Democratic Republic of the Congo Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (13 November), the Security Council is expected to receive a briefing on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from Special Representative and head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) Leila Zerrougui. In addition, a female civil society representative, whose participation was requested by the Netherlands, will brief via video-teleconference from the DRC. While Council members are expected to speak in the open chamber, closed consultations are scheduled to be held after the briefing. No immediate Council product is anticipated.
The political situation, primarily the preparations for the 23 December presidential, parliamentary, and provincial elections, is expected to be a key focus of the meeting. While Zerrougui may welcome the steps taken towards the holding of the elections, she may also note the trust deficit between the government and the political opposition regarding technical aspects of the elections and persistent concerns about a lack of democratic space. In this regard, Council members are likely to reiterate the importance of a transparent, credible, inclusive and peaceful electoral process. This is a point that the Council has emphasised repeatedly, including in resolution 2409, which renewed MONUSCO’s mandate in March; in the Council’s joint communiqué with the AU Peace and Security Council on 19 July; and during its visiting mission to Kinshasa in early October.
One ongoing issue that may be raised is the concern of opposition parties and civil society representatives about the use of voting machines and the integrity of the voter rolls (as fingerprints are lacking for approximately 16% of registered voters). These were among the key concerns expressed to the Council during its visiting mission to Kinshasa, including by civil society representatives and female political candidates. For example, some female candidates with whom the Council met on 7 October said that the voting machines had been imposed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI); that there was no consensus around their use; and that if they were used, the elections would not be credible. Martin Fayulu of the Commitment for Citizenship and Development Party (ECIDE), who was chosen by the political opposition as its consensus presidential candidate on 11 November, has also been an opponent of the voting machines. Given these ongoing concerns, Council members may be interested in learning what kind of information the government has provided to the public on how to operate the machines and what type of training has been given to those who will work at the polling stations on election day.
Council members may also be keen to receive information on the role that national and international electoral observers are expected to play. In this respect, the conference of Catholic bishops, the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo (CENCO), announced its intention in late August to deploy electoral observers at the polls. There may also be interest in hearing about the recent commitments by the AU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to provide electoral observers.
Zerrougui may describe her good offices efforts to help the parties quell their tensions through dialogue, including over the use of voting machines. She may echo the Secretary-General, who urged national stakeholders “to put their partisan interests aside and work towards building a consensus on the way forward” in his most recent monthly update on the implementation of the 31 December 2016 political agreement (S/2018/977).
With regard to logistical preparations for the elections, Zerrougui will most likely provide an update on efforts by Congolese authorities to distribute electoral materials and position voting machines. She may reiterate MONUSCO’s willingness to assist in logistical preparations, an offer that the government has to date declined. There could be some discussion in the consultations about contingency planning being undertaken by the mission, in case MONUSCO is asked to provide logistical support at a very late point. The role that the mission might play in case of violence during the elections may also be addressed during the meeting.
Zerrougui and some Council members may raise concerns over restrictions on political and civic freedoms and their adverse impact on the electoral process. Government authorities have outlawed a number of public events (although some have nonetheless been allowed to take place), journalists have faced intimidation, and media access has been curtailed. Moreover, according to the Secretary-General’s update, the UN Joint Human Rights Office has reported that “at least 130 political prisoners remained in detention, including civil society activists and human rights defenders”.
While the elections are expected to be a major focus of the meeting, Zerrougui is also likely to provide an update on the Ebola outbreak in Ituri and North Kivu provinces in the eastern DRC, and efforts to combat its spread. She might mention the joint visiting mission that Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus undertook to the DRC early this month to assess the fight against the disease. As at 8 November there were 163 confirmed deaths and 35 probable deaths as a result of the epidemic that began in August. DRC Minister of Heath Oly Ilunga Kalenga announced on 9 November that the current outbreak was now the worst in the country’s history, in terms of the number of confirmed and probable infections.
The Security Council has been following the Ebola outbreak closely, and on 30 October adopted resolution 2439 in response to the epidemic. The resolution emphasised the importance of continued international support, including financial support, in order to bring the Ebola outbreak under control; encouraged the DRC, the WHO, and other Ebola responders to continue to improve the transparency and accuracy of reporting on the status of the outbreak; noted the WHO’s assessment that the virus could potentially spread to Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and Burundi; and called on the governments of those countries “to continue efforts to prepare for operational readiness, in full cooperation with WHO.” The resolution was initiated by Ethiopia, which worked in close cooperation with Sweden. It was a “presidential text”, meaning that all Council members co-sponsored the resolution.
The dire security situation in the eastern DRC—and how this affects efforts to combat Ebola, address broader humanitarian concerns, and prepare for upcoming elections—may also be discussed tomorrow.