Democratic Republic of the Congo: Meeting and Adoption of a Presidential Statement
Briefing and Consultations
This afternoon, the Council will be briefed by Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Maman Sambo Sidikou, followed by consultations. Assistant-Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, will join the consultations in order to answer any questions. Initially, Spain, this month’s Council president, had suggested that Gilmour participate in the public briefing, but due to objections from some Council members, it was agreed that the briefing will be followed by consultations where Gilmour will be present.
Council members are expected to use the briefing and consultations to get an update on any developments in the political dialogue and proposals for achieving a wide consensus on a way forward. They will also be interested in any information from Sidikou on MONUSCO’s readiness to address rapid destabilisation in western DRC, to the best of its abilities. Several Council members have serious doubts that MONUSCO has the capacity to be effective in stabilisation efforts across the vast country. Council members may ask Gilmour about any positive signs with respect to human rights and political freedom following the Council’s visit to the DRC from 11-14 November, which included a one-day visit to Angola, which is the current chair of the International Conference of the Great Lakes.
The Council is also set to adopt a presidential statement on the situation in the DRC this afternoon. Though the idea of adopting a presidential statement was floated at the end of the Council’s visit, France, the penholder on the DRC, only circulated a draft text produced with Angola (as the other co-lead on the visiting mission) on Wednesday (30 November), with the hope of adopting the presidential statement by the end of the week. However, silence over the text was broken on Friday (2 December) and following a second silence period, which ended this morning, agreement was reached.
The visiting mission took place amidst growing concerns about a deep political crisis prompted by the delay in the presidential and legislative elections, and the fact that the country’s president, Joseph Kabila, will stay in office beyond his constitutionally mandated term that expires on 19 December. The DRC elections had been scheduled for 27 November, yet delays in the electoral process, which would need to include a census to update voter registration, have for months led to deepening suspicions among large sectors of the general population that Kabila intends to stay in office beyond the end of his second term. The draft presidential statement notes that the Council continues to monitor political developments and remains concerned about possible destabilisation of the DRC, in the absence of a swift and consensual resolution to the current political crisis.
A national dialogue on elections, facilitated by the AU, resulted in an 18 October agreement, which now sets provincial, parliamentary and presidential elections for April 2018, with Kabila remaining in office until the installation of a newly elected president, alongside an interim government led by a prime minister from the opposition. However, the agreement was rejected by several of the main opposition groups that have been boycotting the dialogue and have formed the “Rassemblement”.
The ICGLR and the Southern African Development Community expressed support for the agreement. However, concerns have been raised by other international actors and by the opposition. There was particularly sharp criticism over the stipulation that the elections would be postponed by more than a year and a half, and that nowhere in the agreement is it clear that Kabila would not be a candidate in the elections.
The National Episcopal Conference of Congo, known by its French acronym CENCO, had initially participated in the national dialogue, but later suspended its involvement after the violent suppression by the government of 19 September demonstrations against Kabila which resulted in more than 50 deaths. CENCO did not then sign the 18 October agreement, but agreed to undertake conciliation and try to make the national dialogue fully inclusive. The draft presidential statement expresses support for CENCO’s efforts at reconciliation to find agreement on peaceful, credible, inclusive and timely elections as soon as possible, before 19 December.
One point of contention during the negotiations over the draft concerned the support of Council members for the 18 October agreement. The initial draft text acknowledged the 18 October agreement, and Russia insisted that it also welcome the appointment of the new prime minister, Samy Badibanga, in order to show support to the agreement. Russia broke silence on the draft on this issue on Friday (2 December). Also related to the 18 October Agreement, the US proposed that the Council call for elections by the end of 2017, a position supported by a few other Council members. However, Council members more supportive of the 18 October framework disagreed with this change and it was not incorporated.
During the Council visiting mission to the DRC, the Council met with Kabila and several of his cabinet ministers, leaders of “Rassemblement” and members from the opposition parties that participated in the dialogue, among others. In all the meetings, Council members stressed the need to consider the national dialogue as a first step towards an agreement that would be inclusive and lead to a fully democratic electoral process. An overarching concern was seeking ways to avoid violent reactions likely to be prompted by the 19 December expiry of Kabila’s second term, by establishing a broadly accepted electoral calendar and instilling confidence that Kabila would not seek another term in office. Council members attempted to mediate between the various actors in order to find a solution to the impasse, but without conclusive results.
A central issue of contention during negotiations concerned adherence to the constitution, and particularly as regards to Kabila’s possible intention to remain in power. The draft statement notes the commitment of all actors to prevent destabilisation and continue dialogue to reach a broad consensus on holding timely presidential and legislative elections leading to a peaceful transfer of power. The original draft also welcomed commitments not to change the constitution ahead of the elections and looked forward to the implementation of further confidence-building measures to ease tensions. However, Egypt suggested changing the language to call for adherence to the constitution rather than commitments to not changing it. Russia supported language to this effect, noting that no such clear commitment was made by the government during the visiting mission. In addition, a change was made in the draft to call on other political parties and civil society, in addition to the government, to implement confidence-building measures. After the draft was amended to this effect, the US insisted that at the very least the text refer to a “transition of power”, indicating that Kabila will no longer remain in power after the elections. In the end, it was agreed that the Council welcome commitments “to respect and preserve the constitution in letter and spirit”, as well as confidence-building measures, but without specifying by whom.
The draft presidential statement urges the government and other stakeholders to ensure an environment conducive to free, fair, credible, inclusive and transparent elections, including free and constructive political debate, freedom of opinion and expression, and an emphasis on freedom of assembly. On the suggestion of Russia, the text also calls on the opposition to ensure the peaceful character of their demonstrations. A US proposal expressing the Council’s intention to consider measures against actors who threaten the peace of the DRC and the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the population was not accepted.