Security Council Visiting Mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Security Council members leave this evening (8 March) for a visiting mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). France and Gabon are co-leading the mission, which will take place from tomorrow (9 March) to Sunday (12 March). The Council has visited the DRC frequently over the years, going there every year between 2000 and 2010, and returning in 2013, 2016, and 2018. This will be the Council’s 15th visit to the country and its 70th visiting mission in total since 1992. This trip to DRC will be only the second Council visiting mission since October 2019, however, and the first since it travelled to Mali and Niger in October 2021. (For background on Security Council visiting missions, including the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Council’s ability to visit the field, see the In Hindsight in our March Forecast.)
The upcoming visit will take place against the backdrop of a deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC, which has sparked one of the largest displacement crises in Africa and is threatening to undermine regional peace and security. Fighting in eastern DRC continues unabated despite ongoing regional peace efforts under the auspices of the East African Community (EAC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), known as the Nairobi and Luanda processes, respectively. A key goal for the Council’s visiting mission is to assess the situation in conflict-affected areas in the country and the effects of insecurity on civilians.
Ahead of the Council’s visit, Angolan President and Chair of the ICGLR João Lourenço reportedly secured a ceasefire through his recent engagement with the M23 Movement, an armed group operating in North Kivu province that was dormant over the past decade and became active again in 2022. The ceasefire, which was set to take effect on 7 March, was welcomed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a 6 March statement, in which he urged the M23 to respect the ceasefire in order to “create conditions for its full and effective withdrawal from all occupied areas” in eastern DRC. However, fighting has reportedly continued, and the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) have accused the M23 of violating the ceasefire.
During their visit, Council members will hold a series of meetings to discuss the security, humanitarian, and human rights situation in eastern DRC. They may reiterate their support for the ongoing regional efforts and demand that all armed groups cease hostilities. They may emphasise their demand to the M23 to withdraw from all occupied areas in line with the decisions of the Nairobi and Luanda processes and call for an end to all external support to this and other armed groups operating in eastern DRC.
Council members are likely to express serious concerns about the dire humanitarian situation and draw attention to the plight of internally displaced persons, particularly women and children who are bearing the brunt of the ongoing conflict in the region. The Secretary-General’s most recent report on children and armed conflict, dated 23 June 2022, identified the DRC as the country with the highest number of grave violations against children, with 3,546 violations against 2,979 children verified by the UN in 2021. In a 23 January statement, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba voiced concern about the detrimental effects on children of the activities of armed groups in the DRC, expressing shock at recent reports of the discovery of mass graves in Ituri province, where children were among the victims. In this regard, Council members may demand that all parties cease violence against civilians, end violations against children, and comply with international humanitarian law and human rights law, including by allowing humanitarian access and protecting refugees and internally displaced persons.
The other focus of the Council’s visit will be the upcoming national elections scheduled to take place in December. The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) launched voter registration in December 2022, and the process reportedly started in eastern DRC in February. The Congolese government has promised the Congolese people and international partners that elections will be held on time in line with the electoral calendar announced by the CENI. In his 28 February remarks at the UN Human Rights Council, however, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi warned that the insecurity in eastern DRC may affect the elections. Opposition parties in the DRC have reacted to these remarks by underscoring the need for the Congolese government to comply with the electoral calendar and the timeframe stipulated in the DRC constitution.
In their meetings with Congolese political actors and civil society representatives, Council members may encourage the holding of peaceful, transparent, inclusive, and credible elections in accordance with the constitution and the country’s electoral law. They may also take the opportunity to stress the need for the full, equal, effective, and meaningful participation of women and reaffirm the important role of youth in electoral processes. In resolution 2666 of 20 December 2022, which most recently renewed the mandate of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO), the Council mandated the mission to provide support for the 2023 electoral process as appropriate and in coordination with Congolese authorities, the UN Country Team, and regional and international actors.
During their visit, Council members are also expected to express their support for MONUSCO, which is operating under difficult circumstances to carry out its mandated tasks. The mission has been the target of attacks that claimed the lives of several peacekeepers. The rise of hate speech, disinformation, and misinformation has also seriously affected public sentiment toward the mission. Council members are likely to express solidarity with MONUSCO and pay tribute to the peacekeepers who lost their lives in the line of duty. They may also urge all parties to respect the safety and security of peacekeepers and reiterate the need to ensure accountability for those responsible for attacks against peacekeepers. In their engagement with MONUSCO and other UN staff serving in the country, Council members may stress the significance of enhancing strategic communications to facilitate the full and effective implementation of the mission’s mandate and promote the safety and security of peacekeepers.
MONUSCO has been implementing a transition plan, which was developed jointly with the Congolese government and other stakeholders, to facilitate a phased, gradual, and responsible drawdown of the mission. During their visit, Council members may assess progress in implementing the transition plan and the steps that need to be taken for the mission’s responsible and sustainable exit. Following the violent protests against MONUSCO in July 2022, the Congolese government called for a review of the transition plan. Accordingly, in resolution 2666, the Council requested the Secretary-General to provide options no later than July for adapting MONUSCO’s configuration, considering the deployment of the EAC Regional Force under the Nairobi process, and other existing international, regional, and bilateral initiatives in support of the DRC. This report is expected to inform subsequent Council discussions on the mission’s future.
In terms of MONUSCO’s priority tasks, Council members may be keen to assess progress in the implementation of the Congolese government’s disarmament, demobilisation, community recovery and stabilisation programme (P-DDRCS), as well as security sector reform (SSR), to address the threat posed by armed groups and consolidate state authority. On 20 December 2022, when the Council decided to lift the notification requirement imposed under the 1533 DRC sanctions regime (which required member states to give advance notice of any military or related support to the DRC), it requested the Congolese government to provide a confidential report no later than 31 May detailing its efforts on weapons and ammunition management. In this regard, Council members are likely to take the opportunity of their visit to follow up on the implementation of this decision in their meetings with senior government officials and MONUSCO. They may also highlight other issues that continue to fuel conflict in eastern DRC, including the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the spread of small arms and light weapons.
Please follow our coverage of the visiting mission in the coming days.