DR Congo: political tensions ‘running high’ ahead of 2016 elections, UN officials warn

Election day in Bunia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 28 November 2011. Photo: MONUSCO

7 October 2015 – The top United Nations official in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) told the UN Security Council today that he cannot say with certainty whether the progress attained in the country is sustainable, or whether violence will erupt again and reverse what has been achieved so far.

“The political situation in the DRC is increasingly marked by the electoral process [and] political tensions are running high ahead of the 2016 presidential and legislative polls,” said Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the country, who was joined today by UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region Said Djinnit.

“The conduct of peaceful, timely and credible elections in November 2016 would send a clear message to the world that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a nation that respects its Constitution, a nation keen on a peaceful transition of power, a nation that will consolidate peace,” Mr. Kobler continued, highlighting elements from the latest report of the Secretary-General.

To ensure transparent and inclusive elections, he appealed to the Government of the DRC to immediately address open questions related to the sequencing of the electoral calendar, its budget, and updating the voter registry to include eligible individuals who turned 18 since the last election in 2011.

On the issue of human rights in the country, Mr. Kobler said more than 2,200 violations affecting 5,400 victims have taken place this year so far. “Half of these abuses were still committed by State agents. Despite repeated calls, there has been limited progress in bringing senior perpetrators to justice,” he stated.

Meanwhile, he informed the Security Council that, in some parts of eastern DRC, refugees are gradually returning home but the population remains “wary of a fragile peace that still needs to be consolidated.” He recalled that when he first arrived in the Congo in August 2013, Goma was recovering from a takeover by the M23 rebel group – but after two years, the situation had changed.

“In August 2015, I flew into a newly-renovated airport in Goma with a major international airline,” explained Mr. Kobler, who is also head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO).

“The slow return of investors is a sure sign of improving stability and security in the city. In some islands of stability in the East, the state has demonstrated its ability to enhance the presence of the army and police, while a justice system is being established and basic services delivered.”

Although the M23 is now defeated, Mr. Kobler underlined that military success alone is not durable. “M23 ex-combatants still sojourn in camps in Rwanda and Uganda. All efforts of reintegration on the basis of the Nairobi Declaration [2013 agreement ending hostilities] have not succeeded thus far. This is a time bomb that must be urgently defused.”

In addition, he informed the Security Council that the Ugandan armed rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have also been weakened, and highlighted that the “brave combat of the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) and the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces have resulted in the gradual return of 80,000 refugees since early 2014.

“Further West in the Beni area, however, the population continues to experience the anguish of armed conflict. The 440 terror victims in one year alone speak a clear language. The ADF is far from being defeated,” he reported, adding that one victim is too many.

Regarding the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a group mainly composed of remnant Rwandan Hutu rebels, Mr. Kobler said their existence “remains one of the most important hindrance to peace in Eastern DRC.” He welcomed the criminal convictions and long prison terms recently handed down against two FDLR leaders by a court in Germany.

“The only efficient solutions to address the security situation are joint MONUSCO-FARDC operations,” he insisted. “In my last briefing to you, I urged [DRC] President Kabila to give the green light for joint operations. Unfortunately, the green light has not yet been given. I again call on the President to instruct the FARDC to resume cooperation which produced so many positive results in the past.”

Turning to the gradual drawdown and exit of MONUSCO from the DRC, Mr. Kobler insisted that the UNs’ commitment to the population remains steadfast, and that the Mission “cannot, and must not, exit hastily.”

Meanwhile, in light of recent allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel within some of the Organization’s peace operations, Mr. Kobler echoed the United Nations Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy, underlining that prevention and accountability “should become engrained in the modus operandi.”

He also voiced “deep concern” about the degradation of the environment and the deforestation of the Congolese rainforest, noting that “the DRC’s natural resources are a blessing.”

This was Martin Kobler’s last briefing to the 15-member body in this capacity, as the end of his term as Special Representative of the Secretary General in the DRC is nearing.

In his remarks, Mr. Djinnit expressed concern about tensions related to the electoral process, as well as the persistence of armed groups in the eastern DRC and acts of violence they commit against particular populations.

“These negative forces and perpetuate tensions and maintain a climate of mistrust in the region. Neutralization remains undoubtedly a need for the DRC as part of its efforts to consolidate State authority throughout the country and ensure the safety of citizens and their property," Mr. Djinnit explained.

While he praised the operations conducted by the FARDC against the armed groups in country’s restive eastern region, he stressed that such operations benefit from being strengthened by the full support of MONUSCO and its intervention brigade, calling for a resumption of joint operations between FARDC and MONUSCO against all armed groups.

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