Great Lakes Region: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow morning (17 October), the Security Council will hold a briefing and consultations on the Great Lakes region. Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region Huang Xia will brief on the Secretary-General’s latest semi-annual report on the implementation of the 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the region (PSC-F), which covers the period from 16 March to 15 September. A civil society representative is also expected to brief. Several regional countries may participate at tomorrow’s meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
Xia is likely to focus on the deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC and the tensions between the DRC and Rwanda. Kinshasa continues to accuse Kigali of supporting the armed group Mouvement du 23 mars (M23), while Rwanda accuses the DRC of supporting the Forces démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), an ethnic Hutu armed group active in eastern DRC. The Secretary-General’s report welcomes the decrease in cross-border incidents between the two countries but mentions one incident on 27 July which resulted in the killing of a Rwandan soldier. In a 16 October presidential statement on the DRC (S/PRST/2023/5), the Security Council called for calm and for “increased dialogue between DRC and Rwanda in furtherance of durable peace in the region”.
Although a fragile cessation of hostilities agreement between the M23 and the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) still holds, the Secretary-General’s report refers to increasing clashes between the M23 and other armed groups, including the FDLR and Wazalendo, a local militia group that is allegedly operating as a FARDC reserve force. These clashes have escalated recently, with the M23 accusing the Burundian contingent of the East African Community regional force (EACRF)—which is deployed in eastern DRC as part of a regional initiative under the auspices of the East African Community (EAC) known as the Nairobi process—of supporting these armed groups and militias. In a 12 October press statement, the EAC expressed serious concern about the escalating violence but denied the claims about the EACRF’s conduct.
Other armed groups in eastern DRC, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) affiliated group the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), have also continued to pose serious threats to security in the region. The Secretary-General’s report refers to a 13 June report of the Group of Experts assisting the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee, which describes the support that the ADF receives from ISIL cells in South Africa. Despite ongoing joint military operations by Congolese and Ugandan armed forces against the group, ADF attacks against civilians continue unabated. A 17 June attack by the group targeting a school in Uganda claimed the lives of 42 people—most of whom were students—and injured six others. On 13 October, the ADF reportedly conducted another cross-border attack in western Uganda, killing one person and injuring another.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Xia is likely to reiterate the need for all Congolese and foreign armed groups to lay down their arms unconditionally and to engage in the Disarmament, Demobilization, Community Recovery and Stabilization Programme. The political track of the Nairobi process continues to face an impasse, however, and the fourth round of the inter-Congolese dialogue, which the process has facilitated, remains pending. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the Congolese government continues to insist on the cantonment of the M23 as a precondition for the armed group’s participation in the Nairobi process, while the M23 wants to hold direct dialogue with the Congolese government before joining the Nairobi process.
Xia may also highlight the work of his office to support non-military measures to address the security situation in eastern DRC, including through its support for the disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation, reintegration, and resettlement of foreign ex-combatants. In May 2021, a Contact and Coordination Group on non-military measures composed of security officials of regional countries was set up to implement these measures. Xia may mention the assessment mission that he dispatched from 23 March to 1 April to Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda to assess their needs and capacities in this regard. Council members have been supportive of these efforts, and the Council’s 3 June 2022 presidential statement on the situation in the DRC stressed that “the elimination of the threat posed by foreign armed groups will require an integrated and regional approach and strong political engagement” and called for the implementation of the non-military measures under the Contact and Coordination Group.
Tomorrow’s meeting is likely to discuss ongoing regional initiatives to address the situation in eastern DRC. In this regard, Xia may provide updates on several regional meetings that have taken place since he last briefed the Council in April, which are also covered in the Secretary-General’s report. These include four separate meetings of the EAC, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), in which the organisations adopted decisions to advance ongoing regional efforts aimed at addressing the security situation in eastern DRC. Xia may also refer to the 11th high-level meeting of the Regional Oversight Mechanism (ROM) of the PSC-F, which was held in Bujumbura, Burundi, on 6 May, and the quadripartite summit between the EAC, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the ICGLR, and SADC held in Luanda, Angola, on 27 June to coordinate and harmonise the ongoing regional initiatives. (For more information, see the brief on the Great Lakes region in our October 2023 Monthly Forecast.)
Council members have been expressing concern about the role of illicit exploitation of, and trade in, natural resources as a driver of conflict in the DRC and the region. They support the implementation of the UN Strategy for Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region, which was developed by the Office of the Special Envoy; one of the strategy’s key priorities is promoting sustainable and transparent management of natural resources, as well as trade and investment. At tomorrow’s meeting, Xia may highlight the work that his office has done to encourage responsible investment in the mining sector, taking into account the increasing demand for critical minerals, particularly those used to fuel battery and electric vehicles, to spur structural economic transformation in the region. He may also refer to a regional forum that his office organised jointly with the ICGLR and the Congolese government in Kinshasa between 12 and 15 September, which discussed the implementation of a regional mineral tracking system to provide a sustainable solution to responsible artisanal gold trade in the region.
Council members are supportive of addressing the root causes and drivers of conflict in the Great Lakes region through a comprehensive regional approach. During negotiations on the 16 October presidential statement on the situation in the DRC, however, the Council’s three African members (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique) sought to remove references to regional initiatives under the auspices of the EAC and the ICGLR, including the EACRF. Other members such as the US have urged the Council to avoid endorsing the EACRF without appropriate safeguards to address human rights, accountability, and command-and-control concerns. (For more information, see our 13 October What’s in Blue story.)
The other divisive issue among Council members is the tense relationship between the DRC and Rwanda. Reports of the Group of Experts assisting the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee have implicated Rwanda for supporting the M23 and the DRC for supporting the FDLR. France and the US have been vocal on this issue and other members have also referenced it in their interventions since the Council’s visiting mission to the DRC in March. In August, the US announced its decision to impose sanctions on six individuals who it said have contributed to the most recent escalation of conflict in eastern DRC. On 27 September, France, the UK, and the US jointly proposed designating one individual belonging to the M23 and another belonging to the FDLR under the 1533 DRC sanctions regime. Several months earlier, Rwanda had also proposed names for designation, but it seems that Council members have not yet agreed to designate the individuals proposed by Rwanda. At a 28 September Council meeting on the DRC, the country’s Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula said that his government has also submitted names of persons identified in the Group of Experts report for designation under the sanctions regime.