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Great Lakes Region: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (27 April), the Security Council will hold a briefing and consultations on the Great Lakes region. Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region Huang Xia will brief on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of the 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSC Framework) for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes region, which covers the period from 16 September 2021 to 15 March (S/2022/276). Executive Secretary of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) João Samuel Caholo and Dino Mahtani, an independent expert on the Great Lakes region, are also expected to brief. Some regional countries may participate at tomorrow’s meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Xia may note that the reporting period of the Secretary-General’s semi-annual report has seen encouraging diplomatic engagements and dialogue among countries of the Great Lakes region. The Secretary-General’s report describes some of these developments, including the steps taken by Rwanda and Uganda to re-open the Gatuna/Katuna border. In a further sign of improved bilateral relations, Rwandan President Paul Kagame visited Kampala on 24 April and met with his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni. Another important development is the DRC’s admission into the East African Community (EAC). The country formally joined the EAC after signing the accession treaty in Nairobi on 8 April.

Council members and Xia may emphasise the importance of convening the Regional Oversight Mechanism (ROM) of the PSC Framework to monitor the Framework’s implementation. In this regard, Xia is expected to highlight the outcomes of the ROM’s tenth meeting, which took place in Kinshasa on 24 February—more than three years since its previous meeting in Kampala in October 2018. He might note that the meeting allowed regional leaders and guarantor institutions of the PSC Framework to assess the political and security situation in the region, including progress and challenges in the implementation of the national, regional and international commitments under the PSC Framework. 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”.

Despite these positive developments, however, there is renewed concern about increasing insecurity in eastern DRC and its likely adverse effects on regional stability. The Secretary-General’s report describes the persistent security challenges facing the Great Lakes region and notes an increase in the activities of armed groups and cross-border incidents (six such incidents were documented during the reporting period, compared with four during the preceding reporting period). The ROM also expressed serious concern in its February communiqué that armed groups with networks across the region, some of which are affiliated with international terrorist groups, continue to pose threats to civilians and fuel mistrust and tensions among regional countries. In particular, it condemned the resumption of military activities by the M23 Movement, a rebel group previously active in North Kivu Province.

Xia may indicate that insecurity persists despite the “state of siege” declared by the Congolese government in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which has been extended 17 times since May 2021. The joint military operation by the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) and the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), which was launched in November 2021, targeting the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), has also continued. Furthermore, the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has intensified its operations in eastern DRC. On 29 March, a MONUSCO helicopter crashed while operating in North Kivu as part of a surveillance and reconnaissance mission, killing eight peacekeepers. In a 1 April press statement, Security Council members strongly condemned all attacks and provocations against MONUSCO and called for a swift, thorough and transparent investigation of the incident.

Xia may refer to the regional consultations held in Nairobi during two mini-summits hosted by Kenyan President and current EAC Chair Uhuru Kenyatta on 8 and 21 April. The meetings focused on addressing the growing security threats facing the DRC and the Great Lakes region. According to a 21 April communiqué, the regional leaders agreed to make progress on two tracks: a political track to facilitate consultations between the DRC and armed groups, and a military track entailing the establishment of a regional force to fight armed groups that refuse political dialogue. Media reports indicate that talks between the Congolese government and armed groups have already started in Nairobi. The Congolese government apparently demanded the expulsion of the M23 Movement from the talks after renewed fighting was reported in North Kivu province.

In a 23 April statement, Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the efforts of Kenyatta and other East African leaders and noted the two-track approach. He stressed the need for effective coordination between the regional force and MONUSCO, as well as the importance of a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of conflict in eastern DRC, including through non-military measures and the effective implementation of existing programmes for transitional justice and for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR). In a 25 April statement, AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat welcomed the outcome of the Nairobi mini-summits, particularly the decision to deploy a regional force.

Xia may provide updates about the implementation of the UN Strategy for Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region (2020-2030), which was developed by the Office of the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes and published in January 2021. In this context, he may describe non-military measures undertaken by regional countries to address security challenges.

Caholo may share the ICGLR’s perspective on the latest developments in the region and highlight some of the organisation’s efforts to fight the illegal exploitation of natural resources and promote judicial cooperation between ICGLR members. Mathani is expected to focus on the threat of terrorism in the region.

Council members are broadly supportive of addressing the root causes and drivers of conflict in the Great Lakes region through a comprehensive regional approach. They also appreciate Special Envoy’s efforts and support the role of regional and sub-regional organisations. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may welcome the outcome of the tenth ROM meeting. Kenya may highlight the outcome of the recent regional consultations hosted by Kenyatta, including the decision to form a regional force to address the growing security threat in eastern DRC. Other Council members may await more details on the formation of the regional force and, in the meantime, call for coordination between MONUSCO and regional countries undertaking military operations in eastern DRC.

Several members support non-military solutions to the persistent security challenges in the region. Some emphasise the significance of addressing the region’s challenges through the peace, security and development nexus. They may welcome the DRC’s admission into the EAC and express hope that this will promote regional economic integration. Some members might focus on the need to address the issue of illegal exploitation of natural resources as well as the spread of small arms and light weapons. The US may refer to its 17 March decision to impose sanctions on Belgian businessman Alain Goetz and affiliated companies (in the Great Lakes region and elsewhere) for his involvement in illegal gold exports from DRC. It appears that this issue was raised at the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee and Russia is said to have objected to the proposal for his designation. Several members are expected to emphasise the need to respect international humanitarian law and human rights law in the ongoing military operations. They may also stress the need to ensure accountability for crimes committed in eastern DRC, including sexual exploitation and abuse.

France, the penholder on the DRC and the Great Lakes region, is expected to circulate a draft press statement for Council members’ consideration in connection with tomorrow’s meeting. The draft text will likely focus on several issues, including ongoing regional peace and security efforts; the latest ROM meeting; the security situation and the outcome of the mini-summits in Nairobi; the humanitarian and human rights situation; women, peace and security; and youth, peace and security.

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