Democratic Republic of the Congo: Closed Consultations
Tomorrow morning (21 November), Security Council members will hold closed consultations on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). France (the penholder on the DRC), the UK and the US requested the meeting to discuss the deterioration of the security situation in eastern DRC in light of recent military advances by the M23 Movement, an armed group that used to operate in eastern DRC and became active again this year. The request followed an 18 November joint statement by the US, together with the Great Lakes special envoys of Belgium, France, and the UK, strongly condemning the M23’s military advances. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix is expected to brief at tomorrow’s meeting. Council members may consider issuing a press statement following the meeting.
On 20 October, fighting resumed between the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) and the M23 Movement in the Rutshuru territory of North Kivu province in eastern DRC, displacing thousands of people and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the region. The armed group has since gained control of more territories, and on 14 November, an FARDC spokesperson said that the fighting has reached closer to Goma, the regional capital.
The escalating security situation has also aggravated the already tense relations between the DRC and Rwanda. The Congolese government, which continues to accuse Rwanda of supporting the M23, expelled the Rwandan ambassador to Kinshasa on 29 October. Rwanda expressed regret over the decision and continued to deny the DRC’s accusations.
On 7 November, Rwanda said that a Congolese fighter jet violated its airspace, calling it a provocation. According to media reports, the Congolese government issued a statement admitting that the incident had occurred during a reconnaissance mission and describing it as unintentional. In a 19 November statement, Rwanda said that it has informed the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM) of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR)—which comprises military experts from ICGLR member states and conducts investigations on security incidents—about an alleged shooting by an FARDC soldier against a Rwanda Defense Forces border post in Rubavu District, in Rwanda’s Western Province.
The 18 November joint statement by the US and the three Great Lakes envoys calls on the M23 to “immediately withdraw, end any acts violating international law, and to cease hostilities”. It also states that “[a]ll support to non-state armed actors must stop, including external support to M23” and expresses support to ongoing regional diplomatic efforts. The resumption of fighting has prompted a flurry of regional diplomatic activities in the past few weeks. The current chair of the East African Community (EAC), Burundian President Évariste Ndayishimiye, convened a high-level consultative meeting of the EAC heads of state on 7 November in the margins of the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 27) in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Since April, the EAC has been implementing a two-track approach known as the Nairobi process to addressing the situation in eastern DRC: to facilitate political dialogue between the Congolese government and armed groups and to deploy a regional force to deal with those who refuse to join the dialogue process.
Participants in the Sharm El-Sheikh meeting assessed the situation in eastern DRC and called for a cessation of hostilities to pave the way for the holding of a third round of political dialogue between the Congolese government and armed groups in Nairobi, which is set to start on Monday (21 November), according to a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting. Two rounds of dialogue took place in April and May under the auspices of the EAC. According to the communiqué, the 7 November meeting also reviewed progress regarding the deployment of the EAC regional force in eastern DRC and took note of the establishment of its headquarters in Goma. It also noted that Burundian, Kenyan and Ugandan forces had deployed, and called on South Sudan to expedite the deployment of its forces. On 8 November, the EAC Chiefs of Defence Forces (CDFs) met in Bujumbura, Burundi, and demanded the withdrawal of the M23 to its pre-April 2022 positions to facilitate a ceasefire and proposed to deploy the EAC regional force in the vacated areas.
The EAC facilitator of the Nairobi process in eastern DRC, former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, travelled to Kinshasa on 13 and 14 November, where he held high-level consultations with Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi, and on 15 November visited internally displaced persons in Goma. Kenyatta reportedly urged “the Congolese to lay down arms and nurture a sense of patriotism” in an interview with Radio Okapi, a DRC radio network created by MONUSCO. After his visit, Kenyatta reportedly spoke on the phone with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Tshisekedi, Ndayishimiye, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres. In an 18 November statement, the Office of the EAC Facilitator indicated that Kagame has agreed to urge the M23 to agree to a ceasefire and withdraw from captured territories in line with the proposal of the EAC CDFs in Bujumbura. In his telephone conversation with Guterres, Kenyatta also appealed for enhanced UN support for internally displaced persons in eastern DRC.
The chairperson of the ICGLR, Angolan President João Lourenço, visited Rwanda and the DRC on 11 and 12 November, respectively, as part of his regional mediation efforts as mandated by the AU Chairperson, which is referred to as the Luanda process. Lourenço met with Kagame and Tshisekedi to seek ways to ease the tensions between the two countries. His visit followed a tripartite meeting in Luanda between the foreign ministers of Angola, the DRC and Rwanda to follow up on the implementation of the Luanda Roadmap, agreed by Kagame and Tshisekedi on 6 July, with the facilitation of Lourenço, to normalise their bilateral ties. Lourenço is expected to host another meeting between the two leaders in Luanda to discuss, among other issues, “modalities of the security operations as proposed by the EAC CDFs, the humanitarian situation in eastern DRC, work towards a permanent cessation of hostilities and the establishment of a roadmap for a political solution to the problem in eastern DRC in accordance with the principles set out in the Nairobi process”, according to the 18 November statement by the Office of the EAC Facilitator of the Nairobi process.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Lacroix is expected to provide updates on the security and humanitarian situations in eastern DRC. He may describe the support provided by the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) to the FARDC—consistent with the UN Human Rights Due Diligence Policy (HRDDP)—in fighting armed groups in eastern DRC. Lacroix may also elaborate on the support provided by MONUSCO and the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region to the Nairobi and Luanda processes. Furthermore, he may indicate the high-level engagement by Guterres with regional leaders in support of ongoing diplomatic efforts.
Following their meeting on 26 October to discuss the situation in the Great Lakes region, Council members issued a press statement on 28 October reiterating their concern about the M23 Movement’s resurgence and the increasing military activities of other armed groups in eastern DRC. They also called on all armed groups to immediately cease all forms of violence and to disarm unconditionally. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to reiterate these messages and express support for the Nairobi and Luanda processes, which aim to de-escalate the situation and ease regional tensions. They may also continue to underscore the need for the EAC regional force to coordinate with MONUSCO and comply with international humanitarian law and human rights law.
Among Council members, the US has been the most critical regarding the resurgence of M23 and its alleged external support. At the 30 September Council meeting on the DRC, it expressed deep concern about the M23 Movement and the support it receives from external actors, specifically mentioning the Rwanda Defence Forces. The US called on member states to freeze the group’s assets and deny any funds or other economic resources to the group, which remains designated under the 1533 DRC sanctions regime. In relation to the deployment of the EAC regional force, the US noted that “all countries must notify the Security Council in advance on matters involving defence cooperation, including the deployment of troops and the provision of arms” in line with the 1533 DRC sanctions regime.