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Great Lakes Region: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (24 April), 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 was circulated to members on 29 March and covered the period from 16 September 2023 to 15 March. An OCHA representative will also brief the Council, focusing on the humanitarian situation in the region, particularly in eastern DRC. The Maltese presidency intends to include a focus on the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda (WPS) agenda as part of its implementation of the  Shared Commitments on WPS, an initiative through which several Council members have pledged to make WPS a “top priority” during their respective Council Presidencies. In particular, Malta would like to highlight the role of women in peace processes and has invited a woman civil society representative from the region to brief. Regional countries may also participate in tomorrow’s meeting under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Council members that have signed on to the Shared Commitments on WPS—Ecuador, France, Guyana, Japan, Malta, the Republic of Korea, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Switzerland, the UK, and the US—are expected to read a joint statement ahead of the meeting. The civil society representative is also expected to deliver remarks at the stakeout.

Xia is likely to focus on the deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC with the intensification of the ongoing fighting between the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) and the M23 rebel group in North Kivu in recent months. Armed militias known locally as “Wazalendo” (patriots) have joined forces with the FARDC in the conflict. The Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), implicated in the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis, also remains active. Xia may describe the increasing regional tensions, including the continued mutual accusations between DRC and Rwanda over alleged support for proxies in the conflict. In this regard, the DRC accuses Rwanda of supporting the M23, while Rwanda accuses DRC of supporting FDLR—assertions that have been corroborated by the reports of the Group of Experts assisting the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee. The military activities of other foreign armed groups operating in eastern DRC are also a major factor in stoking regional tensions. In this regard, Xia may refer to the cross-border attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) affiliated Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and the Résistance pour un État de Droit au Burundi (RED Tabara) in Uganda and Burundi, respectively.

Relations between Rwanda and Burundi have been especially strained after Burundi decided in January to close its border with Rwanda, accusing it of supporting Burundian armed groups—an allegation Rwanda has denied. The Secretary-General’s report also mentions the tension between DRC and Kenya following a 15 December 2023 press conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in which a new Congolese political coalition known as the Alliance Fleuve Congo (AFC), reportedly composed of several armed groups, including the M23, was announced. This appears to have complicated the Nairobi process, the regional initiative under the auspices of the East African Community (EAC). The Congolese government has repeatedly stated its unwillingness to engage in dialogue with the M23, opting instead to engage directly with Rwanda. With the formation of the new AFC coalition, the M23 is also unwilling to engage in dialogue with the Congolese government, according to the Secretary-General’s report.

Even though the Nairobi process has been stuck for some time, South Sudanese President and current Chair of the EAC Salva Kiir Mayardit visited Burundi, Rwanda, and DRC in an effort to ease regional tensions. He also visited Angola to coordinate efforts with President João Lourenço, who is leading another regional initiative known as the Luanda process. Lourenço convened a mini-summit on the margins of the AU summit in Addis Ababa in February to de-escalate tensions between DRC and Rwanda. Subsequently, he held separate conversations with DRC’s President Félix Tshisekedi and Rwanda’s 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, but at the time of writing, no specific date has been announced.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Xia may speak about his series of meetings with various regional leaders to promote dialogue and support the Nairobi and Luanda processes. He may also refer to ongoing discussions on the revitalisation of the PSC-F in line with the decision of the 11th Regional Oversight Mechanism (ROM) held in Burundi in May 2023. The next ROM meeting, to be hosted by Uganda this year, is expected to consider the recommendations of an independent assessment report on the revitalisation of the PSC-F. Xia may explain the outcome of the 10th meeting of the guarantor institutions of the PSC Framework—namely the UN, AU, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC)—which was held on 15 April in Nairobi to discuss this matter, among other things.

Additionally, Xia may allude to the quadripartite process initiated in June last year under AU auspices to enhance coordination and harmonisation of regional initiatives in respect of the eastern DRC. The quadripartite process involves the EAC, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), ICGLR, and SADC. The first quadripartite summit, held on 27 June 2023, agreed on a joint framework to promote coherence among the existing initiatives of the four regional mechanisms with a clear division of responsibilities and timelines. In its 4 March communiqué, the AU Peace and Security Council requested the AU Commission to convene a second quadripartite summit to follow up on the implementation of commitments made during the first summit.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Xia may describe the work of his office in support of the Contact and Coordination Group (CCG) set up by countries of the region in 2021 to implement non-military measures to address the situation in eastern DRC. In this regard, Xia may mention the meeting of the CCG which was held in Dar-es-Salaam on 13-14 December 2023. This was followed by the sixth meeting of the Heads of Intelligence and Security Services of regional countries on 15 December 2023, which according to the Secretary-General’s report, concluded with the adoption of a new action plan for the CCG prioritising continued engagement with negative forces towards their voluntary disarmament and repatriation.

Xia may also highlight ongoing efforts to implement the UN Strategy for Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention, and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region developed by his office. One of the strategy’s key priorities is promoting sustainable and transparent management of natural resources, as well as trade and investment. The growing demand for critical minerals continues to complicate the security situation in eastern DRC, with the involvement of armed groups and criminal networks in the exploitation and trade of natural resources. In their December 2023 mid-term report, the Group of Experts described how the Wazalendo armed groups’ control of mining sites in Rubaya, North Kivu, compromised the tin, tantalum, and tungsten supply chain. The Secretary-General’s report notes the progress in implementing the outcome of the high-level workshop on natural resources, which was held in Khartoum in September 2021, particularly on the domestication of the Regional Initiative against the illegal exploitation of Natural Resources (RINR). The report particularly mentions the launch by Uganda of the regional Certificate for 3TG (Tin, Tantalum, Tungsten, and Gold) to formalise the mining and trade of artisanal gold.

At tomorrow’s meeting, the OCHA representative may draw attention to the dire humanitarian situation in eastern DRC, which OCHA has characterised as the second-largest displacement crisis in the world after Sudan. More than 6.5 million people have been internally displaced due to the ongoing conflict and violence in eastern DRC. “In 2024, more than 25.4 million people—a quarter of the population—require assistance, with the most urgent humanitarian needs concentrated in the eastern provinces, severely hit by violence and insecurity”, according to OCHA. The 2024 humanitarian response plan for DRC aims to mobilise 2.6 billion US dollars, targeting ten million people in need, but as at 15 March, it was reportedly only 14 percent funded.

The civil society representative may shed light on the situation of women and girls who are bearing the brunt of the ongoing conflict and violence in eastern DRC. In particular, protection concerns of women and girls have increased markedly amid the heightened hostilities in North Kivu. In other provinces as well, women and girls have been targeted by various armed groups, resulting in numerous cases of sexual and gender-based violence. In the context of the ongoing regional peace initiatives, she may call for women’s effective participation in the Nairobi and Luanda processes. Tomorrow, several Council members are likely to echo these messages. In particular, some may highlight food insecurity as a factor in exacerbating the risk of conflict-related sexual violence and call for accountability. Members may also stress the importance of women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in all relevant political processes.

Additionally, Xia may highlight the work of his office in advancing the WPS agenda. Among other things, he may note his office’s support for regional efforts aimed at strengthening protection measures to ensure the safety and security of women and girls. He may also mention his office’s support for sensitisation campaigns against gender-based violence to promote the role of women in peace processes and the development of a Gender Barometer for the Great Lakes region to monitor progress in the implementation of the WPS agenda.

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