What's In Blue

Posted Fri 23 Jun 2023

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Briefing and Consultations

On Monday (26 June), the Security Council will convene for a briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), including the work of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). Assistant Secretary-General for African Affairs Martha Pobee will brief on recent developments in the DRC and the activities of the mission. Burundi, the DRC, and Rwanda representatives are expected to participate in the meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Pobee will focus her briefing on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the DRC, which was issued on 20 June and covers the period from 21 March to 19 June (S/2023/451). She is likely to speak about recent political developments, particularly in relation to the general elections scheduled to take place in December. Pobee may explain the tensions in the country surrounding the election, and refer to the clashes on 20 May between police and protesters triggered by a demonstration organised by a coalition of Congolese opposition parties.  During the incident, the Congolese police arrested several protesters and injured others, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Congolese opposition and civil society groups have been expressing concerns about the narrowing of civic space in the country ahead of elections and questioning the integrity of state institutions, such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) and the Supreme Court. One of the presidential candidates, Martin Fayulu, has voiced serious doubts about the voter registration process and reportedly threatened to boycott the elections. Pobee may call on all Congolese stakeholders to work together in rebuilding trust to pave the way for a peaceful, transparent, credible and inclusive electoral process and reaffirm MONUSCO’s readiness to use its good offices in this regard. She may also describe the electoral support being provided by MONUSCO and the UN Country Team based on the official request from the Congolese government in December 2022.

The security situation in eastern DRC is expected to be a significant focus of Monday’s meeting. Early this month, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group affiliated with the ISIL/Daesh, reportedly killed 10 civilians and wounded two others in an attack in North Kivu. This was followed by another attack against a secondary school in western Uganda by the same armed group which left 41 people dead and six others abducted. In an attack targeting a camp for displaced people in Bunia, Ituri province, the Coopérative pour le développement du Congo (CODECO), a coalition of armed groups active in the province, killed 46 civilians and wounded ten others. Council members strongly condemned this attack in a 13 June press statement and called on the Congolese authorities swiftly to investigate this attack to hold the perpetrators to account.

On the other hand, a fragile ceasefire appears to be holding between the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and the M23 Movement, an armed group operating in the DRC’s North Kivu province that had been dormant for roughly a decade before becoming active again in 2022. No major clashes have been reported in recent months between the FARDC and the M23. The group has withdrawn from several localities in North Kivu, as verified by the various mechanisms of the East African Community (EAC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), which are undertaking regional meditation initiatives, known as the Nairobi and Luanda processes, respectively. Nonetheless, the Secretary-General’s report says that “[i]ts disengagement from some areas…appears to be largely tactical, facilitating the group’s repositioning in other key areas, which may lead to a resumption of hostilities”. The final report of the Group of Experts assisting the 1533 DRC sanctions regime (S/2023/431), which was published on 13 June, concurred with this assessment.

Pobee may explain the outcomes of the EAC and ICGLR extraordinary summits held in Bujumbura and Luanda on 31 May and 3 June, respectively. According to a communiqué adopted at the end of the EAC extraordinary summit, the regional leaders directed the EAC Regional Force (EACRF), deployed in eastern DRC as part of the Nairobi process, to stabilise the areas vacated by M23 and facilitate the orderly withdrawal of the group from the remaining occupied areas.  They also instructed the EACRF to support the return of internally displaced persons and called for international support in the demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants. The ICGLR extraordinary summit also considered the situation in eastern DRC and reaffirmed previous decisions adopted within the framework of the Nairobi and Luanda processes.

Pobee may express MONUSCO’s readiness to assist in the pre-cantonment and disarmament of M23 combatants, in line with decisions adopted within the framework of the regional initiatives, while indicating the Congolese government’s position of excluding the M23 from any political dialogue. She may mention the M23’s refusal to allow a technical reconnaissance mission composed of MONUSCO, the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) and the EACRF to verify the suitability of the Rumangabo camp in North Kivu for the pre-cantonment of M23 and other armed groups.

At their 31 May summit, the EAC regional leaders agreed to extend the deployment of the EACRF for another six months from 8 March to 8 September and decided to constitute a technical evaluation team to assess the implementation of its mandate within 90 days. But it seems that the Congolese government does not want the EACRF to stay after the end of its current mandate and has turned its attention towards the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which on 8 May decided to deploy its regional standby force to restore peace and stability in the eastern DRC.  With this SADC decision, the issue of coordination between the various regional initiatives seems to have become all the more critical. At the time of writing, Angola was preparing to host a summit on 27 June in Luanda under the leadership of the AU, which will involve the participation of the EAC, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), ICGLR, SADC and the UN, to discuss and address the issue of coordination.

Council members are likely to reaffirm their continued support for the ongoing regional efforts to address the difficult security situation in the eastern DRC and defuse regional tensions. In this regard, they may note the recent decisions adopted by the EAC, ICGLR and SADC and underline the importance of ensuring greater synergy and coherence between the various regional initiatives.

In line with resolution 2666 of 20 December 2022 which renewed the mandate of MONUSCO for another year, Pobee may provide updates on the implementation of the mission’s transition plan and indicate the Congolese government’s desire to accelerate this process. She may refer to the mission’s meeting with DRC Prime Minister Sama Lukonde on 18 May to discuss the revised transition plan and the key benchmarks that should be implemented to meet the minimum security conditions for MONUSCO’s withdrawal. The Security Council requested the Secretary-General, pursuant to resolution 2666, to provide options no later than July for reconfiguring MONUSCO, taking into consideration the deployment of the EACRF and other regional and bilateral initiatives in support of DRC.  Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix visited DRC from 3 to 7 June and met with national and local authorities, as well as civil society representatives, to discuss MONUSCO’s transition and its reconfiguration. It seems however that the discussion on MONUSCO’s transition hinges on the organisation of the upcoming elections.

At Monday’s meeting, Council members are likely to continue encouraging Congolese political stakeholders to build the necessary trust towards the holding of peaceful, transparent, inclusive, and credible elections in December in line with the country’s constitution and electoral law. They may reiterate their condemnation of the recent attacks by armed groups that claimed the lives of innocent civilians and stress the need to ensure accountability and justice. In this regard, some Council members may welcome the recent visit to the DRC by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, and the memorandum of understanding signed between the ICC and the Congolese government to renew cooperation in promoting justice in DRC. They may also refer to a 25 May statement by Pramila Patten, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence, who “expresse[d] deep concerns over alleged acts of sexual violence against women and girls in IDP camps around Goma”, the capital of North Kivu.  Patten visited the DRC in mid-June, where she participated in a ceremony in Kinshasa commemorating the tenth anniversary of the signing of a joint communiqué by the UN and the DRC government on combating conflict-related sexual violence in the DRC.

The final report of the Group of Experts may draw the attention of some Council members on Monday. The Group of Experts presented further evidence implicating Rwanda in direct interventions inside Congolese territory, either to reinforce M23 combatants or to conduct military operations against the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and local armed groups. In this regard, several RDF commanders and officials coordinating these operations were identified in the report. In a 22 June statement, Rwanda expressed regrets about the report and blamed the Group of Experts for continuing to “propagate dangerous distortions and fabrications”.

The Group of Experts also provided evidence that local armed groups and the FDLR have created an entity called the “Congolese Patriotic Resistance Network” to fight the M23 alongside the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC). The report said that senior FARDC officers had coordinated these operations and supported the armed groups with logistics, military equipment and financing.

At the time of writing, Council members were negotiating a draft resolution proposed by France, the penholder, to extend the 1533 DRC sanctions regime, which is set to expire on 1 July and to renew the mandate of the Group of Experts assisting the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee, which expires on 1 August.

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