What's In Blue

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (27 March), 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 DRC and Rwanda are 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 circulated to Council members on 20 March and covers the period from 1 December 2023 to 19 March (S/2024/251). She is likely to speak about the political situation in the country following the general elections that took place on 20 December 2023.

The Secretary-General’s report notes that the electoral process was marked by irregularities, including malfunctioning voting machines, incomplete electoral lists, and fraud. The aftermath of the elections also saw protests organised by the opposition in the capital, Kinshasa, which turned violent. The opposition appealed to the constitutional court, contesting the election results, but the court confirmed the re-election of President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi on 9 January. This paved the way for him to be sworn in for a second term on 20 January at a ceremony attended by regional leaders.

The deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC is likely to be a major focus of tomorrow’s meeting. The Secretary-General’s report provides details, with figures and charts, of human rights abuses and crimes, particularly against women and children, committed by armed groups operating in eastern DRC. It also highlights the dire humanitarian situation, as six million people are currently internally displaced in eastern DRC due to the heightened insecurity.

Keita may highlight the situation in North Kivu, where fighting continues between the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC), supported by allied militias known locally as Wazalendo, and the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23). The Secretary-General’s report notes that the M23 has expanded its territorial control, advancing towards Goma, the provincial capital. The Congolese government has deployed attack helicopters, bomber aircraft, and armed drones to target the advancing M23 forces. The report further mentions the M23’s acquisition of sophisticated weaponry, including mobile air defence systems. This development has coincided with the loss of two FARDC combat drones and a recent attack on a bomber aircraft stationed at Goma airport, according to the report. Council members received two white notes from the UN Secretariat in February describing some of these developments.

Keita might discuss MONUSCO’s ongoing support to the FARDC as part of Operation Springbok, which was launched in November 2023 to protect Goma. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the mission has faced direct and indirect attacks from all sides, including the M23, which has demanded that MONUSCO cease its support to the FARDC. Eight peacekeepers were wounded in a recent incident around Sake, a town near Goma, during fighting between the M23 and the FARDC, according to a 16 March statement by Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq. The Secretary-General’s MONUSCO report also references a 25 February incident in which the FARDC and allied militias fired at a MONUSCO logistics convoy and notes that the M23, as well as the FARDC and allied militias, have impeded MONUSCO’s freedom of movement on several occasions during the reporting period.

The FARDC has also been receiving support from the regional force deployed in eastern DRC by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the SADC Mission in the DRC (SAMIDRC), which has an offensive mandate. The Secretary-General’s report indicates that SAMIDRC has been supporting the FARDC militarily in the ongoing fight against the M23 through added firepower. On 4 March, the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) met to receive a briefing on the SAMIDRC’s deployment and exchanged views on how to support the effective implementation of its mandate. In a 3 March letter addressed to the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Rwanda reportedly expressed serious concerns about the deployment of SAMIDRC, arguing that it is not a neutral force.

Nevertheless, the AUPSC endorsed the deployment of SAMIDRC and asked the Security Council in an 11 March letter to “provide the required material and financial resources to enable SAMIDRC to effectively discharge its mandate” and expressed hope that its request would be favourably considered. In resolution 2717 of 19 December 2023, which renewed MONUSCO’s mandate, the Security Council indicated that it would 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 that would include recommendations on the matter. Although the DRC may want to see the Council act quickly on the matter, Council members might prefer to await the Secretary-General’s June report before responding to the request by SADC and the AU.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Keita may allude to the extraordinary summit of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation held on 23 March in Lusaka, Zambia, which, among other things, received a progress report on SAMIDRC. In a communiqué issued after the meeting, the summit conveyed its disapproval of Rwanda’s letter regarding SAMIDRC and reiterated that its decision to deploy the mission was made in line with the SADC Mutual Defence Pact, which says that “an armed attack against one shall be deemed a threat to regional peace and security”.

The deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC continues to fuel regional tensions. The escalating tensions between DRC and Rwanda have been a particular concern for Council members; another matter of concern is the growing tension between Burundi and Rwanda, which are referred to in the Secretary-General’s report. At tomorrow’s meeting, Keita may speak about regional efforts aimed at de-escalating these tensions and refer to the mini-summit convened by Angolan President Joao Lourenço on the margins of the February AU Summit in Addis Ababa to facilitate direct talks between the DRC and Rwanda. Keita may also mention Lourenço’s continued diplomatic engagement in Luanda, where he met with Tshisekedi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame on 27 February and 11 March, respectively. Both leaders reportedly agreed in principle to meet for direct talks in a tripartite format under the auspices of Angola’s mediation. These talks are expected to take place in Luanda in April.

Keita may allude to the outcome of the ministerial meeting held in Luanda on March 21 to pave the way for the tripartite summit. According to a report of the meeting, which has not been made public, the Congolese and Rwandese delegations have apparently reached a convergence of views on several key points, including a commitment to the regional initiatives known as the Nairobi and Luanda processes, a cessation of hostilities entailing a supervised ceasefire alongside the disengagement of forces, and the implementation by the DRC of a neutralisation plan for the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), an armed group operating in eastern DRC and implicated in the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis. Subsequently, Rwanda will review the recent measures it has put in place to ensure its defence and security. (In an 18 February press statement, Rwanda announced its decision to adjust its security posture, alleging that DRC poses a threat to its security.) In the meantime, both countries committed themselves to confidence-building measures to de-escalate tensions, including reducing hostile rhetoric and hate speech.

Disagreements apparently remain between the two delegations concerning the implementation of the cessation of hostilities, however. The Congolese side seems to have stressed that the disengagement of forces entails the withdrawal of the Rwandan defence forces from Congolese territory. On the other hand, Rwanda has apparently maintained that the cessation of hostilities entails a supervised ceasefire between the FARDC and the M23, coupled with a process of disengagement of forces. The ministerial delegations are expected to meet again in Luanda ahead of the tripartite summit in April. Keita may also refer to the efforts by South Sudanese President and current Chair of the East African Community (EAC) Salva Kiir Mayardit, who visited Burundi, the DRC, and Rwanda recently in an effort to ease regional tensions.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Keita is likely to update Council members on the implementation of MONUSCO’s disengagement plan, which was agreed with the Congolese government and endorsed by the Council pursuant to resolution 2717. She may focus on the mission’s efforts to withdraw from South Kivu in line with the disengagement plan and highlight the outcome of the joint assessment mission conducted from 26 February to 1 March by MONUSCO, the UN Country Team, and representatives of the Congolese government to assess progress in this regard. In order to decide on the next steps of MONUSCO’s drawdown and withdrawal, Council members may also wish to await the joint report of the UN and the DRC on the implementation of the disengagement plan, which is expected to be submitted by the end of June, pursuant to resolution 2717.

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