Great Lakes Special Envoy Stresses Need to ‘Neutralize’ Armed Groups in East
After 15 years of international efforts, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had emerged from civil war into a unified country, with a clear, shared and celebrated identity, and free of much of the terror of armed groups, the United Nations most senior official in that country told the Security Council today in a message laced with caution that the overall security situation was not still stable, let alone irreversible.
“Many still live in fear of rape, fear of attack, fear of being robbed of already meagre possessions,” Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) told the 15-member body. More needed to be done to reduce the threat from armed groups and violence against civilians to a level that could be effectively managed by national institutions and to achieve stability through functional and accountable State institutions and strengthened democratic practices.
MONUSCO would not stay in that country forever and looked forward to the day when it could transfer development support to the United Nations Country Team, he said. However, any exit should be gradual and progressive and tied to specific targets to be jointly developed by the Government and MONUSCO. “We should, therefore, aim to consolidate peace and leave behind a peaceful Congo on the path to prosperity,” he said.
The greatest threat to peace and security in the Great Lakes Region remained the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and operations against them were jointly planned by MONUSCO and the Democratic Republic of the Congo Armed Forces. However, the appointment of officers who formerly led units with a credible history of human rights violations compelled MONUSCO to suspend its participation in and support of the operations under their command. There was a clear perception of a policy of non-cooperation, effectively marginalizing MONUSCO in fulfilling its mandate. The Mission was fully committed to fighting the FDLR and was also committed to respecting human rights due diligence policy.
For peace to be sustainable, more than military actions were needed, he said. Understanding and addressing the root cause of the conflict was essential to disrupting the persistent cycle of violence. He urged the Congolese Government to reset relations with the Mission on the basis of mutual trust.
Describing the upcoming elections as a pivotal moment in the country’s history, he expressed MONUSCO’s readiness to support the exercise logistically, technically and with its good offices. All relevant parties were responsible for an environment conducive to holding a free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful and timely electoral process. In that context, he expressed concern at the recent arrest of 40 civil society actors.
In his briefing, Said Djinnit, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to the Great Lakes Region, said the area remained at a crossroads two years after the signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region. The crises in the Central African Republic and South Sudan provided a reminder that the region remained vulnerable.
Despite notable progress in the promotion of peace and security, significant challenges remained in the region. Armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo acted against women and children, illegally exploited natural resources and sowed suspicion among countries, and must be neutralized, he said.
His Office was involved in implementation of the Nairobi Declaration, including repatriation of M23 fighters, adding that everything must be done to “turn the page” on that rebellion. He urged MONUSCO and the Congolese Government to strengthen participation through structured strategic dialogue in order to combat the FDLR.
Stressing the need for improved cooperation among countries in the region to end suspicions and boost partnership, Mr. Djinnit reiterated his preparedness to support efforts in that regard. The region was in a crucial election cycle and he was making efforts to encourage the holding of peaceful, open and transparent elections as opportunities to promote peace and stability.
Welcoming the numerous development cooperation initiatives under way in the region, he said his Office was working towards promoting public-private partnerships to strengthen the prospects for peace. The participation of civil society and women’s organizations were crucial in ending instability and facilitating implementation of the Framework and efforts were being made to establish a regional coalition of those groups.
The regional context called for appropriate regional governance structures and monitoring mechanisms that would maintain the momentum for effectively carrying out commitments, and his Office would hold consultations with the African Union and other co-guarantors of the Framework in that regard. Sustaining the momentum of the Framework Agreement required the commitment of the signatory countries and concerned stakeholders, he said, calling for the Council’s continued engagement and support.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region had made considerable progress in recovering from the tragedies of the past, but they were yet to achieve irreversible progress for lasting peace, he concluded.
Raymond Tshibanda N’Tungamulongo, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that for 65 years, his country’s relationship with the United Nations had often been “exemplary”. While today it was experiencing difficulties, the relationship had safeguarded his country’s territorial integrity. They were obliged to work as a team, in a spirit of dialogue and mutual respect — to which the Democratic Republic of the Congo would remain faithful.
Turning to the strategic review, he said that when the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) had arrived in 1999, almost half the territory was insecure, out of State control and divided into as many semi-autonomous territories as there were rebel groups. Today, there were “pockets” of insecurity caused by Ugandan and Rwandan rebels. Everywhere else “peace and security reigned”. State authority was exercised over almost all of the territory, with gross domestic product increasing by 9.5 per cent in 2014. The army was “in full reconstruction”, he said, having defeated M23 and almost neutralized the Islamic Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADF-NALU).
While his Government was grateful to the United Nations in helping to achieve those results, he said the time had come for his country to fully assume responsibility for the security for its people. He requested the Council to respect that legitimate aspiration, which went hand in hand with the notion of national sovereignty.
On security sector reform, he said the rapid reaction force had largely achieved its work. He regretted that MONUSCO had not participated in work to disarm the FDLR. That was not the fault of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and his Government had taken note of the Mission’s decision. There were no issues with regard to human rights, as one third of the prison population was comprised of defence and security forces, which would not have been the case if the Government was not taking action.
Despite the suspension of the Mission’s cooperation, Congolese forces had launched military operations against the FDLR, he said, noting that 200 combatants had been arrested and that former strongholds had been liberated. The Government’s determination to eradicate that “negative force” would not cease until it achieved that goal. In the north-east, Ugandan rebels attacked villages and Congolese forces were searching for them. In addition, the Government had organized national talks and issued an amnesty order in favour of former M23 rebels. Of the 1,678 former rebels that had taken refuge in Uganda and the 453 others in Rwanda, 778 had benefited from the amnesty law.
“We are prepared to enter into a strategic commitment with the United Nations” on all such issues, he said, before the Council made a decision. The professionalism of the Congolese Armed Forces explained the pursuit of a successive reduction in MONUSCO’s troop strength. He anticipated his Government would soon put forward proposals to the Council in that regard.
The meeting began at 10:13 a.m. and ended at 11:03 a.m.