Democratic Republic of the Congo: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (30 September), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, 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; the Chair of the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Michel Xavier Biang (Gabon); and a civil society representative will brief. Representatives of the DRC, Burundi and Rwanda will also participate in the meeting under rule 37 of the provisional rules of procedure of the Council.
Keita is expected to provide an overview of the Secretary-General’s latest report on the DRC, which was issued on 22 September and covers the period from 17 June to 16 September (S/2022/709). In the reporting period, the political landscape has been dominated by the discussion on the 2023 elections. Even though the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) has not yet released the electoral calendar, President Felix Tsishekedi has already announced his intention to run for a second term in May 2021. Opposition leaders such as former Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo and Martin Fayulu Madidi (who still claims to be the rightful winner of the last presidential election in 2018) have also said they plan to compete.
The Secretary-General’s report highlights developments regarding ongoing preparations for the elections, including the promulgation of the revised electoral law by Tshisekedi on 29 June. Concerns have been raised by the ruling Union sacrée de la Nation (USN), opposition political parties, and civil society organisations over some aspects of the law, such as the use of electronic voting and how election-related disputes will be settled. Keita may describe MONUSCO’s good offices role to encourage Congolese political stakeholders to reach a consensual electoral framework to facilitate the holding of timely and peaceful elections.
The deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC is expected to be a major focus of tomorrow’s meeting. The Secretary-General’s report describes the difficult security challenges in this part of the country due to the activities of armed groups, including the Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23), the Coopérative pour le Développement du Congo (CODECO), the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and the Mai-Mai groups.
Violent protests that erupted in North Kivu against MONUSCO in July are likely to be discussed tomorrow. The protesters accused the mission of failing to stabilise the situation in eastern DRC. In a 27 July press statement, Council members strongly condemned attacks carried out against MONUSCO and called on the Congolese authorities to ensure the necessary accountability in this regard. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the violence—which included clashes between MONUSCO personnel and Congolese security forces on the one hand, and Congolese protestors on the other—left 32 Congolese and three MONUSCO uniformed personnel dead, as well as 170 people injured.
Following these protests, the government called for a review of MONUSCO’s transition plan that had been developed in close consultation with the government and other relevant stakeholders and was endorsed by the Security Council in resolution 2612 of 20 December 2021. Tsishekedi reiterated the government’s call in his speech at the 77th session of the UN General Assembly. In a 23 September interview with France 24, he also expressed his expectation that the mission would leave after the 2023 elections. The transition plan provides a tentative timeline for withdrawal in 2024, outlining several benchmarks and indicators to be implemented before the mission gradually draws down and exits.
In his latest report, the Secretary-General recognised the growing frustration among the Congolese people and expressed the UN’s commitment to work with the government to address MONUSCO’s shortcomings in a constructive manner. The discussion of MONUSCO’s transition plan will be a major issue for Council members in tomorrow’s meeting and in the coming months in light of the upcoming mandate renewal of the mission in December.
At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members may emphasise that MONUSCO’s withdrawal hinges on the significant reduction of security threats and the restoration of state authority throughout the national territory. Despite the “state of siege” implemented by the government since May 2021 to address the security challenges in eastern DRC, reports indicate that the situation has continued to deteriorate. Other Council members may underscore the need to respond to the concerns of the Congolese government about MONUSCO’s continued presence. In June, MONUSCO withdrew from Tanganyika province, where the UN country team is to continue working with the provincial authorities to sustain the gains made in stabilisation.
In terms of regional dynamics, the tension between the DRC and Rwanda following the resurgence of M23 early this year has been a major preoccupation of Council members. The DRC has been accusing Rwanda of supporting the M23, which Rwanda has persistently denied. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to be interested in hearing about ongoing regional initiatives in this regard. Keita may set out the outcome of the East African Community summit held on 22 July in Arusha, Tanzania, that appointed then Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta as a facilitator to oversee the implementation of the Nairobi process and decided to expeditiously implement its decision to deploy a regional force in eastern DRC. (The Nairobi process is led by EAC heads of state who are addressing the peace and security challenges in eastern DRC on two tracks: a political track to facilitate consultations between the DRC and armed groups; and a military track, through the establishment of a regional force, to fight armed groups that refuse to take part in a political dialogue). Council members may take note of the ongoing efforts to operationalise the EAC regional force and emphasise the importance of the force protecting civilians and coordinating its efforts with MONUSCO. They may also stress the need for the force to carry out its operations in full compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
On 6 July, the Chairperson of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), Angolan President João Lourenço, hosted Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Luanda for talks to ease tensions between the two countries. The two countries agreed on a roadmap that includes the immediate withdrawal of the M23 from occupied positions based on the decisions of the Nairobi process. They also vowed to defeat the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), an ethnic Hutu armed group active in eastern DRC, and its splinter groups.
However, in his speech at the UN General Assembly, Tshisekedi once again accused Rwanda of supporting the M23, and reiterated his country’s request for the monthly update (circulated to Council members in July) of the UN Group of Experts (GoE) assisting the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee to be made public. (According to media reports, the GoE said that it had “solid evidence” of Rwandan support for the M23 Movement). In a 4 August statement, Rwanda said that the GoE report is “unpublished and unvalidated”, and that none of the GOE’s allegations of Rwandan support to M23 had been included in its annual report submitted to the Security Council in June. In his statement at the UN General Assembly, Kagame underscored the need to avoid the blame game and to address the root cause of instability in eastern DRC. On 22 September, French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly facilitated a meeting between Tshisekedi and Kagame in New York and secured an agreement on the withdrawal of M23 from Bunagana, a town located on the DRC-Uganda border that the group captured in June.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may reiterate their continued support for regional initiatives through the Nairobi and Angolan mediation processes. They may also welcome the agreement facilitated by Macron and encourage the sides to implement their commitment.
Biang will brief the Council on the work of the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee and is likely to mention his intention to make a working visit to DRC in November.