the messages received about the implementation of the PSC Framework, agreed in Addis Ababa six months ago, and on the progress of the Kampala talks, which have been sporadically underway for a year now, were positive.
Meetings with the DRC Government
During Saturday’s meetings with the DRC government it seems Council members highlighted the importance of all regional parties – particularly the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda as the main signatories – meeting their commitments under the PSC Framework. One of the major commitments by the DRC was to conduct a series of consultations to work towards national reconciliation and further democratisation in the country. Council members met with the heads of the Senate and National Assembly in the DRC who had been tasked to lead the process.
Although not originally on the schedule, Council members were persuaded to attend Saturday’s closing session of the National Dialogue to hear the closing remarks delivered by President Joseph Kabila. The Dialogue was convened in early September to address the security challenges facing the country, particularly the security situation in North Kivu province following the capture of Goma by the M23 in November 2012 and the outbreak of further violence between the DRC armed forces (FARDC) and the M23 in late August. These events prompted the first use of force by the recently formed “intervention brigade” of the UN Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). MONUSCO’s reconfiguration, more aggressive posture and concentration of activities in the eastern DRC will be a key focus of Council members on their visit to Goma along with issues of civilian protection, including child protection and sexual violence in conflict.
While Council members appear to be of the view that the National Dialogue process is moving the country in the right direction, some members were concerned that their attendance might be seen as a sign of endorsement of the Dialogue. There are also concerns that having the two largest opposition parties in the DRC boycott the Dialogue might make any concrete progress and tangible results from this process difficult.
Council members also had focused discussions on Saturday on security sector reform at the Ministry of Defense with commitments from the highest levels that reform of the national army is vital to long term stability. In addition, follow-up action to the human rights violations perpetrated by FARDC soldiers and M23 combatants from 15 November to 2 December 2012 in Goma and Sake, North Kivu province, and in Minova, South Kivu province, were discussed with the ministers of the interior, defense and justice. (Among the most serious human rights violations, 135 cases of sexual violence perpetrated by FARDC troops and 59 cases of sexual violence perpetrated by the M23 have been documented.) Council members expressed their concern with the limited judicial follow through and what appeared to be delays in the cases of FARDC involvement.
Council members are under the impression after Saturday’s meetings that an agreement between the M23 and the DRC government is close at hand as a result of the Ugandan-mediated Kampala talks. However, while noting a positive peace dynamic in the region that Council members wish to support and consolidate, there remain two major obstacles to finalising any agreement: amnesty for the M23 and the reintegration of the M23 into the FARDC. (Apparently, the DRC parliament has conditioned any deal with the M23 on the basis that amnesty and integration will be granted on a case by case basis and has provided a list of M23 members who should not be integrated into the FARDC.)
In comments to the press at the close of Saturday’s meetings, France and Morocco, as co-leads on the DRC leg of the visiting mission, stressed that as far as the Council is concerned there can be no compromise on fighting impunity and that no amnesty should be granted to M23 members who have committed serious crimes. They also added that there are clear lessons from the past about the consequences of integrating armed groups into the national security structures without rigorous vetting and that such mistakes cannot be repeated. (This is in reference to the fact that the M23 rebel group is comprised of former rebel units which had been integrated into the FARDC.)
Meetings with MONUSCO
While in Kinshasa, it seems MONUSCO provided Council members with information indicating a pattern of child recruitment by the M23 in both the territories of the DRC and Rwanda. Luxembourg, the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, had additional meetings with the child protection officers in MONUSCO as well as government officials involved in the implementation of an action plan to end recruitment of children by the FARDC signed by the government last year. In a related development, the US recently suspended its military aid to Rwanda due to its support of the M23 rebel group which is reported to recruit children. It had similarly blocked military aid to the DRC last year for the same reason, which resulted in significant progress on child recruitment issues and led to partially reduced military funding from the US in 2013. The suspension of military aid to the DRC last year may have also played a part in persuading its government to sign the action plan against child recruitment.
Council members also met with the MONUSCO leadership to discuss the development of a road map to transfer tasks from MONUSCO to the UN Country Team or to the DRC government. One of the core objectives in the most recent MONUSCO renewal in resolution 2098 was to pare back its mandate to focus on the core task of civilian protection, particularly in the eastern DRC, with enhanced capabilities such as the “intervention brigade” and the unmanned aerial systems.
Council members were made aware of the challenges needed to transfer such tasks including the need for a gradual approach and significant resource mobilisation since the UN Country Team operates on the basis of voluntary funds and does not have the same human and financial resources available to MONUSCO. One area of concern was the transfer of electoral assistance tasks as there are no current resources for this and it is uncertain when elections will take place. Council members stressed the need for ongoing dialogue with the DRC government and civil society in order to establish a collaborative approach towards prioritisation for the transfer of tasks and to determine whether certain tasks would be best taken on by MONUSCO, the DRC government or the UN Country Team.