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The UN Security Council discusses the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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On Friday, March 14, the United Nations Security Council heard a briefing from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Martin Kobler (statement here) and Special Envoy Mary Robinson (video here). Both presented reports by the Secretary-General on MONUSCO and the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework. Following their remarks, Ambassador of Rwanda Eugène-Richard Gasana (full transcript here) and Ambassador of Congo Ignace Gata Mavita wa Lufuta took the floor, as well.  The Council then held consultations behind closed doors, debating the extension of MONUSCO’s mandate ending on March 31.

What follows is a quick overview of what was being discussed.

The Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region (PSCF)

Signed in February 2013, the PSCF spells out commitments on the international, regional and national level to achieve lasting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. At the international level, a meeting was held on March 5-6 to finalize benchmarks for the implementation of the international commitments (draft here). At the regional level, signatories to the peace agreement approved a Plan of Action for the implementation of the regional commitments. In other positive news, the Regional Oversight Mechanism endorsed Robinson’s initiative to organize, together with the ICGLR, a private sector investment forum later this year.

At the national level, however, problems remain. Nine months following its establishment, the national oversight mechanism has no rules of procedure, limited resources and its members only met once. Consequently, Robinson told the Council that the mechanism needs to be “strengthened.” In April, the government and the peacekeeping mission will meet to elaborate and refine the national benchmarks.

Earlier progress reports by the UN Secretary-General on the PSCF can be found here, here, and here. In 2013, the Enough Project together with other organizations released two open letters (here and here), calling for robust commitments of the PSCF.

Security situation

During the preceding three months, the security situation deteriorated in North and South Kivu, Maniema, Orientale as well as Katanga provinces. Together with the Force Intervention Brigade, the Congolese army engaged in large-scale combat with the ADF  and APCLS rebel groups and confronted Mai Mai Sheka and the FDLR. In Katanga, the rebel group Bakata Katanga burnt 600 houses since October, displacing 50,000. With the total number of internally displaced people increased by 200,000, the humanitarian situation remains “precarious,” according to the UN Secretary-General. Against this backdrop, Kobler called for more active presence in Ituri, South Kivu and Katanga.

FDLR

With a certain measure of delay, operations against the FDLR rebel group commenced on March 9. In his address to the Security Council last Friday, Ambassador of Rwanda Gansa argued, however, that these are merely “propaganda operations,” dismissing MONUSCO’s caution about civilian collateral damage as unfounded. He further asserted that the rebels are engaged in “enhancing collaboration with FARDC especially at operation level,” enabling FDLR “to refit, re-arm, share intelligence, have freedom of action and free passage for infiltration and terror attacks in Rwanda.” The Ambassador of Congo strongly rejected the claims, adding that Congolese are bearing the brunt of atrocities committed by the FDLR.  In its report in January 2014, the UN Group of Experts could only establish collaboration at the local level.

Together with Fidel Bafilemba, I recently recommended a comprehensive strategy toward neutralizing the FDLR in an op-ed as well as lengthier report.

M23

In her address to the Security Council, Robinson rightly lamented that the undetermined fate of approximately 2,000 ex-combatants of M23 in Rwanda and Uganda remains a serious problem. Earlier, the Secretary-General argued that this remains a “complicating factor in the building of confidence” in the region. Consequently, she urged all invested parties to quickly implement the provisions of the Nairobi declarations that spell out a roadmap for dealing with ex-M23 elements.

Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR)

Kobler rightfully said that a failure of implementing swiftly a DDR plan would be a “serious setback.” Echoing similar remarks made earlier by the Secretary-General, Robinson added that “DDR needs immediate traction,” lamenting that the program remains stalled because of a lack of agreed approach and funding plan. In a recent report, open letter, policy alert and discussions with the media, the Enough Project urged authorities to implement without further delay a viable and effective national strategy on DDR.

Security Sector Reform (SSR)

Following Kobler’s expressed concerns over the stalling reform process, Robinson pressed that SSR has to be “more of a priority.” Security sector reform is a long and daunting challenge but one that must be taken to address a root cause of the prevailing insecurity. Sharing their opinion, the Enough Project repeatedly called for a comprehensive overhaul of the security sector, including in a comprehensive report and the media.

Elections

In the forthcoming years, Congo is scheduled to hold a series of elections at the local and provincial level, holding in 2016 legislative and presidential elections. Earlier presidential elections in 2011 were marred by irregularities, the curtailment of the freedom of press and the blatant abuse by security forces. While a roadmap for the electoral cycle has already been released, the President of the Electoral Commission remains a very controversial figure, sparking repeated protests by the opposition. With discussions ongoing, Kobler rightly expressed his concern about the lack of freedom of movement of opposition leaders, referring implicitly to Congolese politician Vital Kamerhe whose travel was recently obstructed and public speech violently dispersed by the police. Kobler promised to use his good offices to support the elections.

Justice

In matters of justice, Envoy Robinson congratulated President Kabila for the passing of an amnesty law for rebel elements and welcomed the proposal for the establishment of mixed courts. Nonetheless, impunity still prevails and the Congolese justice system needs serious reforms, as recently argued by the US State Department. For more on the topic of justice, consult Enough Project’s report and recent op-ed.

Stabilization

Kobler also discussed his concept of “Islands of Stability” as one modality to operationalize the so-called International Security and Stabilization Support Strategy (ISSSS), which seeks to stabilize areas freed from armed groups in North- and South-Kivu and Province Orientale. To that end, Kobler is currently modernizing the peacekeeping mission to allow for more flexible and mobile operations. However, the idea of “Islands of Stability” is not without criticism (see for example Doctors without Borders and Christoph Vogel).

Way forward

Kobler’s and Robinson’s address to the Council had a fair measure of realistic optimism, recognizing both hard-won achievements such as the defeat of M23 and continuing challenges. Unfortunately,  the session was also a testament to the continuing political bickering between Rwanda and Congo. Both traded accusations, mirroring an earlier briefing on January 30 during which Gasana accused Congo of “crying like small babies,” while his Congolese pendant Lufuta argued that Rwanda’s “arrogant behavior must stop.”

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