What's In Blue

Posted Tue 25 Oct 2022

Great Lakes Region: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (26 October), 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 semi-annual report on the implementation of the 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSC Framework) for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes Region, which covers the period from 16 March to 15 September (S/2022/735). Some regional countries may participate at tomorrow’s meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Xia is likely to highlight the deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC and its grave implications for regional peace and stability. The Secretary-General’s report describes the resurgence of the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23), an armed group operating in North Kivu province, and its capture in June of Bunagana, a town located on the border with Uganda. It also mentions the increasing attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group active in Ituri and North Kivu provinces, and the criminal activities of the Forces démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu armed group operating in North Kivu province.

The Secretary-General’s report refers to increased tensions between the DRC and Rwanda due to mutual accusations over cross-border incidents. The Congolese government has accused Rwanda of supporting the M23, allegations which Kigali consistently denies. In this regard, the DRC has cited a leaked July report of the Group of Experts (GoE) assisting the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee, which apparently said that the GoE has “solid evidence” regarding Rwanda’s support to the M23. Rwanda has rejected the report of the GoE. Kigali has also accused the Congolese government of supporting the FDLR. In an 18 October report, Human Rights Watch argued that the Congolese government has worked with the FDLR, providing direct support to the armed group.

Xia may elaborate on the work of the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM) of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), which comprises military experts from ICGLR member states and conducts investigations on security incidents. The EJVM has investigated allegations by the DRC and Rwanda and shared its confidential reports with the two countries.  The Special Envoy might reference regional diplomatic efforts carried out under the auspices of the East African Community (EAC) and the ICGLR, while underscoring the need for coordination of these efforts. Xia has also been engaging with regional leaders to advocate political solutions to ease tensions.

The Secretary-General’s report describes the two-track approach that has been pursued by the EAC through the Nairobi process. This includes a political track to facilitate consultations between the Congolese government and armed groups operating in eastern DRC. Two rounds of consultations were held in Nairobi in April and May involving 56 Congolese armed groups and representatives of local communities and civil society, including of women and youth organisations. The military track entails the deployment of a regional force to curtail the activities of armed groups which refuse to engage in the political consultations in Nairobi. The Secretary-General’s report mentions the decision of the EAC heads of state summit, which was held in Arusha on 20 and 21 July, to expedite the deployment of the regional force and set up a special fund to support the process. In August, Burundi deployed an infantry battalion to South Kivu province as part of the EAC regional force. This was followed by Kenya deploying its advance forces as part of the regional force in September. Tanzania and South Sudan are expected to do the same. On 9 September, the DRC’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Christophe Lutundula Apala Pen’apala and EAC Secretary General Peter Mathuki signed the status of force agreement (SOFA) for the regional force.

On 6 July, the Chairperson of the ICGLR, Angolan President João Lourenço, hosted Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Luanda for talks aimed at easing tensions. 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 FDLR and its splinter groups. On 22 September, French President Emmanuel Macron facilitated a meeting between Tshisekedi and Kagame in New York and secured an agreement on the withdrawal of M23 from Bunagana. However, media reports indicate that the M23 has refused to leave the town and has resumed fighting with the Congolese armed forces.

Xia may provide updates about the implementation of the PSC framework to break the cycle of conflict and violence in the DRC and the Great Lakes region. In this regard, he might refer to the meeting of the guarantors of the PSC framework— the AU, the ICGLR, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the UN—on 6 July in Nairobi. A communiqué adopted by the guarantors following the meeting welcomed the regional efforts through the Nairobi and the Luanda processes to address the deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC and reduce tension between the DRC and Rwanda.

Xia may also elaborate on his office’s work in support of the Contact and Coordination Group (CCG), established by countries of the region to facilitate their joint efforts in implementing non-military measures to address the security challenges in eastern DRC. He may underscore the need for the rapid activation of the CCG’s operational cell to implement concrete measures to respond to the existing security challenges. In terms of promoting human rights and accountability, Xia may highlight the meeting of regional ministers of justice on 16 June in Kinshasa that led to the adoption of a declaration on enhancing regional judicial cooperation and mutual legal assistance on criminal matters. He may also speak about his efforts, together with the ICGLR’s Executive Secretary João Samuel Caholo, to mobilise international support for the implementation of the recommendations of the 2021 Khartoum workshop on natural resources. The workshop discussed coordinated efforts by relevant stakeholders to fight the illicit exploitation and trading of natural resources in the DRC and the Great Lakes region.

Council members are supportive of addressing the root causes and drivers of conflict in the Great Lakes region through a comprehensive regional approach. They may call on countries of the region to reaffirm their commitments to the PSC framework, especially in light of its upcoming tenth anniversary, which will be marked in February 2023. Council members also appreciate the role of the Special Envoy and his support for regional efforts. At tomorrow’s meeting, the A3 members (Gabon, Ghana and Kenya) may highlight the 31 August communiqué adopted by the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) that endorsed the Nairobi and Luanda processes.

The Chair of the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Michel Xavier Biang (Gabon), along with representatives of several other Council members, will be visiting the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda from 7 to 18 November. They are expected to engage with relevant regional actors to identify additional individuals and entities whose actions may trigger sanctions designations, among other things. The US has been active on this issue, calling on member states to freeze the assets of M23 members and deny funds and any other economic resources to the group, which is designated under the 1533 DRC sanctions regime.

Several Council members are likely to underline the need for coordination among the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and regional countries undertaking military operations in eastern DRC. Some members may underscore that such activities should comply with international humanitarian law and human rights law. They may also stress the need to ensure coordination of ongoing regional efforts. France may recall the September meeting between the presidents of the DRC and Rwanda facilitated by Macron and emphasise the need for the two countries to implement their agreements. Several Council members are expected to express support for non-military solutions to the persistent security challenges in the region and encourage enhanced efforts by the CCG in this regard. Some members may also emphasise the need to address the issue of illegal exploitation of natural resources, as well as the spread of small arms and light weapons in the region.

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