What's In Blue

Posted Thu 17 Dec 2020

Democratic Republic of the Congo: MONUSCO Mandate Renewal*

Tomorrow (18 December), the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) before its current mandate expires on 20 December. In accordance with voting procedures established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Security Council commenced its 24-hour written voting procedure today on the draft resolution. South Africa, Council president in December, will read out the results of the vote tomorrow at 5.30 pm. At the time of writing, it was unclear whether the adoption would be unanimous.

On 7 December, France, the penholder on the Democratic Republic of Congo, disseminated to Council members the initial draft resolution. On 9 December, a first round of negotiations took place, followed by a second round on 14 December. France put the draft under silence on 15 December; however, silence was broken by the United States and Russia. The final text was put in blue on 17 December.

The draft in blue renews MONUSCO’s mandate until 20 December 2021, maintaining the mission’s dual strategic priorities of protecting civilians and supporting the stabilisation and strengthening of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) state institutions. The draft also elaborates the steps needed toward the eventual closure of MONUSCO, a process initiated with the adoption of resolution 2502 renewing MONUSCO’s mandate last year. Amongst other things, resolution 2502 called on the Secretary-General to work with the DRC government to create an exit strategy to be proposed to the Council no later than 20 October. On 26 October, the Secretary-General submitted the “Joint Strategy on the Progressive and Phased Drawdown of MONUSCO”.

The duration of the drawdown of MONUSCO has, in the past, been a major point of contention on the Council, with the US arguing in favour of an aggressive drawdown timetable, while other members, such as South Africa, have suggested a slower drawdown. A number of other Council members, including the UK and other European members, recognise the need to move towards a gradual and phased drawdown but have maintained that this should not be too precipitous to avoid the potential for instability.

During the negotiations on the current text, a balance was struck among these positions: the draft in blue endorses the Joint Strategy as well as MONUSCO’s “planned withdrawals from the Kasai in 2021 and progressively from Tanganyika in 2022, as well as the gradual consolidation of MONUSCO’s footprint in the three provinces where active conflict persists”. While identifying a timeline for the drawdown and transfer of MONUSCO’s tasks to the DRC government and UN Country Team, the Council also agreed that this process should include “detailed, measurable and realistic benchmarks with indicative timelines defined in partnership with the Government and the UN Country Team”. To this end, the draft resolution requests the Secretary-General to present to the Council no later than September 2021 a “transition plan on the basis of the Joint Strategy defining the practical modalities of the transfer of tasks”. This plan should be developed in partnership with the Government and the UN Country Team. It is also expected to include “roles and responsibilities, risks assessment and mitigation strategies, as appropriate, for the progressive and phased drawdown of MONUSCO”.

The text in blue further requests the establishment of a working group comprised of representatives from MONUSCO, the Government and UN Country Team to “enhance coordination and planning, in liaison with civil society, for the transition, including the transfer of tasks…”. These new additions to the mandate appear to have the support of all Council members.

Another area of contention over the past several years where compromise was sought is the role and work of the Force Intervention Brigade, a military component of MONUSCO authorised to take offensive action. The US (joined by the UK), on the one hand, and South Africa, on the other hand, appear to have had differing views on the role and utility of the Force Intervention Brigade. The US has been a critic of the Force Intervention Brigade in the past, noting during negotiations on MONUSCO’s mandate renewal last year that it would ultimately like to see it dissolved. This year, they have argued that the reforms agreed to in resolution 2502, which renewed MONUSCO’s mandate in December 2019, as well as in the independent assessment report prepared by Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz produced in early 2020, are largely sufficient. South Africa, a significant troop-contributing country to the Force Intervention Brigade, remains a vocal supporter, arguing, among other reasons, that the security situation has not improved sufficiently to warrant the Force Intervention Brigade’s dismantling. Last year, France elaborated compromise language in resolution 2502 aligning the Force Intervention Brigade more explicitly with other MONUSCO structures and goals in order to make the Brigade more efficient and effective, something supported by several other Council members.

This year, it appears that further compromise language was found on the Force Intervention Brigade. In reiterating the need to further improve the effectiveness of the Brigade, the draft text offers support to the Secretary-General’s efforts to improve its performance, including “in the light of the independent assessment report” on the protection of civilians and neutralisation of armed groups in Beni and Mambasa Territories. Cruz’s report, released on 16 January,  offered several recommendations for how the UN could improve its role in the protection of civilians in those two territories. Prime among them was the call for more proactive, effective and mobile actions by MONUSCO, which, the assessment suggests, would require more operational intelligence and a stronger relationship with the Forces armées de la république démocratique du Congo (FARDC). The text in blue also supports the “expeditious deployment of combat units functioning as quick reaction forces having undergone predeployment training and verification in accordance with UN standards”. Amongst the quick reaction forces to be deployed are troops from Kenya and Nepal. To date, all other troops deployed to the Force Intervention Brigade, including South Africa, have been from Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states.

Finally, language on humanitarian assistance appears to have been the most contentious issue during the negotiations. Apparently, Russia insisted that the text include language recalling the “UN guiding principles of humanitarian emergency assistance”. These guiding principles are included in UN General Assembly resolution 46/182 of 19 December 1991 and call for the “sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States” to be fully respected in accordance with the UN Charter. In this context, the guiding principles note that “humanitarian assistance should be provided with the consent of the affected country”.

France, as penholder, put forward relevant language agreed in resolution 2552, which was adopted on 12 November and renewed the mandate of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). During the MINUSCA negotiations, Russia had asked to include language on the “guiding principles” in both preambular and operative paragraphs. Some member states apparently objected to the inclusion of such references in the operative part and a compromise was reached that retained the “guiding principles” reference in a preambular paragraph, while calling for the “safe, timely, unhindered and sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance in accordance with the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence” in the relevant operative paragraph.

During the MONUSCO negotiations, Russia again proposed that, in addition to a reference in a preambular paragraph, a further explicit reference to the ”guiding principles” be added to an operative paragraph. The penholder, however, did not amend the text to reflect this request before putting the text under the silence procedure. Apparently, Russia’s explanation for breaking silence on 16 December alluded to the omission of this explicit reference. The US also broke silence on this issue, requesting that the text use the term “consistent with” rather than “in accordance with” in reference to “relevant provisions of international law and humanitarian principles”. Neither the Russian nor the US requests for textual changes on this matter were included in the final text put in blue.


*Post-script: On 18 December, the Security Council adopted resolution 2556, extending the mandate of MONUSCO until 20 December 2021. Fourteen members voted in favour of the resolution, whereas the Russian Federation abstained.

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