Democratic Republic of the Congo: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow morning (28 September), the Security Council will convene for an open 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). Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the DRC and head of MONUSCO Bintou Keita and a civil society representative are expected to brief. The chair of the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Michel Xavier Biang (Gabon), will provide an update on the committee’s work. The DRC’s Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula is expected to represent his country at the meeting. Rwanda is also expected to participate in the meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
Keita is expected to describe recent developments in the DRC and the activities of the mission based on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the DRC, which was issued on 21 September and covers the period from 20 June to 20 September (S/2023/691). She is likely to speak about the general elections scheduled to take place on 20 December, as officially announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). The date of the election coincides with the renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate, which is due to expire on 20 December. The Secretary-General’s report notes “incidents of intimidation and violence targeting political opposition figures, civil society actors, human rights defenders, and journalists”. Keita may refer to the assassination of an opposition party official affiliated with presidential candidate Moïse Katumbi Chapwe on 13 July, prompting the Congolese political opposition to raise serious concerns about security conditions ahead of the elections. MONUSCO has apparently accepted the request by the Congolese authorities to support the investigation into the incident.
Congolese opposition parties have also been expressing concerns about the perceived lack of transparency and inclusivity of the electoral process and questioning the integrity of state institutions, such as the CENI and the Supreme Court. They have particularly serious doubts about the voter registration process and have continued calling for an external audit of the voter register, which CENI President Denis Kadima has rejected, according to the Secretary-General’s report. Keita may underscore the need for credibility and transparency in the electoral process and reiterate her call on all Congolese stakeholders to work towards rebuilding trust to pave the way for a peaceful, transparent, credible, and inclusive electoral process. She may describe the electoral support being provided by MONUSCO and the UN Country Team in line with the mission’s mandate and based on the Congolese government’s official request.
Keita may highlight the outcome of several regional summits that took place since the Security Council’s last briefing on the DRC, which was held on 26 June. The East African Community (EAC) leaders met in an extraordinary summit in Nairobi, Kenya, on 5 September and decided to extend the mandate of the EAC Regional Force (EACRF) for another three months, until 8 December. The EACRF was deployed in November 2022 in areas vacated by the armed group Mouvement du 23 mars (M23. The force was part of the ongoing regional efforts spearheaded by the EAC to address the situation in eastern DRC, known as the Nairobi process. The EAC signed the status of forces agreement (SOFA) with the Congolese government in September 2022 to enable the deployment of the EACRF for an initial period of six months and negotiations were underway to renew the agreement after it expired in March. Nevertheless, the Congolese government did not want the EACRF to stay after the end of its initial mandate and had turned its attention towards the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which on 8 May decided to deploy a SADC Mission in DRC (SAMIDRC) to restore peace and stability in eastern DRC by 30 September.
On 31 May, EAC regional leaders retroactively agreed to extend the EACRF’s mandate for an additional six months, from 8 March to 8 September, and established a technical evaluation team to assess the implementation of its mandate within 90 days. In August, the EAC defence ministers met in Nairobi to assess the EACRF’s progress in restoring stability in its area of deployment based on an evaluation mission that took place from 3 to 8 July in North Kivu. They recommended extending its mandate pending the consent of the Congolese government to renew the SOFA. Following a visit to Kinshasa in August by Burundian President Évariste Ndayishimiye, the current chair of the EAC, the Congolese government softened its stance on the EACRF and signalled its intent to allow the force to stay after the expiry of its mandate on 8 September.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Keita may also reference the outcome of the Quadripartite Summit of the EAC, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), and the SADC, which was held in Luanda, Angola, on 27 June under the AU’s auspices and with the UN’s participation. According to the communiqué adopted at the meeting’s conclusion, the four organisations agreed on a joint framework to promote coherence among the existing initiatives of the four regional mechanisms engaged in the DRC, with a clear division of responsibilities and agreed timelines. While Security Council members are supportive of these regional initiatives, they continue to stress that they should be complementary and mutually reinforcing. In this regard, they may welcome the outcome of the quadripartite summit at tomorrow’s meeting.
Another expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting is the implementation of MONUSCO’s transition plan. The original transition plan was developed jointly by the UN and the Congolese government in 2021 and envisioned the mission’s withdrawal by December 2024. Following the July 2022 anti-MONUSCO protests that led to the death of four peacekeepers, the Congolese government requested that the implementation of the plan be accelerated. Keita may describe the mission’s engagement with the Congolese government to identify the key benchmarks that would create the minimum security conditions for MONUSCO’s withdrawal. She may refer to the understanding reached on four benchmarks—namely, the protection of civilians; implementation of the Demobilization, Disarmament, Community Recovery and Stabilization Program (P-DDRCS); security sector reform; and the electoral process—which are aligned with the mission’s priority tasks outlined in resolution 2666 of 20 December 2022 that renewed MONUSCO’s mandate. The Secretary-General’s report indicates that the revised transition plan was endorsed by the Congolese Ministry of Planning on 14 September.
In a 1 September letter addressed to the president of the Security Council, the Congolese government requested the UN to start the mission’s withdrawal before the end of this year. The letter was sent following an anti-MONUSCO protest that took place on 30 August in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, during which at least 43 people were reportedly killed and a further 53 injured in clashes with local authorities. In his address at the general debate of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly on 21 September, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi reiterated this position and said that it is “illusory and counterproductive to continue to cling to the maintenance of MONUSCO to restore peace in the DRC and stabilize it”. The Secretary-General’s report reaffirms the UN’s commitment to work with the Congolese government to accelerate the implementation of the revised transition plan and underscores the need to ensure the mission’s responsible withdrawal in tandem with the extension of state authority.
At the Council’s 26 June meeting on the situation in DRC, the US in particular expressed concerns about the Congolese government’s increasing calls for MONUSCO’s departure after the elections in December. The US argued that the minimum conditions agreed by the Congolese government and MONUSCO will not be met and warned that the mission’s hasty withdrawal is likely to create a security vacuum with devastating effects for civilians. The UK also underscored the need to draw lessons from previous peacekeeping closures to avoid repeating past mistakes in the DRC.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are also likely to reflect on the Secretary-General’s 2 August report presenting options for MONUSCO’s reconfiguration, which was submitted pursuant to resolution 2666. The report proposes a number of withdrawals: all units from South Kivu (southern sector), one battalion from North Kivu (central sector), and some specialist units, military observers, and staff officers in the mission. The report further indicates the need to adjust MONUSCO’s mandate to enable the mission to leverage its operational and logistical capabilities in support of the EACRF and possibly the SAMIDRC once it is deployed. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may inquire about the timeframe for the proposed withdrawals and the details of the possible adjustments to the mission’s mandate, which were not provided in the report.
Ambassador Biang is expected to update the Council on the work of the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee. On 27 June, the Security Council adopted resolution 2688, extending the 1533 DRC sanctions regime until 1 July 2024, and the mandate of the Group of Experts assisting the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee until 1 August 2024. The committee met with the newly appointed members of the Group of Experts on 15 September and discussed their work plan. The civil society representative is likely to speak about the political situation in the country in relation to the upcoming elections and the public sentiments regarding MONUSCO. France, the penholder on the DRC, may propose a draft presidential statement following the meeting.