Dispatches from the Field: The Council Concludes its Visiting Mission to the DRC
Yesterday (7 October) the Security Council completed its visiting mission to Kinshasa. The final day consisted of a series of meetings with MONUSCO, as well as one meeting with female political candidates for the upcoming presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections.
Meeting with Female Candidates
The day began with the meeting with female candidates, who represented both pro-government and opposition political parties. The candidates noted that women were under-represented in decision-making positions,and constituted only 12% of the candidates in the upcoming elections.
The delegation heard about the impact of insecurity in the DRC on women’s participation in the electoral process. One of the candidates said that women in the DRC face not just physical violence, but intimidation, threats, and discouragement from participating in politics. The difficulty of women campaigning in the Kasai region and the eastern DRC due to violence in these areas was highlighted. It was also noted that if female voters do not feel safe going to the polls, their full impact will not be felt in the voting.
The efforts of Dr. Denis Mukwege, who has just won the Nobel Peace Prize for treating victims of sexual violence eastern DRC, were recognised during the meeting. One candidate said, “this man fought with us.”
Council members listened to the concerns of candidates regarding the current electoral process. While there was acknowledgement that the elections would represent an important step forward for the country, some had strong views about the use of the voting machines, saying that the machines had been imposed by the Independent National Electoral Commission, the CENI; that there was no consensus around their use, and that if they were used, the elections would not be credible. Questions were also raised about the integrity of the voter rolls, with one candidate stating that there is no biometric data (that is, fingerprints) for approximately 16% of the registered voters. Candidates suggested, among other things, that international observers be deployed to promote the integrity of the electoral process.
Council members expressed their support for the female candidates, with one member noting that the increased participation of women in politics would lead to improved governance and security in the DRC. One Council member suggested that it would be more productive for candidates to focus on reforms in the DRC than on the differences over the use of the voting machines.
Meetings with MONUSCO on the Humanitarian and Security Situation
Council members’ next meeting was at MONUSCO headquarters in Kinshasa where they were briefed on the humanitarian situation and MONUSCO’s protection of civilians work. Before entering the headquarters building, Council members stopped for a solemn moment to observe the memorial to UN staff, who lost their lives while serving in the DRC.
Deputy Special Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator Kim Bolduc, briefing on the humanitarian situation, noted that political tensions and insecurity in the country had affected the ability to deploy humanitarian assistance. She added that there has been a sharp increase in food insecurity this year, and while Ebola has received a great deal of attention, cholera is a grave challenge and now affects 13 of 26 provinces.
Bolduc observed that while a good humanitarian architecture was deployed in many parts of the country, the DRC’s humanitarian needs are significantly underfunded. She emphasised that as a priority MONUSCO targets the most vulnerable people.
In response to a Council member’s question, one representative of a national non-governmental organisation echoed Bolduc’s concern regarding the challenge posed by cholera and underscored that funding is not commensurate with the scale of the humanitarian crisis. Deputy Special Representative David Gressly, replying to a question on the mission’s “counter-terrorism” efforts, said that “counter-terrorism” in the DRC needed to be contextualised, as it was really a reference to the ADF and affiliated groups that conducted attacks targeting the population. He mentioned that the Force Intervention Brigade was working to address this issue.
One issue that was raised was the government’s concern that statistics reflecting the severity of the humanitarian crisis (for example, on the level of displacement) would deter investment in the DRC. In this regard, it was noted that joint UN-government teams were being deployed to verify and validate figures together with local authorities, in an effort to show that the methodology behind the statistics is sound.
Bolivia’s Deputy Permanent Representative, Veronica Cordova Sopria, and China’s Deputy Permanent Representative, Haitao Wu, asked about the prospects for long-term development in the DRC. Special Representative and head of MONUSCO Leila Zerrougui responded that a development strategy was needed in the long term, suggesting that the root causes of the conflict in the DRC were economic and that a great deal of the fighting was over access to land.
In response to a question about children in armed conflict in the DRC from Ambassador Olof Skoog (Sweden), the UNICEF representative said that there were some 7,000 children in armed groups and militias. He observed that the rehabilitation process for children is an area of major concern, noting that they can be stigmatised for having been in an armed group.
Council members then convened with senior MONUSCO staff to discuss the mission’s protection of civilians work. Sector commanders in Bunia, Beni, and Bukavu participated via video-teleconference.
At the start of the meeting, Gressly described the mission’s approach to protection of civilians. Different strategies are employed in different parts of the country, based on an assessment of where the mission’s presence is needed and where it can project the necessary impact. The concept of protection is an integrated one, he said, with military and civilian components working together. In this respect, it was noted during the meeting that the mission tries to defuse tensions between local communities and to create space for mediation and negotiation.
The Force Commander, Elias Rodrigues Martins Filho, noted that the mission faces the challenge of protecting civilians over vast territories. He said that because of the difficult security environment, it is important to have troops with specialised skills and that the performance of the mission’s forces is constantly evaluated. He described efforts to gain the confidence of the population, to strengthen intelligence and early warning, and to focus on prevention rather than being reactive. In this regard, one MONUSCO official noted the importance of situational awareness in order to deploy quickly to prevent the escalation of conflict. The Bukavu sector commander described how a rapid reaction force was deployed to Ituri early in the year to address inter-ethnic tensions.
The Council concluded its visiting mission with a meeting with representatives of the UN Country Team (UNCT). The discussion dealt with how the UN system could assist the DRC to strengthen national and provincial institutions and to focus on socio-economic development, assuming the best-case scenario that a successful political transition occurs in the coming months. Toward this end, Deputy Special Representative Bolduc emphasised the importance of complementary assistance, with the UN combining its efforts with other international actors to support national development. A number of issues were raised by the UNCT, such as the importance of transferring knowledge and building the government’s capacity, the need to neutralise armed groups in order to create more space for development, and the importance of avoiding humanitarian dependency.
Council members felt that the trip was a useful opportunity to learn from a wide range of actors about the preparations for the upcoming elections and to offer the Council’s support as the country undergoes this process. The three co-leads of the mission—Deputy Permanent Representative Veronica Cordova Sopria (Bolivia), Deputy Permanent Representative Job Obiang Esono Mbengono (Equatorial Guinea), and Permanent Representative François Delattre (France)—spoke on behalf of the Council at a press conference at the conclusion of the meetings in MONUSCO headquarters.
The ambassadors noted that the Council had engaged with a wide-range of interlocutors during their visit. They emphasised that the Council had come to help accompany the DRC to peaceful and credible elections, support that should not imply interference in the internal affairs or sovereignty of the country. Although the ambassadors emphasised that the electoral process had come a long way, they recognised that some challenges still need to be resolved ahead of the elections. Ambassador Cordova Sopria said that the will exists to solve the technical and logistical issues that remain, given the desire among the parties for the elections to take place. Ambassador Delattre added that the Council had seen what still needs to be done to create confidence in the political and technical aspects of the elections, calling for dialogue on voting machines so that as much consensus as possible can be reached to strengthen the credibility of the vote.
Looking ahead, the co-chairs of the visiting mission will brief the Council on the trip on Thursday (11 October). Afterward, there will be a briefing by Zerrougui, followed by consultations, on the most recent MONUSCO report.