17 February 2009


17 February 2009
Security Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6083rd Meeting (PM)




Continuing and improved humanitarian assistance remained essential to relieve the suffering in the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Orientale in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but more was needed to enable the people there to rebuild their lives on a durable basis, John Holmes, the top United Nations humanitarian official, said in a briefing to the Security Council this afternoon.

Mr. Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, stressed that the authority and capacity of the country’s central and local authorities had to be rebuilt at every level.  While the international community could help achieve that, including through the comprehensive stabilization strategy pursued by the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), the Congolese Government “must also effectively face up to its responsibilities in this respect”.

There were substantial humanitarian needs throughout the country, he said, noting that 76 per cent of the population were undernourished and chronically subject to food insecurity, while 54 per cent lacked access to clean water.  Endemic diseases, including malaria, cholera and Ebola, further weakened already vulnerable people.  The 2009 Humanitarian Action Plan estimated that some $831 million were needed to cover humanitarian needs, an increase of 11 per cent from last year.  “So this is no time to turn away our eyes from the DRC.”

If the Government could establish proper control over its own natural riches and provide support and resources to its administration, the country could have a bright future, despite the huge and multiple challenges, he said.  The past six months had seen renewed fighting, principally between the Congrès national pour la défence du people (CNDP) and the Forces armées de la république démocratique du Congo (FARDC) in the Kivus; a resurgence of armed groups and subsequent clashes with FARDC in Ituri District; and new vicious attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Orientale Province.  Those worrying developments had left many hundred dead, provoked the displacement of a further 500,000 people and exacerbated the already dire humanitarian situation.

He said he had visited the country last week as the Government and the international community pursued new initiatives.  Such measures included continued mediation by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mpaka from the African Union; joint operations against the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) in North Kivu by the Congolese and Rwandan Governments; and the integration of CNDP elements into FARDC following the arrest of Laurent Nkunda in Rwanda.  That had created a new dynamic, which could have a significant and favourable impact, including on the humanitarian situation, but which also brought with it significant risks.

He said he had met displaced people in North Kivu who had been caught in the crossfire between CNDP and FARDC, noting that some 250,000 new internally displaced persons had been created by that conflict since August 2008, adding to a long-standing provincial caseload exceeding 800,000.  Those people, living both in camps and with host populations, often continued to face miserable conditions, despite an active and effective humanitarian response in difficult circumstances.  While tens of thousands had already returned home in areas where relations with CNDP were friendly, others driven out by the group were still waiting to return home as soon as possible, but serious concerns still prevented them from doing so.  Perceptions of insecurity had been heightened in some areas by the current offensive against FDLR ex-genocidaires.  Sadly, the presence of FARDC was “far from always seen as reassuring”, given their “dreadful” indiscipline and violence during the CNDP offensive.  Moreover, the internally displaced persons had made clear they had nothing left and would need substantial international support if they were to return voluntarily in safety and dignity.  “We are working to put in place appropriate return packages.”

Sexual violence, particularly by those with guns, continued to be a horrific feature of everyday life in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said, adding that impunity remained a fundamental issue.  Even if perpetrators could be arrested and convicted, there was often nowhere to keep them.  In that context, he had raised with officials “from the President downwards” the continued presence of known perpetrators of sexual violence in the senior ranks of FARDC, which sent “absolutely the wrong signal to all concerned”.  It was to be hoped that appropriate action would be taken soon.

On the positive side, he said, public opinion might be shifting, thanks largely to the efforts of civil society and the Congolese women themselves, including the First Lady.  For the United Nations, a senior adviser on sexual violence had helped develop a system-wide strategy to strengthen prevention, protection and response.  Hopefully all donors would align their programmes with that strategy, including much stronger efforts to establish the rule of law through a functioning legal system, vigorous security-sector reform and extension of State authority, and better support for victims.  Meanwhile, it was vital that the Government continue to regard sexual violence as a major priority and make clear publicly and frequently that it was completely unacceptable.

Emphasizing the importance of reducing the risks of the combined Rwandan/FARDC offensive against FDLR for the civilian population, he said: “So far our worst fears do not seem to have been realized.”  However, reports at the end of last week, including from Human Rights Watch, had painted a disturbing picture of FDLR revenge attacks against civilians.  As the operation drew to an end, MONUC would have a vital role, with FARDC, in helping to fill any security vacuum and preventing FDLR militants from returning to areas they had previously occupied and exacting a terrible price from civilians.

Among the positive signs was that some 2,902 Rwandan civilians had been voluntarily repatriated under the auspices of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) between 1 January and 16 February, he said.  At the same time, the number of FDLR combatants presenting themselves for MONUC’s disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, resettlement and repatriation programme had reached 376, plus 655 dependents, for a total of 1,031, with several hundred candidates waiting to be screened.  It was to be hoped that “the running sore of FDLR presence” could now be significantly reduced, if not removed altogether.  But robust and comprehensive political solutions would also continue to be needed.

Describing his visit to the Haute Uele District of Orientale Province, he said LRA had reacted to the military operations by the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) and FARDC by mounting “horrific and unprovoked attacks” against civilians.  The so-called Christmas massacres had triggered a wave of displacement, and the casual brutality and total disregard for human life were appalling.  The number of deaths since December 2008 was believed to be approaching 900.  Many women had been raped before being killed, and 160,000 people were estimated to have fled their homes.  United Nations agencies and partners were working as rapidly as possible, with the central and local authorities, military forces in the area and MONUC, to expand humanitarian assistance and protect the local population.  However, their efforts were constrained by the sheer size of the 40,000 kilometre area in which the Ugandan rebels were hiding, the difficult terrain, the chronic lack of infrastructure and the threat still posed by LRA.

He said that, while no one doubted the urgent need to remove that threat, he had emphasized in meetings with FARDC and UPDF the importance of placing the protection of civilians at the centre of their planning as military operations continued.  Discussions had been held with MONUC regarding what more might be done to strengthen its presence in the area.  The Mission, with FARDC, was already expanding escorts for humanitarian convoys, as requested, and would seek to deploy extra troops from elsewhere in the country while working to improve some roads in order to help with logistics.  The Mission was urgently seeking more utility helicopters to cover the wide area, in support of FARDC, into which LRA groups had dispersed.

Commenting on the work of MONUC from a humanitarian perspective, he said its revised mandate was provoking positive reconsideration of how the Mission could use its limited resources to the best effect in order to help protect civilians.  Its leadership was well into a far-reaching review of operating guidelines, deployments and training.  Newly formed joint protection teams, deployed in locations where access was difficult, were already making a difference.  However, the Mission remained in urgent need of two additional battalions, together with two special forces companies, two engineering companies, extra air assets and information-analysis capability recently authorized by the Council.

He said he had raised many of those points in Kinshasa with the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, including the prospects for the current initiatives producing lasting improvements in the political, security and humanitarian situation in the east and north.  He had emphasized the importance of doing everything possible to protect civilians, including tackling sexual violence, addressing impunity and especially improving FARDC discipline.  The Congolese interlocutors had stressed the need to prioritize a rapid return to peace and stability in the short term, while the United Nations side had pointed out that there should be no inconsistency between the imperatives of peace and justice.

The meeting began at 3:10 p.m. and ended at 3:25 p.m.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.