What's In Blue

Posted Fri 9 Apr 2021

Great Lakes Region: Briefing and Consultations via VTC

On Monday (12 April), the Security Council will hold an open videoconference (VTC) briefing, followed by closed VTC consultations, on the Great Lakes region. The Council will be briefed by Huang Xia, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, and ambassador Mohamed Fathi Ahmed Edrees (Egypt), chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC).

The meeting will likely focus on two issues: developments covered in the Secretary-General’s latest biannual report on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region (PSC Framework); and the implementation of the Strategy for Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region.

The Secretary-General’s report on the PSC Framework, which was issued on 30 March, covers the period from 16 September 2020 to 15 March 2021. It focuses on key developments in the region, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; progress in improving regional cooperation and bilateral relations; the political, human rights, humanitarian and security situation; and the continued implementation of the PSC Framework.

The COVID-19 pandemic continued to pose a key challenge to the region during the reporting period. The report notes that there have been 1,894,326 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 58,520 fatalities related to the virus across the Great Lakes region. Measures to curb the spread of the virus negatively impacted the socioeconomic situation in the region, and in some instances, measures to counter the virus triggered human rights violations, according to the report. As a result of the pandemic, several meetings aimed at fostering increased regional cooperation were cancelled, including the tenth high-level meeting of the Regional Oversight Mechanism and the Great Lakes Investment and Trade Conference.

At Monday’s meeting, Council members may inquire about ways to improve relations across the region. Bilateral and regional cooperation intensified over the reporting period, continuing the positive trend already noted in the previous Secretary-General’s report. Burundi and Rwanda resumed dialogue, committing to peacefully resolving contentious issues, such as the matter of Burundian refugees residing in Rwanda. Uganda and Rwanda reiterated their intent to resolve issues in the spirit of good “neighbourly relations”, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Burundi agreed to establish a permanent joint commission on political, defence and security matters, as well as joint mechanisms for the management of shared resources (including the Ruzizi River and Lake Tanganyika). Additionally, DRC President Félix Tshisekedi– who assumed the AU chairpersonship in February– undertook visits to the Congo, Angola and South Africa, while Rwanda’s minister for foreign affairs visited Kinshasa in January. Prior to assuming the AU chairpersonship, Tshisekedi convened a virtual summit on 7 October 2020 with the heads of state of Angola, Rwanda and Uganda to discuss the severing of financing of armed groups and the cross-regional response to COVID-19.

At Monday’s meeting, Council members are likely to express concern about the security situation in the region. They may call for increased cooperation in tackling cross-border security issues and increased efforts to curtail the activities of armed groups. The Secretary-General’s report noted a “relative reduction in cross-border security incidents”, with incidents declining to three, compared to ten during the previous six-month reporting period. For instance, between February and March, the Rwanda Defense Force intercepted suspected elements of the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda, allegedly coming from Burundi. In response, the Force de défense nationale du Burundi reacted with an offensive against armed groups along its border with Rwanda. The Secretary-General notes that in all three cases, bilateral exchanges and dialogue played a role in addressing the cross-border security issues.

Xia is also expected to brief the Council on the humanitarian situation, which remained a concern amidst a shortfall in funding for the necessary assistance. Some 15.3 million persons are reported displaced due to violence in their home countries. Over 940,000 Congolese refugees remained dispersed across the region, including 421,563 in Uganda. The DRC is host to some 490,000 refugees from Burundi, the Central African Republic, Rwanda and South Sudan. Human rights violations persisted, some linked to armed groups and their use of conflict-related sexual violence. In the DRC, 51 percent of violations documented between September and December 2020 were perpetrated by armed groups and 41 percent by state actors. The Secretary-General’s report also noted human rights restrictions in the context of electoral processes in Tanzania and Uganda.

Council members may also want to hear from Xia about progress in implementing the PSC Framework. The Secretary-General’s report references implementation challenges resulting from the illicit exploitation of natural resources, including as a source of funding for armed groups. They may inquire about progress in advancing economic cooperation; furthering disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration measures; strengthening regional security cooperation; and enhancing the role of women and youth as catalysts for peace.

Council members may also seek additional information about prospective cooperation between Burundi’s government and Xia’s office, considering the planned closure of the Office of the UN Envoy to Burundi scheduled for the end of May. In a 4 December 2020 presidential statement, the Council requested the Secretary-General to cease reporting on Burundi as a stand-alone dossier and to cover it in reporting on Central Africa and the Great Lakes region in the future. In this context, Council members will be interested to learn more about Burundi’s cooperation with neighbouring countries regarding the return of Burundian refugees to their home country.

Council members may be interested to hear from Xia about his office’s action plan to translate the Strategy for Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region into concrete steps. The strategy, which was presented to Council members in December 2020, outlines a whole of UN-system approach to issues grouped under three pillars: peace, security and justice; sustainable development and shared prosperity; and resilience to long-standing and emerging challenges.

The strategy is intended to guide UN engagement in the region for the upcoming ten years, in line with the timeline for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and plans to focus on the implementation of pre-identified political goals for an initial three-year period. Council members may want to discuss timelines with Xia regarding the finalisation of his action plan and seek details on its envisaged implementation. In the past, some Council members expressed the need for the Special Envoy to be more explicit about his plans for the region. This concern may be addressed with the finalisation of the action plan.

The Council last discussed the Great Lakes region on October 2020 in an open VTC format only; as the consultations initially scheduled to follow the briefing were cancelled. Council members may therefore use the opportunity during the upcoming closed session to engage Xia in detail on how to further consolidate and capitalise on improved regional cooperation and encourage efforts toward this end, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.