Democratic Republic of the Congo: Briefing on the Humanitarian Situation
On Monday (19 March), the Council will be briefed on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), focusing on the humanitarian situation. Briefers will include Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, who recently visited the country, and Jeanine Bandu Bahati, Coordinator for Encadrement des Femmes Indigènes et des Ménages Vulnérables, a DRC-based human rights organisation. The Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, Sigrid Kaag, who visited the DRC with Lowcock, was originally expected to participate but will not be able to attend.
The main objective of the briefing, initiated by the Netherlands, is to focus Council members’ attention on the severe ongoing humanitarian crisis in the DRC. According to the concept note circulated by the Netherlands, in 2017 some 2.2 million people became internally displaced, bringing the total number of internally displaced to 4.5 million people, and 680,000 Congolese fled to neighbouring countries. In addition, more than 13 million people in the DRC depend on humanitarian aid to survive, while some 7.7 million people are severely food insecure, and more than 2 million children are severely malnourished. In January, the World Food Program warned that severe famine in the Kasai region is imminent. There have also been widespread violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law in the DRC, including targeted attacks against civilians and peacekeepers, attacks against humanitarian personnel and a high prevalence of gender-based violence.
The concept note states that the security situation hinders humanitarian access to vulnerable communities. In response to increased activities of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) Islamist rebel group in North Kivu—including in particular the deadly attack on Tanzanian peacekeepers on 7 December 2017 that resulted in 15 peacekeepers killed, 53 wounded and one who remains missing—Uganda and the DRC have launched a large military campaign against rebel groups in the region. The offensive has led to the increased movement and activity of rebel groups, resulting in increased violence and massive displacement of civilians, and there have been increasing concerns over human rights violations by government forces.
Rising violence in Ituri since December 2017, where at least 130 people are reported to have been killed amid conflict between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups, is another cause of massive displacement.
The newly appointed Special Representative and head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Leila Zerrougui, stated in her 7 March briefing to the Council on the latest MONUSCO report (S/2018/174) that “[t]here is no other way of saying it—the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is shocking” (S/PV.8198).
In light of these developments, and with the renewal of the mandate of MONUSCO at the end of the month, the concept note asks Council members how the Council can give more priority to the humanitarian crisis in the DRC, consider the issue of ensuring humanitarian access, and determine what more it can do to stop this crisis from further escalating. The meeting will also be an opportunity for an exchange of views on how the Council can increase cooperation with neighbouring countries and regional organisations to address the crisis.
The concept notes refers to the expected High-Level Humanitarian Conference scheduled for 13 April in Geneva, which will focus on mobilising funds for the humanitarian response and generate long-term attention and engagement on sustainable solution pathways for the DRC. The conference will be hosted by OCHA, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates and the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department.
Additionally, the concept note asks the Council to consider the effects of the presidential, provincial and legislative elections planned for 23 December 2018. President Joseph Kabila, whose second and last term (according to the country’s constitution) ended in December 2016, remains in office after several postponements of the elections, and the opposition suspects he intends to remain in power. Over recent months, peaceful anti-Kabila protests resulted in civilian casualties. Zerrougui stated in her briefing that the “disproportionate use of force by the security services during the peaceful demonstrations” is a major concern.
Council members issued a press statement on 16 January, noting with serious concern the continued political impasse and the violent incidents against protesters (SC/13163). At the initiative of the US, they held an Arria-formula meeting on 12 February focused on the DRC elections, co-hosted with Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK. In a joint statement, the co-hosts observed that fulfilling the agreement, releasing political prisoners, ending politically motivated prosecutions, and respecting freedom of assembly and expression are essential to creating the political space necessary for credible elections.