Democratic Republic of the Congo Discussion under “Any Other Business”
Tomorrow (6 December), Security Council members are expected to hold a meeting under “any other business” at the request of the UN Secretariat to discuss the recent insecurity in eastern DRC. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix is expected to brief.
Lacroix will most likely discuss the security and humanitarian impact of the fighting in eastern DRC in recent weeks between the Forces armées de la république démocratique du Congo (FARDC) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group responsible for high numbers of deaths in recent years. He may also discuss recent protests against MONUSCO by populations that have felt that the mission has not been proactive in protecting them during the recent fighting, and recent plans for joint operations of the FARDC and the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). In the first week of December, Lacroix travelled to eastern DRC, including Beni, to assess the situation, and his observations are likely to be a major part of the briefing.
On 30 October, the FARDC launched a new offensive against the ADF. According to the Secretary-General’s recent report, in the weeks prior to the start of the offensive, over 20,000 FARDC troops amassed in Beni and along key roadways. Fighting has been fierce and the FARDC has scored several victories over the ADF. On 16 November, the ADF reportedly responded to the offensive by killing at least 15 civilians in and around the village of Mbau in eastern DRC. Similar such raids have continued, with preliminary reports of over 100 civilians killed.
The fighting has led to a public backlash against MONUSCO. Beginning in late November, there were violent demonstrations against MONUSCO by the local population, who claim that the mission has not done enough to protect them. There are some reports that protests may have been inflamed by social media posts against the UN. On 25 November, protesters damaged the perimeter wall and entered the MONUSCO compound in Boikene.
MONUSCO mobilised the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) for increased patrols in response to the ADF attacks, and Special Representative and head of MONUSCO Leila Zerrougui met with President Félix Tshisekedi and the Minister of Defence, Aimé Ngoi Mukuena, about the violence. She also attended a meeting of the National Security Council chaired by President Tshisekedi. Zerrougui asked for further joint planning between MONUSCO and the FARDC to make sure civilians are protected.
Tomorrow’s meeting appears to be a follow on from a meeting late last month to assess the recent developments in eastern DRC. On 26 November, Council members were briefed on the situation under “any other business” at the Secretariat’s request. Zerrougui briefed via video teleconference on the upsurge in violence and the dissatisfaction among the population in the east.
After the closed meeting, Zerrougui gave a press conference, via video teleconference, where she enumerated the challenges facing MONUSCO in Beni. She noted that the attack on the MONUSCO compound had been aggressive, while saying that she understands the population’s frustrations. A MONUSCO peacekeeper had been involved in the death of a protestor, and there would be an internal investigation, Zerrougui said. Asked if she thought MONUSCO had made mistakes, she said that any time a civilian is killed, the mandate is not fulfilled. However, she subtly suggested that the number of MONUSCO troops and capacities are not sufficient at present, pointing out that she has had to send two battalions home due to budget cuts. Zerrougui also took the opportunity to defend MONUSCO’s work in the east throughout the years.
A few hours after Zerrougui’s briefing, it was announced that the FARDC would in fact undertake joint military operations with the UN to re-establish security in the Beni area. There were fresh protests against MONUSCO on 2 December. On 1 December, the FARDC reported that it had driven out the National Council for Renewal and Democracy (CNRD), an offshoot of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), from eastern DRC after launching a campaign against them a week earlier. The Secretary-General said in his most recent MONUSCO report that the FDLR remains a major concern in the Masisi territory. Two major FDLR leaders have been killed by the FARDC in fighting since September.
The recent instability has also contributed to a worsening of the humanitarian situation in an already fragile region. Thousands have been displaced due to the violence and the population has been effectively cut off from any humanitarian access due to violence, reported Charlie Yaxley, a spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in a press conference on 29 November. By 25 November, the Ebola outbreak had surpassed 3,300 confirmed cases and 2,200 deaths in the DRC since August 2018, according to the World Health Organization. On 28 November, four Ebola healthcare workers were killed in an attack in Biakato Mines. The Secretary-General’s recent report also said that the DRC is having its worst-ever recorded measles outbreak: 209,211 suspected cases and 4,189 deaths as at early October. All 26 provinces are affected. Additionally, an estimated 15.9 million people are facing severe and acute food insecurity.
At present, Council members are involved in negotiations to renew MONUSCO’s mandate before it expires on 20 December, and the Council will continue to closely follow developments in the DRC in order to determine whether and how to adjust the mandate. Council members may discuss the recent activities of the FIB, given its criticism by the recent independent strategic review of MONUSCO. Council members may also be interested in how the cooperation between MONUSCO and the FARDC fares during this operation, given that increased cooperation will be the basis of any decrease in MONUSCO’s tasks.