Democratic Republic of the Congo: Key Themes of the Council’s Visiting Mission
Security Council Report (SCR) accompanied Council members on their visiting mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which took place from 9 to 12 March and was co-led by France and Gabon. SCR covered the visiting mission in our dispatches from the field. (See our 8, 10, 11, and 13 March What’s in Blue stories.) The visiting mission allowed Council members to assess the political and security situation in the DRC and engage with various stakeholders on ways to address the immense challenges facing the country. This round-up report summarises several key issues that were raised repeatedly during the visit and are likely to continue to occupy the Council’s attention in the coming months.
Security, Humanitarian and Human Rights Situation in Eastern DRC
During their meetings with government officials (including President Félix Tshisekedi, Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde and members of his cabinet, and members of parliament), opposition political party leaders, civil society representatives, provincial authorities, and internally displaced persons (IDPs), Council members heard consistent messages blaming Rwanda for stoking conflict in eastern DRC. Several interlocutors referred to the most recent report of the Group of Experts assisting the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee, dated 16 December 2022, in support of this claim. The report said that the Group of Experts had found substantial evidence of direct Rwandan involvement in the DRC in support of the M23 Movement—an armed group operating in North Kivu province that was dormant over the past decade and became active again in 2022. It also provided detailed information about support and cooperation between the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) and the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), an ethnic Hutu armed group active in eastern DRC.
The Congolese authorities argued that the Security Council cannot remain indifferent in the face of “aggression” by Rwanda and should draw the necessary conclusion based on the report of the Group of Experts. At the same time, Congolese stakeholders insisted that the FDLR is not a Congolese problem, saying that since the international community had requested the DRC to open its borders to Rwandan refugees in the 1990s, it should take responsibility for addressing the current challenge. They also maintained that the Council should call on Rwanda to talk to the FDLR, just as it has insisted that the Congolese government talk to armed groups, including the M23.
There was also discussion about the reported increase in hate speech against DRC communities that speak Kinyarwanda, a language widely spoken in Burundi, parts of the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda. Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu has expressed alarm about this negative trend in the DRC, including most recently in a 24 January statement. Congolese stakeholders dismissed these allegations and maintained that Kinyarwanda-speaking communities are living peacefully. Their efforts to defend the DRC’s sovereignty against Rwanda’s “aggression” should not be construed as hate speech, they said, although the Congolese government has publicly condemned hate speech in the past.
During their stay in Goma—the capital of North Kivu, the most conflict-affected province in eastern DRC—Council members met with provincial authorities to discuss the security situation. Goma has been encircled and cut off from its supply routes by the M23, which is hindering humanitarian assistance and the free movement of services. Members were briefed by the Military Governor of North Kivu, Lieutenant General Constant Ndima Kongba, who echoed the views of senior officials in Kinshasa. Council members also heard powerful testimonies in their meetings with women civil society representatives, who made an emotional appeal for peace, saying that women and girls have suffered for far too long because of the conflict in eastern DRC. Council members visited a camp hosting IDPs and witnessed the difficult conditions faced by civilians displaced by fighting. They recognised the need to improve the living conditions in all IDP camps and expressed commitment to supporting the establishment of additional camps with the cooperation of the government and the relevant UN agencies. They also stressed the need to find a lasting solution to the humanitarian crisis in the region through actions in the political, security, and humanitarian spheres.
Council members expressed support for the ongoing regional initiatives under the East African Community (EAC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), known as the Nairobi and Luanda processes, respectively. But the various regional mechanisms needed to be harmonised and streamlined with the support of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) and the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region, they said, to achieve greater coordination and effectiveness. During their visit, Council members met with regional mechanisms in Goma and received a briefing on the work of the Ad-Hoc Verification Mechanism established by ICGLR and the EAC regional force which is being deployed in eastern DRC. The chair of the mechanism and the force commander of the EAC regional force told Council members that fighting is continuing despite a ceasefire that was supposed to take effect on 7 March, stressing the need for compliance with the decisions adopted within the framework of the regional initiatives and for measures to be taken against those who provide external support to armed groups.
During the visit, Congolese stakeholders noted that the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework for DRC and the Region (PSC Framework), signed in February 2013 to comprehensively address the root causes of instability in eastern DRC and the Great Lakes region, has become irrelevant in the face of the deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC and the growing tensions between regional countries. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the PSC Framework, and the Council is expected to reflect on its implementation in April based on the Secretary-General’s biannual report. During the visiting mission, Council members heard calls from some Congolese stakeholders for the PSC Framework and its mechanisms to be revived through the active involvement of its guarantors—the AU, the UN, the ICGLR, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). In a 17 February communiqué, the AU Peace and Security Council also requested the AU to work towards revitalising the PSC Framework in cooperation with other regional and international partners.
Implementation of MONUSCO’s Mandate
A key objective of the visiting mission was to assess MONUSCO’s efforts to implement its mandate in a difficult operating environment. Following the violent protests against MONUSCO in July 2022, the Congolese government called for a review of the mission’s transition plan. During the meeting with Council members, the Congolese government announced its intention to retain only four of the 18 benchmarks contained in the transition plan—namely security, protection of civilians, implementation of the Demobilization, Disarmament, Community Recovery and Stabilization Program (P-DDRCS), and progress on the electoral process—and to transfer the remaining benchmarks to the UN Country for their implementation. It also seems that the Congolese government wants to make more use of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), which has been deployed under MONUSCO since 2013, to carry out targeted offensive operations against armed groups operating in eastern DRC.
In her briefing to the Security Council in June 2022, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of MONUSCO Bintou Keita described the growing threats posed by the M23 as those of “a conventional army rather than an armed group”, noting its “access to increasingly sophisticated firepower and equipment, including long-range mortar and machine-gun capabilities, as well as precision anti-aircraft weapons”. Due to these circumstances, MONUSCO troop-contributing countries (including troops in the FIB) are reluctant to engage in combat operations against the M23, although MONUSCO has been fighting other armed groups together with the FARDC. During the visiting mission, Council members generally agreed that the mission should be provided with more capabilities to discharge its mandated tasks effectively, without calling into question the mission’s mandate. There is no military solution to the situation in eastern DRC, argued Council members, adding that dialogue is the only way forward and that the Congolese authorities needed to shoulder their responsibilities to solve the complex challenges facing the DRC in a spirit of partnership with the UN.
Upcoming National Elections
Council members visited the DRC at a time when the country is gearing up to hold elections, scheduled for December. In his 28 February remarks at the UN Human Rights Council, however, Tshisekedi warned that the insecurity in eastern DRC may affect the elections, a sentiment also reflected in meetings with Congolese authorities and other stakeholders during the visiting mission. The conditions in eastern DRC and the many challenges and irregularities in the electoral process have sparked uncertainty as to whether elections will be held on time. Throughout their visit, Council members encouraged all Congolese political stakeholders to continue working towards a peaceful, transparent, inclusive, and credible electoral process in accordance with the DRC’s constitution and electoral law.
Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources
The visiting mission raised the issue of illegal exploitation of natural resources as part of the discussion on addressing the root causes of insecurity in eastern DRC. A message highlighted at the discussion with natural resources experts during the visit to Goma was the need to implement relevant regional and continental frameworks, including the Protocol Against the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources, adopted in November 2006 within the framework of the ICGLR, to identify and trace minerals illegally exploited from the DRC. The need for national, regional, and international actors to take responsibility and enhance greater cooperation and coordination in implementing these frameworks was also emphasised.
The Security Council is expected to discuss the situation in the DRC in a 29 March meeting, in which it will receive a briefing on the Secretary-General’s latest report on MONUSCO that was issued on 20 March. At that meeting, the mission’s co-leads, France and Gabon, are expected to provide a formal briefing on the visiting mission to DRC.