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Democratic Republic of the Congo: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (29 March), the Security Council will convene for a briefing on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) Bintou Keita will brief. A civil society representative may also brief. Closed consultations are expected to follow the open briefing.

Keita is expected to provide an overview of the Secretary-General’s latest report on the DRC, which was issued on 21 March and covers the period from 1 December 2021 to 16 March (S/2022/252). In describing the political situation in the country, the report notes the commitments expressed by President Félix Tshisekedi during his annual state of the nation address on 13 December 2021 to hold free, democratic and transparent elections in 2023. It also references a 15 December 2021 letter sent by the Independent National Electoral Commission, or Commission électorale nationale indépendante (CENI), to the UN, requesting the deployment of a Needs Assessment Mission to consider modalities for possible electoral assistance. However, the report notes that there has been controversy surrounding the appointment of CENI members because of opposition claims that some appointees are affiliated with the current government.

The Secretary-General’s report refers to political tensions within the ruling Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès social (UDPS) party following the decision to remove its interim president, Jean-Marc Kabund, in late January. The report also mentions that in early February, the National Intelligence Agency arrested François Beya Kasonga, the president’s special security advisor, allegedly for participation in activities affecting national security. At tomorrow’s meeting, Keita may describe MONUSCO’s continued engagement with Congolese political stakeholders to create a political environment conducive to the holding of peaceful, credible and inclusive elections in 2023. Council members are expected to express support for such efforts and call on political actors to work towards creating favourable conditions for the organisation of elections.

The precarious security situation in the country, particularly in eastern DRC, is another expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting. The Secretary-General’s report describes the difficult security challenges in the Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema provinces because of the increased activities of armed groups. It mentions that the Coopérative pour le développement du Congo (CODECO)—an association of Lendu militia groups active in the Ituri province—has been targeting internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, including in a 1 February attack on the Plaine Savo camp in Ituri, which resulted in 62 civilian deaths and 34 injured. It also refers to the activities of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), whose continued attacks resulted in the killing of 230 civilians in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces during the reporting period. Furthermore, the report mentions clashes between Burundian armed groups and, allegedly, the Burundi National Defence Force in South Kivu. It also indicates that the Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23), a rebel group which used to operate in North Kivu province, has resumed its military activities.

Attacks by armed groups have continued unabated despite the “state of siege” imposed by the Congolese government since May 2021 to address security challenges in eastern DRC, and the ongoing joint military operation by the DRC and Uganda targeting the ADF, which was launched in November 2021. The increasing insecurity in the eastern provinces has also exacerbated the humanitarian and human rights situations, as 5.7 million Congolese have been displaced and 27 million people face acute food insecurity, according to the Secretary-General’s report. Moreover, access challenges and attacks against humanitarian workers continue to impede the humanitarian response, the report notes. It also indicates that MONUSCO documented 1,932 human rights violations and abuses between November 2021 and January; of these, 57 percent were committed by armed groups and 43 percent by state agents.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Keita may describe MONUSCO’s efforts to enhance its presence in the eastern provinces by undertaking night patrols to protect civilians in IDP camps, deploying quick reaction forces to deter armed group activities, and facilitating dialogue to address intercommunal tensions. She may also note MONUSCO’s joint operations with the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) and its tripartite cooperation with FARDC and the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) in areas where the three forces operate. Keita may refer to the tenth high-level meeting of the Regional Oversight Mechanism (ROM), which took place in Kinshasa on 24 February. The ROM oversees the implementation of the 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation (PSC) Framework for DRC and the Great Lakes Region. The communiqué adopted at the meeting’s conclusion reaffirmed the regional leaders’ commitment to the full implementation of the PSC Framework “as an important vehicle to address the causes and drivers of conflict and instability in the region”.

Council members are likely to express their continued concern over the increased activities of armed groups and the severely difficult humanitarian and human rights situations in eastern DRC. Some members may draw attention to the enhanced use of improvised explosive devices and the targeting of IDP camps by armed groups. Several members may stress the need to ensure accountability and justice for crimes committed in eastern DRC. Members may reiterate their support for regional cooperation in responding to the security challenges in eastern DRC and might welcome the convening of the ROM meeting in this regard.

As the Council will be meeting for the first time since the adoption of resolution 2612 of December 2021, which renewed the mission’s mandate for another year and welcomed MONUSCO’s transition plan, Keita may speak about the mission’s work to implement the plan in cooperation with the government, civil society and other partners. A joint report of the Congolese government and the UN, which provides an update on the progress towards achieving the benchmarks and milestones outlined by the transition plan, was circulated to Council members as an annex to the Secretary-General’s report. At tomorrow’s meeting, Keita may focus on the ongoing preparations for the mission’s withdrawal from Tanganyika province in June in accordance with resolution 2612.

Council members are generally united in their support for MONUSCO’s work and the mission’s gradual drawdown. Some members may want to know more about progress in implementing the mission’s transition plan, based on the agreed benchmarks and timelines. Others may continue to emphasise the need for a phased and responsible withdrawal of the mission, given the precarious security situation in eastern DRC and its adverse effects on the civilian population. In this regard, they may underscore the need for MONUSCO to enhance its robust posture to protect civilians.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, the Ukrainian government informed the UN that it will withdraw the military contingent it had contributed to MONUSCO, including personnel, helicopters and equipment. The decision was apparently made to strengthen Ukraine’s defences in the war effort at home. The Ukrainian contingent of 268 peacekeepers is composed of 250 troops, six staff officers, five individual police, and seven experts, according to the UN. Ukraine has eight helicopters deployed in eastern DRC, of which four are attack helicopters and four are transport helicopters. Council members may seek more information on how the upcoming withdrawal of the Ukrainian peacekeeping personnel and equipment may affect MONUSCO and its operations in eastern DRC, including its attack and medical evacuation capabilities.

Another issue that might be raised is the performance, conduct and discipline of MONUSCO peacekeepers. Some members may express their continued concerns over reports of serious misconduct by mission personnel, including allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse. Seven such allegations were registered by the mission between 1 November 2021 and 28 February, according to the Secretary-General’s report. Other members may emphasise the importance of ensuring the safety and security of peacekeepers and condemn attacks targeting peacekeepers. Several members might also emphasise the need to address the issue of illegal exploitation of natural resources. In this regard, the US may refer to its recent decision to impose sanctions on a Belgian businessman Alain Goetz and his affiliated companies in the Great Lakes region and elsewhere for his involvement in illegal gold export from the DRC.

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