Investment, Anti-poverty Steps, Strong Leadership Key to Crafting Prosperous Future in Great Lakes Region, Speakers Tell Security Council

SC/12294
21 March 2016
7653rd Meeting (AM)

Investment, Anti-poverty Steps, Strong Leadership Key to Crafting Prosperous Future in Great Lakes Region, Speakers Tell Security Council

Secretary-General Launches Regional Strategic Framework as Members Hear from United Nations, African Union World Bank Officials

Investment, strong leadership, as well as sustained support for State-building and tackling poverty were critical ingredients in crafting a peaceful, prosperous future for countries of Africa’s Great Lakes, the Security Council heard today during an open debate marking the official launch of the United Nations Regional Strategic Framework for the region.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said the Strategic Framework sought to better align United Nations efforts in the region with the objectives of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region, signed in February 2013.  The Strategic Framework was based on six pillars:  sustainable natural resource management; economic integration, cross-border trade and food nutrition security; mobility; youth and adolescents; gender and sexual and gender-based violence; and justice and conflict prevention.

At issue were major peace and security challenges that had persisted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the wider region, he said, adding that they required continuing attention.  While progress had been made towards stabilizing the country over the last several years, sustained efforts were needed to neutralize all negative forces.  Reiterating that peace and security went hand in hand with human and economic development, he said he was “very pleased” with the success of the Great Lakes Private Sector Investment Conference held in Kinshasa in February.  It had provided Great Lakes leaders with a rare opportunity to engage with private investors and business leaders from around the world in discussing how to improve the region’s business and investment climate.

High-level United Nations and Government officials from the region briefed the Council on existing challenges and ways forward towards a future of peace and stability.  Said Djinnit, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, emphasized that the region still had “a long way to go to achieve long-term stability and development”, with armed groups continuing to kill innocent people and engage in the illegal exploitation of natural resources.  Addressing those and other issues while ending impunity would help long-term peace and stability, he said.

Smail Chergui, the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, emphasized the importance of building upon regional gains and addressing challenges in a coordinated manner.  It was to be hoped that going forward, the outcomes of the Kinshasa Conference would replace hatred and divisiveness with hope for a better future.

Investment was the key to that goal, said Vijay Pillai, Adviser to the World Bank Group’s Vice-President for Africa.  While the Great Lakes region represented a stark example of the economic and human costs of conflict driven by weak institutions, the absence of basic services and economic opportunity, fragile security, ethnic divisions, rapid population growth and competition for natural resources, the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework enjoyed strong international support.

During the ensuing debate, many speakers pledged support for the Strategic Framework as a tool for building upon gains made in the fragile region.  Many others voiced concerns about the elections scheduled for November in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the worrying situation in Burundi, citing reports of violence, unrest, the closure of media outlets and rampant arrests.  Raymond Tshibanda N’tungamulongo, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said the region’s recurring conflicts were the result of moral and political failings on the elite’s part, which had culminated in a selective application of international law.  “The wounds of the past cannot lock us forever in a hopeless situation,” he said, calling for the adoption of policies that would encourage private investment and regional cooperation.

Eugène-Richard Gasana, Rwanda’s Minister of State for Cooperation, said conflict prevention and resolution had become the centrepiece of the work of the United Nations work since the 1994 genocide in his country.  Yet, the Council was still much more focused on crisis management than on prevention.  Early warning mechanisms should guide the body’s work in preventing conflict, he stressed.  Very few efforts had been made to address its root causes in the Great Lakes region, the instability of which was demonstrated by the current situation in Burundi.

On the latter point, Alain Aimé Nyamitwe, Burundi’s Minister for External Relations and International Cooperation, said his country’s complex situation had not warranted the cutting of aid, emphasizing that the Government had taken steps to address pressing concerns at a time when the security situation was improving.  Burundi was currently recovering from a campaign aimed at a violent regime change, and had shown openness in working with the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser.

Also delivering statements were ministers, high-level officials and other speakers representing Angola, United States, Spain, United Kingdom, Malaysia, New Zealand, Egypt, France, Venezuela, Senegal, Japan, Russian Federation, Uruguay, China, Ukraine, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, Italy, Brazil, Belgium, Australia, Switzerland, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Canada, Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Georgia, Republic of Korea, Morocco, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Albania and Thailand, as well as the Holy See, European Union and the International Organization of La Francophonie.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 4:10 p.m.

Briefings

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that significant advances had been made in the 16 years since the initial deployment of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).  They included the withdrawal of foreign armed forces, the reunification of the national territory, the establishment of a transitional Government, the organization of two national elections and the signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Region in February 2013.  The last several years had also seen some progress in stabilizing the security situation in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said, noting that the defeat of the 23 March Movement (M23) and the successful conclusion of the Kampala Dialogue in December 2013 had helped to improve security in the region.

Nonetheless, major peace and security challenges persisted in the country and the region, and required continued attention, he pointed out.  Sustained efforts were required to neutralize all negative forces, including by finding sustainable solutions on the question of former combatants and extending State authority into areas reclaimed from armed groups.  He urged Member States to agree on tangible recommendations to accelerate the disarmament and demobilization of all armed groups still operating in the country, warning that eliminating negative forces would be more challenging if they continued to harvest and trade in natural resources.  Since the illegal exploitation of and trade in natural resources was worth billions of dollars, there was an urgent need to cut that economic lifeline he emphasized.

He went on to express concern over continuing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, saying the sharp increase in intercommunal and interethnic conflicts was an alarming trend that required urgent attention.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone, 7.5 million people were currently in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 1.5 million internally displaced persons.  As the country entered a delicate electoral period, the risk of election-related violence could exacerbate an already grave humanitarian situation, he stressed.  Turning to the situation in Burundi, he noted that more than 1 million people were in need of assistance, including an estimated 25,000 internally displaced persons.  In addition, some 250,000 Burundian refugees were being hosted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Reiterating that peace and security went hand in hand with human and economic development, he said he was “very pleased” with the success of the Great Lakes Private Sector Investment Conference held in Kinshasa in February, adding that it had given Great Lakes leaders a rare opportunity to engage with private investors and business leaders from around the world in discussing how to improve the business and investment climate in the region.  He concluded by noting that today’s meeting marked the official launch of the United Nations Regional Strategic Framework for the Great Lakes Region, which sought to better align the Organization’s efforts there with the objectives of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework.  In fact, progress in implementing the Strategic Framework would contribute greatly to sustainable peace and development in the region, he noted.  It comprised six pillars:  sustainable natural resource management; economic integration, cross-border trade and food nutrition security; mobility; youth and adolescents; gender and sexual and gender-based violence; and justice and conflict prevention.

SAID DJINNIT, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region, said that following the conflicts and political turmoil of the 1990s, there had been substantial progress towards political stability and development.  However, not all segments of society had benefitted equally, and today, many States in the region were engaged in economic, democratic and political reform processes.  But, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other countries in the region had made encouraging progress over the past few years towards implementing their commitments under the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region and the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, “there is still a long way to go to achieve long-term stability and development in the region”.

He went on to emphasize that, despite efforts deployed so far to eradicate negative forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Allied Democratic Forces, the Mai Mai and other groups continued to kill innocent people, commit serious human rights violations, engage in illegal exploitation of natural resources and contribute to the perpetuation of mistrust in the region.  Little progress had been made in repatriating ex-M23 combatants from Rwanda and Uganda, or in implementing the Nairobi Declaration, he noted.  In addition, issues relating to respect for constitutional and electoral processes remained very divisive, generating tensions as in the case of Burundi, where the crisis had reached unacceptable levels of violence, with the attendant human rights abuses and implications for regional cohesion and cooperation.  Durable solutions for the maintenance of international peace, and for conflict prevention in the Great Lakes region, must include social and economic strategies for tackling poverty, creating jobs, especially for youth, fostering economic integration and sharing prosperity within and among the region’s countries, he said.

The recent Great Lakes Private Sector Investment Conference, held in Kinshasa last month, had generated constructive discussions on the need to improve the business climate in the region and promote responsible investments, he said.  The illegal exploitation of natural resources — which remained a critical driver of conflict and a key factor in the proliferation of criminal networks — had featured prominently at the Kinshasa Conference.  He said in that regard that his Office would continue to consult on the idea of convening a forum to review the progress of national, regional and international initiatives on the responsible exploitation of natural resources.  Emphasizing that the region would not enjoy long-term peace and stability if a culture of impunity prevailed and individuals were not held accountable for the crimes they committed, he said the humanitarian situation resulting from the influx of more than 300,000 refugees from Burundi into neighbouring countries was another matter of utmost concern.  He urged the international community to protect refugees and ensure that the situation did not lead to deteriorating relations among neighbouring States and worsening security in the region.

SMAIL CHERGUI, Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union, said the region faced numerous challenges linked to the negative forces that had taken land and other natural resources hostage.  Regional efforts had enjoyed significant progress, including the neutralization of M23 and the recent private sector investment conference.  The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and that country’s Government had made joint efforts to address pressing security challenges and the latest political developments were also a reason for hope.  Applauding the results of recent elections in the region and the agreement signed in South Sudan, he expressed hope that the return of Riek Machar would be forthcoming in the next days.

Yet, the security and humanitarian situation in Burundi was a grave concern, he said, while welcoming the appointment of former President Benjamin Mkapa of the United Republic of Tanzania to oversee mediation efforts.  Observers and military experts had been approved to monitor the situation and restore stability in the country, but attention must be paid to internally displaced persons.  The African Union hoped the electoral process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo would advance, he said.  There was a need for a greater promotion of the rights of women and children in the region, and any type of violence targeting them must end.  Women must be included in peace processes, in harmony with the eternal values of Africa.  Going forward, it was to be hoped that the Kinshasa Conference would replace hatred and divisiveness with hope for a better future.

VIJAY PILLAI, Adviser to the Vice-President, Africa Region, World Bank Group, cited progress made while also underlining the challenges, pointing out that the Great Lakes region represented a stark example of the economic and human costs of conflict driven by weak institutions, the absence of basic services and economic opportunity, fragile security, ethnic divisions, rapid population growth and competition for natural resources.  The situation demonstrated how the absence of peace and stability caused macroeconomic destabilization and rising fiscal deficits, reduced investor appetite and exacerbated the lack of jobs and access to basic services.

The World Bank was acutely aware that peace and stability were essential prerequisites for its support in reducing poverty and expanding opportunities in the region, he said, emphasizing that development required political stability and an absence of conflict.  He recalled that when the leaders of the World Bank and the United Nations had visited the region in 2013, their message had been clear: the international community was committing development resources to support the goals of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework.  The Bank was well advanced in approving regional projects for the $1.2 billion it had committed, and its efforts were helping to tap into regional power generation, facilitating higher and more secure incomes for 100,000 trading communities.  It was also alleviating the misery of thousands of women who had suffered conflict-related sexual abuse and forced displacement, he said.

Statements

GEORGES REBELO PINTO CHIKOTI, Minister for External Relations of Angola and Council President for March, spoke in his national capacity, saying that today’s debate aimed to shift the traditional narrative and focus on a forward-looking approach by identifying “game-changers” so as to drive peace, as well as social and economic development.  The world’s fastest growing economic region — with a 6.2 per cent growth rate in 2015 — had been driven by potentially sustainable structural factors, including the youth prominence, a growing middle class and rapid urbanization.  To realize its potential, the human capital base and infrastructure must be upgraded alongside its institutions, legal and regulatory frameworks, and the depth of social and political debate.  The February Kinshasa Conference on private sector investment was a key milestone in the process and the international community must ensure delivery on promises of a brighter future, with positive changes sustained and transformed into permanent gains, he said.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said there was a clear and inextricable link between good governance and economic development, recalling that, on the day of the Kinshasa Conference, six young people had been detained for protesting and sentenced to prison time for speaking out for democracy.  That trend, as well as the closure of media outlets and the shrinking of political space, put progress in jeopardy.  She noted that, while Rwanda had enjoyed economic growth and progress after the genocide, and despite its progress on economic and women’s rights, its record on protecting civil and political rights had been found wanting and posed a serious risk to future stability.  The same applied in Uganda, a critical contributor to peace and security, where reported media intimidation and restrictions on the activities of non-governmental organizations during the February election period threatened the country’s progress and future stability.  As for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, gains had been made in democracy, stability and economic growth, she said, emphasizing that with President Joseph Kabila Kabange’s term nearing its end, it was crucial that elections unfold as scheduled.  For its part, the Council must not allow peacekeeping missions to be used for political gain, she stressed.  Turning to the situation in Burundi, she expressed concern over reports of political prisoners, sexual abuse, displacement and fragile stability.  United States aid programmes were committed to promoting good governance, she said, adding that the leaders of the countries cited must do their utmost to work towards a better future for their citizens.

IGNACIO YBÁÑEZ, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, called attention to the lack of stable peace and prosperity in the Great Lakes region, noting that it continued to experience complex problems.  Concerning democratic governance, he emphasized that leaders had a responsibility to ensure the political participation of their people, adding that it was unfortunate that elections in several countries had not been an instrument of social inclusion.  There was a need to respect legislation and presidential term limits, he said.  On economic and social development, he pointed out that tens of thousands of people continued to live in poverty despite the region’s rich resources.  With the international community’s support, Governments must provide the necessary services to their people, he stressed.

JAMES DUDDRIDGE, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, said the Government of Burundi had failed to support the security of its people.  Despite claims, extrajudicial killings were increasing and human rights activists were living in constant fear.  As for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Government must hold elections in order to eliminate further instability, he said.  While acknowledging that the process was not easy, he said that his country was ready to help fund the electoral process.

SITI HAJJAR ADNIN (Malaysia), emphasizing the imperative of ending the cycle of violence in the Great Lakes region, said there was a need to redouble efforts to defeat armed groups that caused insecurity, as well as to address the root causes of conflict.  It was also important to eliminate the illegal exploitation of natural resources, she said, stressing the need to strengthen existing control mechanisms.

GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) said that while the Council must actively support the Framework’s implementation, it continued to shy away from putting conflict prevention into practice a decade after the adoption of resolution 1625 (2005).  The Ad Hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention in Africa must provide leadership, he emphasized, recalling that when his delegation had argued for a Council “mini-mission” to Burundi, it had taken six months for the visit to occur.  By that time, the country had reached crisis point, seriously limiting the scope for quiet diplomacy.  The Council must “lift its game” by finding ways to improve its awareness of risk and change its working methods so as to enable members to better engage in a problem-solving mindset.  The Council must also improve its work with regional organizations and stakeholders while taking a more inclusive conflict-prevention approach, he emphasized.  Voicing concern that the international community was underfunding conflict prevention, he added that New Zealand hoped for greater investment in regional engagement.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said the region had massive growth potential that could have wide-spread positive implications across Africa.  However, it needed durable solutions based on the principles of national ownership, and efforts should centre on building partnerships with regional neighbours and the United Nations system.  However, instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a grave concern, he said, adding that the great challenges facing the region, including armed groups and ensuring smooth election processes, required robust international support.  Urging support for mediation in Burundi, he said all parties must fulfil their obligations under the Nairobi Agreement, adding that such efforts should be coordinated with the African Union and the United Nations in order to create the required nurturing regional environment.  There was also need for an integrative approach to targeting the growth of armed groups and stopping their exploitation of natural resources.  Efforts must also be made to trace the funding of armed groups.  Welcoming the recent Kinshasa Conference, he said his country had close relations with the region’s countries and would play its part in supporting development projects, including in the Nile Basin.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that, despite positive developments, there was reason for grave concern, including the current situation in Burundi.  Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was at a crucial point, with instability in the east fuelled by armed groups that illegally exploited natural resources and caused great suffering to the population.  All stakeholders must play their role in halting the menace they posed.  Turning to the electoral process, he said it was an important factor for the country’s future, expressing concern that the coming elections risked provoking a new period of instability.  France called upon the authorities to respect their constitutional obligations, and upon the Council to be vigilant as it considered renewing MONUSCO’s mandate.  Expressing hope that the region’s countries could consolidate a peaceful trajectory and profit from its rich natural resources, with a focus on development and the well-being of its peoples, he stressed that following the Kinshasa Conference, regional economic cooperation would be critical to bolstering common interests.  The strategic regional plan presented today was essential to furthering advances in that direction.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said the region faced pressing, complex challenges, among them tackling armed groups that exploited natural resources, and building fragile State institutions.  The international community must make coordinated and genuine efforts to facilitate the creation of favourable economic and social conditions that would eradicate poverty and exclusion, he emphasized, citing the Central African Republic as an example of how such efforts could achieve results.  Expressing concern about violent extremist actions and arms trafficking which destabilized the region, he said the international community must redouble efforts to prohibit the transfer of weapons to non-State actors.  Cooperation on the part of international donors, financial institutions and bilateral partners was of fundamental importance in supporting development projects that would reduce vulnerabilities and revitalize economic growth.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal), reminding the Council that the Rwanda genocide had begun with instability, said that tragedy had left traces in the region and caused trust issues between countries.  The proliferation of armed groups, the absence of democracy, the illegal exploitation of natural resources, humanitarian crises and sexual violence against women and girls were the greatest challenges, he said, emphasizing the need to coordinate regional efforts in addressing them.

MOTOHIDE YOSHIKAWA (Japan) stressed the need to mitigate the political and financial gaps that would result from the drawdown of peacekeeping missions.  To prevent relapse into violent conflict, it was imperative that Member States benefit from the work carried out by United Nations funds and programmes, he said.  Japan, for its part, had trained one out of five police officers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and would hold an open debate on peacebuilding in Africa during its upcoming Council Presidency in July.

PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) expressed hope that international efforts would help to bring stable peace and security to the region.  While doing so, however, signatories of the United Nations Regional Strategic Framework must respect State sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs, he cautioned, emphasizing:  “Imposing solutions is unacceptable.”  Neutralizing militias required comprehensive measures, as well as the consolidation of State power, he said.

ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay), highlighting the need to address the structural causes of conflict in the region, said that his country had contributed troops to MONUSCO and also demonstrated its support for the broader region, particularly in light of existing threats to peacekeeping operations.  Uruguay supported renewal of the Mission’s mandate, which should focus on cooperation with the Congolese armed forces and efforts to support a productive election process centred on political dialogue.  Turning to Burundi, he expressed concern for displaced people forced into neighbouring countries, emphasizing that the international community must turn its attention to their plight.  Uruguay urged Burundi and Rwanda to revitalize good-neighbourly relations, and called upon the international community to ensure the region’s political and social stability, he said.

LIU JIEYI (China), noting the Great Lakes region’s rich cultural heritage and wealth of natural resources, said the recent Kinshasa Conference represented the involvement of the United Nations in promoting positive developments there.  The Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework promoted general stability and growth, and should be implemented fully, he said, adding that countries in the region should respect each other’s territorial integrity.  Calling for the strengthening of governance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he expressed hope that efforts towards repatriating ex-M23 combatants would advance.  Investment should be scaled up to ensure economic prosperity for all regional countries, since poverty and underdevelopment were among the causes of the chronic conflict afflicting them.  Efforts by regional and subregional organizations should be leveraged to address those and other pressing issues, including the situation in Burundi, he said, stressing that his delegation placed great importance on working with African countries and was ready to engage in practical, results-oriented areas, including agriculture, public health and poverty reduction.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said the root causes of conflict in the Great Lakes region, including tribal rivalries, weak political institutions, poverty and the proliferation of armed groups, were all too familiar.  The situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remained of grave concern, he said, calling upon national stakeholders to pursue political dialogue and accept international mediation.  With armed groups continuing to terrorize populations, the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework remained one of the key multilateral mechanisms that could build stability in the country.  Conflicts fuelled by the illegal exploitation of natural resources were another concern, he said, describing the International Conference of the Great Lakes Regional Initiative against the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources as a common solution that could generate revenue and promote development.  The flow of refugees was another pressing challenge, he said in reference to the situation in Burundi.

ALAIN AIMÉ NYAMITWE, Minister for External Relations and International Cooperation of Burundi, said his country was recovering from a massive and severe campaign of violent regime change.  Contrary to the rhetoric used in the Council, the security situation was improving, he said, adding that, on the human rights front, the Government had issued a presidential decree granting pardons to 2,000 prisoners.  While emphasizing his understanding of the legitimate concerns raised by Member States, he invited them to understand Burundi’s peculiar situation.  It was difficult to understand some of the decisions made against Burundi, he said, pointing out that cutting aid to the Government did not fall into the category of decisions aimed at stabilizing the country.

Concerning freedom of the press, he said two radio stations shut down in the wake of the attempted coup, had been authorized to re-open, and a new code of conduct was available to enable all media outlets to improve their professionalism.  On Burundi’s cooperation with the United Nations, he noted that the Government had demonstrated its openness to working with the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, stressing the need to discuss the deployment of his office to Burundi.  Turning to Rwanda’s actions against his country, he emphasized that such acts of aggression contravened the United Nations Charter and the Framework agreement.  Furthermore, supporting negative elements that disturbed the peace in neighbouring countries was prohibited by existing instruments, he said, stressing that recruiting refugees for the sole purpose of destabilizing Burundi was a clear violation of international law.

AUGUSTO SANTOS SILVA (Portugal) said that progress in implementing the Nairobi Declaration in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been slow.  It was therefore crucial to ensure strong support for MONUSCO and to promote its closer collaboration with that country’s armed forces, he said, emphasizing that its exit strategy should be a gradual one, based on progress.  Warning that any change to the constitutional framework without political consensus would be a risk factor, he called upon the authorities there and in other countries in the region to ratify and implement the principles of the African Charter for Democracy, Elections and Governance.  Describing the repeated ceasefire violations and the dramatic human rights situation in South Sudan as very concerning, he said all parties there must commit to the peace agreement and establish a transitional Government.  Meanwhile Portugal urged all States to guarantee access for humanitarian assistance.

RAYMOND TSHIBANDA N’TUNGAMULONGO, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said the recurring conflicts in the Great Lakes region were the result of the moral and political failings of the elite, which had resulted in a selective application of international law.  Nevertheless, the spirit of the United Nations Charter was alive and well in the region, he said, pointing out that, since the creation of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, the signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, and the adoption of the relevant Council resolutions, his country had been one of their most responsible implementers.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo continued its collaboration with MONUSCO, and the country’s struggle would not end until the remaining retrograde forces and armed groups had been neutralized, he emphasized.

He went on to cite the significant progress achieved in his country, including the upcoming election of new provincial governors at the end of this week, adding that the National Electoral Commission had been completely overhauled.  Inclusive political dialogue was the only wise option, he said, stressing that no unilateral Government action or solution imposed from abroad would work.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo called upon other signatory States of international and regional instruments to be scrupulous in their implementation, with a particular eye to non-interference in the affairs of other States, and asked them not to provide assistance to retrograde armed groups.  He called for the adoption of policies that would encourage private investment and regional cooperation in order to achieve balanced development.  “The wounds of the past cannot lock us forever in a hopeless situation,” he emphasized, calling upon all States in the region to eschew the use of force for dialogue in settling disputes.

EUGÈNE-RICHARD GASANA, Minister of State for Cooperation of Rwanda, said that, while conflict prevention and resolution had become the centrepiece of the work of the United Nations since the 1994 genocide in his country, the concept had been used more in theory than in practice.  The Council was still much more focused on crisis management than on crisis prevention.  Instead, early warning mechanisms should guide its efforts to prevent conflict.  In the Great Lakes region, very few efforts deployed had been aimed at addressing the root causes of conflict, he noted, adding that the current situation in Burundi proved that the region was far from stable.  That country was in political turmoil, with State-sponsored militias killing civilians in broad daylight.  Unsubstantiated allegations against Rwanda by the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo were yet another attempt to shift responsibility away from the real causes of conflict, he said, stressing that his country should not be “negatively exploited” by those who were expected to find solutions to the crisis in Burundi.

He went on to underline that the international response to the crisis had been more rhetorical than practical, adding that the response of Burundian officials had been no better.  Instead of exercising leadership and shouldering their responsibility to protect civilians, they had opted to turn a blind eye to the slaughter of innocent civilians.  In addition, nothing tangible had been achieved in dealing with the FDLR, he said, deploring the absence of meaningful action in tackling such groups.  Turning to the exploitation of natural resources, he said the argument that more resources would lead to greater economic prosperity did not hold true in the Great Lakes region, where resources frequently fuelled conflict and funded the work of armed groups.  In conclusion, he responded to the statement by the representative of the United States by noting:  “Ms. Power does not have power over Rwanda”.  She should avoid lumping the countries of the Great Lakes region together because there was no “one-size-fits-all” solution to their problems.  Moreover, no other country could occupy Rwanda’s political space, he added.

NOSIVIWE NOLUTHANDO MAPISA-NQAKULA, Minister for Defence and Military Veterans of South Africa, said that, while there had been an improvement in the security situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, not all negative forces had been disarmed and some had found their way into neighbouring countries.  Expressing concern about the possible broadening of the Islamization of some aspects of the conflict in the region, and noting recent allegations of interference in the internal affairs of neighbouring States, she stressed that the “total neutralization” of the negative forces required the optimum use of military resources deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The objective of that neutralization should not be perceived as only implying the use of force against armed groups, but also included the application of all possible methods of influencing the negative forces to renounce violence and opt to disarm and demobilize.  Her country supported the extension of the MONUSCO mandate, taking into account the concerns of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  “We need to go back to basics and identify the root causes to the conflict in the Great Lakes region,” she added.

ANNIKA SÖDER, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, including Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway, said tension and conflict had been too common in the Great Lakes region for too long.  There was an urgent need to support and strengthen international and regional efforts to prevent conflict.  The Nordic countries had consistently advocated for strengthened cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations.  Describing local ownership as a precondition for legitimacy and effectiveness of peace-making efforts, she welcomed and supported the increasingly important roles played by the African Union.

On the role of the private sector, she noted that the lack of jobs and economic opportunities fuelled conflict.  Welcoming the Great Lakes Private Sector Investment Conference, she stressed that the role of the World Bank and African Development Bank in promoting economic growth should be recognized.  Through inclusive and sustainable economic growth, the region would be able to address the violence and insecurity.  Concerning the role of women, she emphasized the importance of their full participation in the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy), associating himself with the European Union, stressed the importance of national ownership of any solution to challenges in the Great Lakes region, and of strengthening the role and commitment of regional and subregional organizations.  Prevention was the key, he emphasized, adding that the Peacebuilding Commission had a positive role to play in promoting sustainable peace.  Political and regional stability would allow the international community to tap into all available resources — public and private, domestic and international — to achieve sustainable development in the region, he said, describing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s 2063 Agenda as “blueprints” in that regard.  Turning to economic development, he said the management of natural resources and biodiversity must be sustainable and benefit communities, thereby undermining the international criminal networks profiting from illegal trafficking in natural resources.  The United Nations Regional Strategic Framework, together with the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, constituted the best road map for common progress, he said, stressing the importance of local ownership and a clear set of national, regional and international benchmarks and commitments.

BERNARDITO AUZA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, recalling the visit by Pope Francis to the Great Lakes in November 2015, said there could be no solution without unity, dignity and decent work for all.  The international community must support countries in the region to prevent its abundant natural resources from becoming a curse instead of a blessing.  It must also assume a larger role in programmes to control the legal and illegal arms trade, in addition to making a greater investment in preventative diplomacy.  The recruitment of youth and children by armed groups and terrorist organizations was a grave problem that could be countered with education and job opportunities that offered hope for young people, he said.  Pope Francis deeply appreciated the international community’s efforts and called upon all sides to stay on the path of unity and dignity in order for the region to achieve disarmament, prosperity and sound administration, he said.

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil) said the influx of 245,000 refugees from Burundi into neighbouring countries was aggravating an already fragile humanitarian situation, and reports that armed groups had recruited some of them gave rise to concern.  National ownership of negotiation outcomes aimed at resolving post-election issues in the region must be respected.  It was important to find ways to transform the region’s natural wealth so it could drive sustainable development, with the private sector playing a role.  Brazil’s involvement in the region included its contribution of peacekeepers, humanitarian assistance and a capoeira programme for children in North Kivu Province formerly linked with armed groups.  The complexity of the region’s conflicts called for a comprehensive approach, focused not only on prevention and politics, but also on combating the illicit flow and illegal exploitation of natural resources, he said.  The Peacebuilding Commission could play an important role in preventing a relapse into conflict, and its relationship with the Council needed strengthening in that regard.

KOEN VERVAEKE, Managing Director for Africa, European External Action Service of the European Union, said that a transition from fragility to resilience and from conflict to peace was achievable, but only with strong local ownership and strong cooperation among countries.  Once achieved, development would accelerate and citizens would enjoy the full benefits of the unique human, mineral, forest and wildlife resources found in the Great Lakes region.  As for regional challenges, the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework remained the best blueprint for common progress, he said, emphasizing that the fulfilment of its commitments must be monitored closely.

He went on to say that any future reconfiguration of MONUSCO and its mandate must be based on the evolution of conditions on the ground.  In that regard, the European Union welcomed the agreement to resume military cooperation between MONUSCO and the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  However, the most critical challenge of 2016 would be to organize free and fair elections.  He stressed that relations between Burundi and Rwanda, and their impact on the unity of the East African Community demanded further attention.  “The solution in Burundi should be found in Burundi, by the Burundians and by peaceful means,” he said, calling upon all neighbouring countries to make a contribution to that solution.

FRANK DE CONINCK, Special Envoy of Belgium to the Great Lakes region, associated himself with the European Union, emphasizing that the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework had lost none of its relevance.  Cooperation between MONUSCO and the Congolese armed forces would hopefully neutralize armed groups quickly, he said, while noting that refugees were another major concern.  Measures taken by the Government of Burundi were a step in the right direction, but they must be expanded and made irreversible, he said, adding that the dispatch of a credible United Nations police mission to Burundi would be an important step towards easing tensions.  Noting that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was at a crossroads, he said that given the shrinking political space and violations of human rights there, consensus with regional or international mediation would soon be needed on the organization of free and open elections.  MONUSCO’s role in providing logistical support and security during the elections should be better reflected in its mandate, he added.

GILLIAN BIRD (Australia) called upon all parties in Burundi to end torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, and to engage, without preconditions, in mediation talks led by the East African Community.  The talks, as well as broader peacebuilding efforts, must include women, youth and civil society.  Limited implementation of the commitments set out in the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework was a matter of concern, he said, welcoming, in that context, the resumption of military cooperation between the Congolese armed forces and MONUSCO.  Further discussion of the critical role of domestic resource mobilization, enhanced economic integration and regional stability would be welcome, she said, noting that particular attention must be paid to improving the management and transparency of natural resources while ensuring that the benefits of economic growth were shared equitably.

JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland) said a broad debate was developing on conflict prevention, and the Security Council and Peacebuilding Commission both had potential in terms of preventing conflict.  They were complementary, he said, pointing out that peacebuilding was not about managing conflict, but about addressing its root causes, such as socioeconomic inequality.  It took on many forms, depending on context, and required a long-term commitment.  Switzerland had for many years supported peacebuilding in the Great Lakes region, where tensions were largely the product of transnational factors.  Responding to the problems there called for a regional approach, he said.  Encouraging bilateral and multilateral actors to appoint special envoys to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, he said that, in order to re-energize that instrument and encourage a coherent international response, Switzerland would propose a series of consultations, as well as a public conference involving key actors in Geneva later in 2016.  He concluded by cautioning that conflicts going back decades could not be resolved in a few years, and premature disengagement was to be avoided.

KAIRAT ABDRAKHMANOV (Kazakhstan) said that, in order to ensure progress, a more comprehensive regional strategy was required, incorporating the United Nations system alongside the African Union, its subregional bodies and the European Union.  Greater military, diplomatic and development partnerships that went beyond North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation must be considered.  Enhanced information technology assistance, knowledge management and timely information would all help combat the illegal exploitation of natural resources, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and the rise of illegal armed groups.  He called upon other delegations to support bold and forward-looking approaches towards countering terrorist, radical and extremist militant groups, as proposed by the President of Kazakhstan.

Mr. VAN LOOSDRECHT (Netherlands), associating himself with the European Union, called the unravelling of the peace process in Burundi a poignant example of the renewed threat of conflict and human suffering in the Great Lakes region.  Going forward, dialogue was better than repression or armed conflict.  The Netherlands had long supported inclusive dialogue in Burundi, even at times when few believed a solution was possible.  All parties should participate in the regionally led inclusive dialogue in a spirit of compromise.  The Netherlands would stand alongside Burundi and would “not let down” the citizens of that country.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it was important for the Government to address the root causes of the conflict and resume all cooperation with MONUSCO in neutralizing armed groups.  Increasing human rights violations in the region were deeply concerning.  It was imperative for those responsible for crimes, war crimes, sexual violence and other human rights violations to be held accountable.  The United Nations Strategic Framework for the Great Lakes Region was welcomed.

MICHAEL BONSER (Canada) expressed concern about shrinking political space and a lack of respect for constitutional term limits among some countries of the Great Lakes region and elsewhere.  As was seen today in Burundi, States which did not allow for inclusive political dialogue, respect for human rights or constitutional rule could not sustain peace.  Changes of leadership should be timely, democratic and peaceful, he said, expressing further concern about the social, economic and political risks entailed if elections were not held in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In that respect, he encouraged all actors to work together to overcome the political impasse through a national consensus that reflected the will of the Congolese people.  Underscoring the important role of regional organizations and the private sector in addressing the region’s challenges, he went on to say that, through his country’s development assistance, it supported inclusive and accountable governance, the empowerment of women and protection of their rights, as well as sustainable growth.

GHOLAMHOSSEIN DEHGHANI (Iran), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said conflicts had negatively impacted the Great Lakes region, most notably the eastern part of Democratic Republic of the Congo, with proxy conflicts contested by regional and international actors.  Attempts to end those conflicts and establish peace had been ineffective, due mainly to the continued legacy of colonialism and the failure to understand the complex nature of those conflicts and address their driving forces in a comprehensive manner.  The implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework required financial resources to assist countries of the region in the provision of social services for the population, generate more cross-border trade and develop the hydroelectric potential in a region richly endowed with water resources.  The lack of economic growth, jobs and opportunities created a breeding ground for conflict, and the international community and political leaders of the region should focus their efforts on creating an environment that ensured business operations and investments.  Productive capacities also needed to be strengthened.

PASCAL COUCHEPIN, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of La Francophonie for the Great Lakes Region, said his organization was closely following mediation efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It also saw encouraging signs from the Burundian authorities, although it was concerned by the absence of a truly inclusive political dialogue.  Crises and conflicts were the foundation of many of the international community’s concerns.  Instability bred defiance, disillusion and a loss of identity.  It would also not be possible to resolve the migration issue without directly addressing political instability, insecurity, fragile institutions, youth unemployment and a lack of investment prospects.  It was imperative to put concrete measures into place to avoid crises, preserve peace and ensure the welfare of all populations.

KAHA IMNADZE (Georgia), aligning himself with the European Union, said a transition from fragility to stability, from conflict to peace was attainable, but only with strong and inclusive national ownership, and vibrant cooperation between the countries of the region and the wider international community.  Despite the fact that 20 per cent of its territory remained under illegal foreign military occupation and hundreds of thousands of Georgian internally displaced persons and refugees — victims of ethnic cleansing — were denied the right to return to their homes, the country remained committed to international peace efforts across the globe.  Georgia had extensive experience as a contributor to international security and stability, including on the African continent, having taken part in European Union-led operations in the Central African Republic and other operations.  The auspicious turning point in the consolidation of peace and stability in the Great Lakes region had been the signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, as well as the adoption of Council resolution 2098 (2013).  The full implementation of those documents would pave the way to address the fundamental root causes of the cycle of conflicts in the countries of the Great Lakes region.

HAHN CHOONGHEE (Republic of Korea) said the absence of consensus on key issues, such as the electoral calendar, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was making it unclear whether elections there could be held in a peaceful and democratic way.  Furthermore, the security situation remained fragile and the economic downturn caused by low international prices for raw materials was undermining the foundations of peace and development.  Describing security, political stability, democracy and good governance as the bedrock for sustainable development, he emphasized that the Congolese Government must fulfil its primary responsibility to protect and serve its own people by undertaking extensive reforms.  In addition, regional stakeholders must formulate an effective mechanism for sustainable economic development and co-prosperity.  In particular, a sound and effective mechanisms for managing natural resources was essential for transforming natural resources into a strong engine of economic development, he said.

ABDERRAZZAK LAASSEL (Morocco) said that, despite international and regional initiatives to help address multidimensional crises, populations continued to suffer conflict in the Great Lakes region.  The increasing number of armed groups endangered the security of the entire region, he noted, calling upon all relevant actors to address the root causes of conflict.  In that regard, Morocco welcomed the recent agreement on resuming military cooperation between MONUSCO and the Congolese armed forces, as well as the launch the United Nations Regional Strategic Framework.

HEIKO THOMS (Germany), aligning himself with the European Union, said that, since 2004, his country had contributed significantly to various projects in the Great Lakes region, with an aim to promote transparency and control of the mining sector.  The current three-year phase amounted to nearly $30 million.  Germany also supported the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region Secretariat, and in particular the Regional Initiative on Natural Resources, which aimed to break the link between mineral revenues and conflict financing, and it was in the process of deploying an expert on the natural resources sector in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to MONUSCO.  In addition, progress in development was also critical to preventing lapse and relapse into conflict.  For that reason, his country supported peacebuilding efforts in the region through targeted development cooperation programmes.  He reaffirmed Germany’s support for MONUSCO, to which it would continue to provide civilian expertise, and to the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region.

BOGUSŁAW WINID (Poland), associating himself with the European Union, said his country knew what it meant to lose independence, fight for freedom and rebuild an economy, and that it would share its experience with Africa through its “GoAfrica” programme.  The eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was a pressing concern, but there were positive signals coming from the Central African Republic where a transition could be achieved through consistent international involvement.  With regard to protection of civilians, Poland recognized the importance of the Kigali Principles and intended to soon sign on to them.  It was crucial to explore ways of addressing regional issues and cooperation with the African Union and other regional organizations.  Poland favoured “African solutions to African problems”, and African partners were urged to step up their involvement within the African Peace and Security Architecture.

TIM MAWE (Ireland), aligning himself with the European Union, said the holding of regular, inclusive and transparent elections was vital for credible democratic governance.  Unfortunately, the environment in which last July’s presidential elections in Burundi had taken place could not be judged as conducive to inclusive and credible elections.  The situation in the country was now characterized by pervasive violence, human rights abuses and forced displacement, he said, urging the Government to move forward urgently on an inter-Burundian dialogue, which was essential to restoring peace and stability.  Similarly, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s current pre-electoral period, it was especially important that the rule of law and human rights were respected, and that all arrangements respected constitutional provisions.  He went on to stress that women played a critical role in conflict prevention, peace negotiations, peacebuilding and governance, adding that his country knew first-hand the importance of the promotion and empowerment of women in constructing a pathway to sustainable peace.

ERVIN NINA (Albania) expressed concern about the deterioration of the situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where activities by the Allied Democratic Forces and FDLR among other groups posed serious threats to the security of the region and beyond.  The destiny of each country of the region was deeply intertwined with that of its neighbours, he said, noting that that crisis in Burundi had only exacerbated the situation as reports indicated the infiltration of armed groups fuelling further instability.  The potential for conflict to spread around the region should be neither assumed nor ignored, in particular by the Council.  On the issue of illegal exploitation of natural resources, he said the illicit trade was complex.  Measures to address it should include actions against impunity, as well as improved governance, reforming security forces, sustainable management of natural resources and promoting livelihoods.  Finally, upcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were of crucial importance; their peaceful, transparent, smooth and timely conduct would greatly contribute to consolidating the progress made in that country for more than a decade.

VIRACHAI PLASAI (Thailand) said that peace could not be sustained without economic recovery and sustainable development.  The Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework agreement must, therefore, be fully implemented in a timely manner.  When imposing sanctions related to natural resources, the Council should take into account potential unintended consequences.  Effective governance could turn those resources into a catalyst of development, but such governance needed the full participation of Governments in the region, the extractive industry and relevant international actors.  Noting the crucial role of regional and subregional organizations, he commended the African Union and International Conference on the Great Lakes Region for their commitment.  He also called for women to play a greater role in implementing the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework agreement at all stages.

For information media. Not an official record.