What's In Blue

Posted Mon 12 Feb 2024

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Closed Consultations

This afternoon (12 February), Security Council members will hold closed consultations, at France’s request, on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix is expected to brief on his recent visit to the DRC from 1-7 February. Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance Catherine Pollard and Special Coordinator for Improving UN Response to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Christian Saunders accompanied Lacroix on the visit. Their visit appears to have focused on several key issues, including the security situation in eastern DRC, the gradual and responsible drawdown of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), and the fight against sexual exploitation and abuse. The three UN officials briefed Council members on 21 November 2023 during “any other business” in consultations, at the request of the US, to discuss reported allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by MONUSCO contingents. (For more information, see our What’s in Blue story of 20 November 2023.)

During their visit, Lacroix, Pollard, and Saunders engaged with Congolese authorities and other political stakeholders in Kinshasa, while also travelling to eastern DRC, including Goma, Beni, and Bukavu. In these regions, they held a series of meetings with provincial authorities, civil society representatives, MONUSCO civilian and uniformed personnel, and the South African Development Community Mission in the DRC (SAMIDRC).

In today’s session, Lacroix is expected to reference discussions with DRC President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo in Kinshasa on 6 February. During the meeting, Lacroix underlined the urgent need for the reinforcement of Congolese defence and security forces in Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu—areas from which MONUSCO is expected to withdraw as part of its disengagement from the country, according to a 7 February MONUSCO press release.

In accordance with resolution 2717, MONUSCO is expected to withdraw its forces from South Kivu province by the end of April. In this regard, in today’s meeting, Lacroix may provide an assessment of the progress made in MONUSCO’s disengagement from the province based on his impressions from the field visit to Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu. This assessment will help to inform the Council’s thinking on the next steps of MONUSCO’s “gradual, responsible, and sustainable withdrawal” from the other provinces where the mission is still deployed, namely North Kivu and Ituri, in keeping with resolution 2717.

In recent months, the security situation in North Kivu province has significantly worsened, leading to heightened regional tensions. The escalating conflict between the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) and allied militias, on the one hand, and the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23), on the other, has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in the DRC. According to OCHA, the latest round of fighting has resulted in the displacement of 135,000 people. Reports indicate that the M23 has gained control of several areas and is advancing towards Goma, the capital of North Kivu. In the last few days, fighting has been reported near Sake, a town located 27 kilometers from Goma.

The recent violence has reignited anti-MONUSCO sentiments among the Congolese population. Over the weekend (10-11 February), violent protests erupted in Kinshasa, with MONUSCO being a primary target. The mission reported that several of its vehicles were set ablaze during the demonstrations. Additionally, it appears that Western diplomatic missions in Kinshasa were also targeted. Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the DRC and head of MONUSCO Bintou Keita condemned the weekend attacks in a post on X (formerly Twitter), emphasising that “weakening MONUSCO means strengthening the negative forces that it is fighting alongside its Congolese partners.”  In July 2022, MONUSCO’s premises in Goma faced similar violence during protests following an escalation of conflict in North Kivu.

MONUSCO has been actively engaged in joint operations with the FARDC, known as Operation Springbok, initiated in November 2023 to safeguard Sake and Goma. The joint operations have faced security challenges. In one recent incident, a MONUSCO helicopter, conducting a medical evacuation, came under attack by “suspected M23 armed group elements,” resulting in injuries to two UN peacekeepers, according to a 2 February MONUSCO press release. MONUSCO peacekeepers reportedly engaged in combat with M23 forces during recent clashes around Sake, aimed at halting their advance. In response to the escalating situation, the mission announced in an X post that it had deployed additional rapid reaction forces to secure the main roads leading to Goma and Sake.

During his recent visit to the DRC, Lacroix urged the M23 to cease its offensive in eastern DRC immediately and adhere to the Luanda Roadmap, an outcome of the regional initiative under the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), known as the Luanda process. Furthermore, he expressed solidarity with the affected populations and reaffirmed MONUSCO’s commitment to fulfilling its mandate of protecting civilians.

In Goma, the UN delegation held discussions with SAMIDRC Force Commander, General Dyakopu Monwabisi, stressing the importance of collaboration between MONUSCO and SAMIDRC in assisting the FARDC. SAMIDRC—comprised of troops from Malawi, South Africa, and Tanzania—has been deployed in North Kivu since December 2023. It replaced the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF), which ceased operations upon the expiration of its mandate on 8 December 2023. The Congolese government decided not to extend the EACRF’s mandate as apparently it was disappointed by its inability to neutralise the M23. On 22 November 2023, SADC formally requested UN assistance for SAMIDRC, including the provision of facilities, equipment, air asset services, medical support, and information and intelligence sharing, among other forms of support.

In December 2023, when renewing MONUSCO’s mandate, the Council indicated its intention to evaluate the circumstances under which “limited logistical and operational assistance could be provided to an AU-mandated regional force deployed within MONUSCO’s operational area, in alignment with MONUSCO’s mandate and within existing resources”. It further requested the Secretary-General to submit a report in June, including his recommendations on this matter. During the meeting with Monwabisi, Lacroix indicated that MONUSCO is currently exploring possibilities for providing limited operational and logistical support to SAMIDRC. He added that the nature of this support, as well as the modalities, will be determined by the Council in due course.

During today’s meeting, Council members are likely to express serious concerns regarding the escalating security situation in eastern DRC. They may urge all conflicting parties to uphold their commitments under the framework of regional initiatives facilitated by the East African Community and the ICGLR. Additionally, there could be calls for the reactivation of these initiatives to address the deteriorating security conditions through diplomatic dialogue.

Council members are also likely to condemn the recent attack on the MONUSCO helicopter in North Kivu and the vandalism of the mission’s property in Kinshasa. In this context, they are expected to reiterate their continued support for MONUSCO peacekeepers in carrying out their mandated tasks, particularly in protecting civilians. Furthermore, Council members may express deep concerns over the escalating humanitarian crisis, marked by a significant displacement of people due to recent hostilities, and call for the urgent mobilisation of humanitarian support to assist those affected.

Council members will be looking for updates from Lacroix on MONUSCO’s ongoing disengagement process and his discussions with Congolese authorities on this matter. Moreover, members may note the withdrawal of the EACRF and the deployment of SAMIDRC in North Kivu, while stressing the need for enhanced coordination between bilateral and regional forces and MONUSCO, as well as full compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law. Lastly, Council members may look forward to the Secretary-General’s forthcoming report, due in June, which is expected to include recommendations on potential limited operational and logistical support by MONUSCO for regional forces.

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