Restrictions Meant to Prevent Violence, Not Stifle Free Expression, Permanent Representative Tells Meeting
Acknowledging the political agreement reached on 18 October in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Security Council remained concerned about the risk for destabilization of the country in the absence of a swift and consensual resolution to the current political crisis.
According to presidential statement S/PRST/2016/18, read by Román Oyarzun Marchesi (Spain), Council President for December, the 15-member body was encouraged by the unanimous commitment of Congolese actors to continue inclusive discussions in order to reach broad consensus towards free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful and timely presidential and legislative elections leading to a peaceful transfer of power.
Further to the statement, issued following the Council visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 11 to 13 November, the Council urged the Government and all relevant parties to ensure an environment conducive to the elections, which would include freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of assembly, equitable access to media — including State media — and freedom of movement for all candidates and others. It called upon the authorities and all political parties, their supporters, and other political actors, to refrain from violence, violent speeches or other provocations, and to address their differences peacefully. The Council further called on the Government to hold accountable those responsible for the killings on 19 and 20 September.
The Council welcomed mediation efforts led by the National Episcopal Conference of Congo, and called on all political actors to continue working in good faith towards a swift political solution before 19 December that would pave the way for elections as soon as possible. It further called on political groups that had not signed the 18 October political agreement to remain engaged in dialogue.
Expressing its deep concern over the humanitarian situation and persistent violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in North Kivu, the Council called on the Government to take further action, with the support of United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), to end the threat posed by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), the Forces démocratique de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and all other armed groups operating in the country. It urged MONUSCO to fully implement its protection-of-civilians mandate, including in response to ongoing security threats.
Briefing delegates via video link from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Maman Sidikous, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of MONUSCO, said that two weeks before the end of President Joseph Kabila’s constitutional mandate, and six weeks after the 18 October signing of the political agreement to organize the peaceful, credible and transparent elections, the political situation remained volatile.
As 19 December approached, he said MONUSCO had updated its contingency plans to mitigate politically driven violence and to protect civilians within available resources and deployment areas. However, those efforts might not be sufficient to respond adequately to a major outbreak of politically related violence. It was the will of the main political actors that would determine how existing tensions were managed and whether they would degenerate into violence. Another cause for concern was the situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where groups and criminal networks capitalized on the uncertainty.
Updating on electoral developments, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said the Department of Political Affairs Electoral Assistance Division had undertaken an advisory mission to the country from 24 April to 10 May. Noting that the political agreement had provided for an overhaul of the voter register and simultaneous holding of presidential and legislative elections, he said its timeline of 504 days to organize those events would be a “herculean” undertaking for the National Independent Electoral Commission. United Nations support to the voter registration process was being provided amid a challenging political, financial and security environment, he said, urging the international community to exert efforts to improve the political environment surrounding those preparations.
In the ensuing debate, Council members stressed the need for inclusive and transparent dialogue among all stakeholders in order to prevent current tensions from escalating into violence after 19 December, when the President’s mandate came to an end. They urged political leaders to avoid confrontations and rhetoric that could lead to bloodshed and underlined that the Constitution should not be changed to allow the President another term.
Speakers encouraged leaders on both sides to ensure a political environment that guaranteed freedom of assembly and media, calling on the Government to free political prisoners and lift the media ban for political opponents and warning that a spiral into violence would have a destabilizing effect not only on the country, but on the entire region.
Noting that the clock was ticking, the United Kingdom’s representative urged the President to make the right choice: respect the Constitution and hold elections as soon as possible. The Constitution was clear, he said, and the two-term limit could not be changed to suit one man’s political agenda. The United States representative added that a firm statement from the President that he would not seek a third term was needed.
The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo told the Council that the election schedule, including the revision of the electoral lists, should soon be completed and made public. Kinshasa was working to implement all of the Council’s recommendations in the interest of maintaining stability and respecting human rights. Restrictions were not intended to stifle free expression but to prevent renewed violence.
The representatives of Russian Federation, Egypt, China, New Zealand, Uruguay, Malaysia, Ukraine, Senegal, Japan, Angola, Venezuela, France and Spain also spoke.
The meeting began at 4:07 p.m. and ended at 5:54 p.m.
MAMAN SIDIKOU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Hhead of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO)MONUSCO, addressed the Council speaking via through a video link from that country. Juste Democratic Republic of the Congo, said two weeks before the end of the constitutional mandate of President Joseph Kabila, and six weeks after the 18 October singing of the Political Agreement on 18 October to organize the peaceful, credible and transparent elections, the political situation remained volatile. While tThe good offices of the National Episcopal Conference of CongoCENO had brought hope for a peaceful end to the political impasse, but the key players , particular from the Presidential Majority and the Opposition Rassemblement had not changed significantly. The Presidential Majority had continued to reject a second dialogue, while the Rassemblement insisted on a “really inclusive” dialogue.
As such, he continued He said he was continuing to engage with the Government, the security services, political parties and civil society as 19 December approached, he said. Following the violence on of 19 and 20 September, MONUSCO had further updated its contingency plans to mitigate politically driven violence and to protect civilians within its available resources and in its deployment areas of deployment. The Mission had reinforced its presence in Kinshasa, while teams had been formed in Kinshasa, Goma and Lubumbashi to monitor and report on human rights violations and restrictions of political space. It The Mission was also coordinating with the United Nations cCountry tTeam to provide regarding humanitarian assistance to civilians who populations which might be displaced by violence.
He stressed that those efforts might not be sufficient to respond adequately to any major outbreak of politically related violence. It was the political will of the main political actors that would determine how the existing tensions were managed and whether or not those would degenerate into violence. Also, the Mission in Kinshasa was stretched thin. T, as the safety of its personnel must had to be ensured and there might be requests from form the diplomatic community for support.
The deteriorating economic situation was also having an adversely affecting impact on the stability of the country, he said, noting saying that the Prime Minister-designate had asked for international support, as his Government intended to re-engage the international financial institutions. Another cause for concern was the situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where armed groups and criminal networks had capitalized on the political uncertainty. The spill-over effect of the conflict in South Sudan was also of increasing concern, he said.
TAYE-BROOK ZERIHOUN, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefing on electoral developments, said the Electoral Assistance Division of the Department of Political Affairs had, from 24 April to 10 May, undertaken an advisory mission assessing the political environment and capacity of national institutions as they related to resolution 2277 (2016), by which the Council had decided that priority tasks should include the provision of technical assistance and logistical support for the revision of the electoral register. Noting that the 18 October political agreement provided for an overhaul of the voter register and the simultaneous holding of presidential and legislative elections, he said the agreement’s timeline of 504 days to organize the election would be a “herculean” undertaking for the National Independent Electoral Commission.
Reviewing a pilot voter registration exercise, he said MONUSCO and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) were providing logistics and technical expertise for the registration process. UNDP also had established an electoral project, but it had not been properly staffed due to financial constraints. Regarding MONUSCO’s contributions, he said its Electoral Division was being established in order to, with UNDP, put in place an integrated electoral assistance team. United Nations support to the voter registration process was being provided amid a very challenging political, financial and security environment. He urged the international community to exert efforts to improve the political environment surrounding preparations for the elections, stressing that MONUSCO and UNDP must be provided the means to deliver on their mandates.
PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation), expressing hope that the Congolese political agreements would foster stability, stressed that foreign intervention in the election would be counterproductive and might contravene the Congolese Constitution. He also called for a step-up of efforts to implement Great Lakes agreements to resolve regional security problems, including the demobilization of militias. MONUSCO must coordinate closely with the Congolese Government in all matters of security, while strictly abiding to its mandate.
IHAB MOUSTAFA AWAD MOUSTAFA (Egypt), highlighting the importance of implementing the political agreement for free and peaceful elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that all political actors must work to build a broad political consensus on proceeding according to the Constitution. He also said he fully supported the presidential statement, commending the efforts of the African Union and subregional organizations in fostering stability in the region. Congolese leadership must be in all aspects of that progress. In regard to the eastern part of the country, he said reconciliation, justice, expanded reach of the Government and poverty-reduction was needed.
WU HAITAO (China) affirmed that continued international support was needed to ensure security and stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He urged all parties to sign and implement the political agreements and stressed that the international community should respect the responsibility of the Government and the people in all efforts. Cooperation with regional and subregional organizations was needed in support of those efforts. Recounting assistance China had given in favour of peace and stability in the country, he pledged continued support.
PHILLIP TAULA (New Zealand) said that there had been no shortage of warnings about the risk of conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, pointing to the failure to undertake timely preparations for the electoral list and the dozens killed at political demonstrations in September. “A slow-burning situation can be the most challenging for this Council to address when confronted with so many emergencies,” he said, calling on the Congolese political leadership to act in a spirit of compromise. Encouraging leaders on both sides to ensure a political environment that guaranteed freedom of assembly and media, he emphasized that the international community must remained engaged in stabilizing the security situation, neutralizing armed groups and establishing accountability for human rights abuses.
LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) said the Democratic Republic of the Congo was at a decisive moment and its people, as well as the international community, had great expectations vested in a free and transparent electoral process. The stakeholders had the responsibility to hold elections without delays to avoid escalation of tensions. He also said he was concerned by reports of violations of civil rights, including freedom of expression and the right of assembly, adding that a constitution presupposed a legal pact with the goal that it would be relevant. Reforming constitutions with the sole purpose to increase Government mandates had proven to be a harmful practice, he said, adding that he hoped the political message conveyed by the Council would be heeded throughout the country.
SITI HAJJAR ADNIN (Malaysia) said the Democratic Republic of the Congo had made great strides in overcoming its conflicts. Consolidating democratic gains and setting conditions for a peaceful transition of power was now key to continue on that path. An inclusive dialogue was the only path to resolve the current impasse, she said, urging all political stakeholders to return to the negotiating table. It was imperative that the Government and political leaders issue messages to their supporters that violence was intolerable. She called on the Government and all stakeholders to continue creating confidence-building measures and to refrain from rhetoric and actions that could exacerbate the situation.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the clock was ticking for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as only two weeks remained until the Presidency of Kabila would come to an end. He urged Mr. Kabila to make the right choice: respect the Constitution and hold elections as soon as possible. If not, there would be violence. The Constitution was clear and the two-term limit could not be changed to suit one man’s political agenda. The Council had conveyed that message to President Kabila. Charges against opposition members should be dropped and the media ban should be lifted. All sides should reject violence and parties should continue to engage in dialogue in order to come to a compromise before 19 December. The Council must be prepared to respond if the situation deteriorated and MONUSCO must have contingency planning in place if civilians were threatened. The Council had an opportunity to stop the conflict before it began, he emphasized.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said the political agreement of 18 October was just a starting point for resolving disagreements and problems among all political actors. Calling on all national stakeholders to continue the dialogue, he noted that the deaths of protesters during clashes in September were fresh in memory. The perpetual cycle of violence had to be broken; otherwise, the international community’s efforts would suffer the fate of Sisyphus’s rock.
ISOBEL COLEMAN (United States) expressed increasing concern over violence and instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, stressing that the National Episcopal Conference’s additions to the political agreements presented the best hope for a peaceful transition of power, as would consensus on an early election date. Unity among Council members was crucial. Respect for freedom of expression and other rights were also critical, as was a firm statement from the President that he was not seeking a third term. The Government’s inability to set a reasonable date for elections was not an administrative problem; it was a matter of determination.
GORGUI CISS (Senegal), describing a complex situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said that commitment to recent agreements was needed among all Congolese stakeholders. He commended efforts by the National Episcopal Conference in that regard, as well as subregional and regional efforts to support free, fair and peaceful elections. That goal was eminently achievable; to encourage its fruition, the Council must speak with unity on the need for dialogue, respect for human rights and a real will to seek compromise on the part of all Congolese, including civil society. All factors that could exacerbate tensions must be dealt with, as must the protection of civilians in the east of the country. For the latter purpose, MONUSCO forces should be reconfigured.
YOSHIFUMI OKAMURA (Japan) called on all Congolese stakeholders to engage in serious dialogue, including direct talks between the governing party and its main opposition. All parties must eschew violence. In addition to the governing party, opposition leaders must show leadership to keep protests from turning violent. In terms of resources lacking to hold elections, he stressed that a strong commitment to proceed with the process would overcome any such problems.
JOÃO IAMBENO GIMOLIECA (Angola) welcomed the signing of the agreement on the holding of inclusive, free and fair elections and noted the confidence-building measures taken so far by the Government. Peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were crucial to regional peace and security. The ongoing political dispute must be resolved through dialogue and must exclude violence. He called on the parties to maintain dialogue to end the political impasse and avoid confrontation at all costs. Respect for the Constitution by the Government and the opposition was fundamental in that regard. The President could only be replaced by a democratic electoral process, he stressed, encouraging the Prime Minister to pursue a national dialogue with all stakeholders in the hopes that an inclusive transitional Government could be established.
HENRY ALFREDO SUÁREZ MORENO (Venezuela), calling the holding of presidential elections and the formation of a national unity Government a positive step, said that the ongoing dialogue should be inclusive so that consensus could be reached between all political forces. The Council should continue to support the dialogue efforts and the initiatives by the good offices of the National Episcopal Conference. He urged all political elements to participate in dialogue and allay all fears for violence. He also expressed concern at violence carried out by non-State armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and the growing number of internally displaced persons.
ANNE GUEGUEN MOHSEN (France) said the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was of concern as the country was going through a difficult political period, one that had not improved despite the efforts of the Council and the National Episcopal Conference. Noting an attempt to disturb the balance of power, he stressed that a spiral of violence must be avoided at all costs and the Council must employ preventive diplomacy to solve the difficulties peacefully. The freeing of political prisoners and the lifting of the ban against the press would be helpful in that regard. A political agreement was essential to avoid tensions that could destabilize an entire region.
ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain), Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity, emphasizing that there was no time to lose in conducting preventive diplomacy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A comprehensive agreement on a peaceful political transition must be encouraged for that purpose. He voiced support for those serving as mediators, including the National Episcopal Conference, and dismissed charges that they were acting on behalf of any one party. He underlined, however, that the presidential statement did not represent a job completed. Rather, it was just one more step in the Council’s support for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
IGNACE GATA MAVITA WA LUFUTA (Democratic Republic of the Congo), describing his country’s continuing operations against armed groups in the east, said their terrorist tactics and international character — the rebels represented six nationalities — merited international attention. Among efforts to safeguard good relations with neighbours, Kinshasa had notified the Council of the need to rid its territory of South Sudanese elements of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition.
Regarding the election process, he affirmed the appointment of a new Prime Minister and said the election schedule, including the revision of the electoral lists, should soon be completed and made public. The Government was working to implement all of the Council’s recommendations in the interest of maintaining stability and respecting human rights. Acknowledging that perfection had not yet been achieved in those areas, he said the Government was, however, working in that direction. Restrictions were not intended to stifle free expression but to prevent renewed violence, he said.
The full text of presidential statement S/PRST/2016/18 reads as follows:
“The Security Council is monitoring very closely the recent political development in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and remains concerned about the risk for destabilization of the country and the region as a whole, as illustrated by the violence of 19-20 September 2016, in the absence of a swift and consensual resolution to the current political crisis.
“The Security Council thanks the Government of the DRC, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and all its interlocutors for the fruitful discussions that have taken place during this visit.
“The Security Council acknowledges the political agreement reached on 18 October 2016, and takes note of the appointment of the new Prime Minister. The Security Council is encouraged by the unanimous commitment of Congolese actors to prevent destabilization and to continue inclusive discussions in order to reach a broad consensus towards free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful and timely presidential and legislative elections leading to a peaceful transfer of power, in accordance with the Congolese Constitution, for the stability, development and consolidation of constitutional democracy in the DRC. The Security Council further calls on political groups that did not sign the political agreement to remain engaged in dialogue. The Security Council welcomes commitments to respect and preserve the Constitution in letter and spirit and looks forward to the implementation of further confidence-building measures to ease tensions and build consensus.
“The Security Council welcomes the ongoing mediation efforts led by the Conférence épiscopale Nationale du Congo and calls on all political actors to continue working in good faith and in a spirit of compromise towards a swift political solution, before 19 December 2016, that paves the way for peaceful, credible, inclusive and timely elections as soon as possible in the DRC. The Security Council further encourages the region to pursue its efforts in support of the mediation.
“The Security Council urges the Government, as well as all relevant parties, to ensure an environment conducive to a free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent elections, as recalled in Security Council resolution 2277 (2016), which includes free and constructive political debate, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of assembly, equitable access to media including State media, safety and freedom of movement for all candidates, as well as for election observers and witnesses, journalists, human rights defenders and actors from civil society, including women.
“The Security Council calls on the authorities to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially the right of peaceful assembly, and to exercise maximum restraint in their response to protests, and also calls upon the opposition forces, on their side, to show responsibility by ensuring the peaceful character of their demonstrations.
“The Security Council reiterates its call upon all political parties, their supporters, and other political actors to exercise maximum restraint in their actions and statements, to refrain from violence, violent speeches or other provocations and to address their differences peacefully. The Security Council calls on the Government of the DRC to hold accountable those responsible for the killings on 19-20 September 2016 and all violations and abuses of human rights. The Security Council takes note of the recent visit to DRC of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
“The Security Council stresses the importance for the Government of the DRC and its national partners to take all steps to accelerate preparations for the elections without further delays, including by expediting the update of the voter registry.
“The Security Council is also deeply concerned by the humanitarian situation that continues to severely affect the civilian population in eastern DRC and the persistence of violence in eastern DRC, in particular in North Kivu Province where nearly 840,000 people were internally displaced as of 30 September 2016 and more than 700 civilians have been killed since October 2014. The Security Council urges authorities to hold accountable those deemed responsible for the violence.
“The Security Council calls on the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to take further action, in accordance with international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as applicable, and with the support of MONUSCO in accordance with its mandate, to end the threat posed by the ADF, the FDLR and all other armed groups operating in the DRC. The Security Council encourages further cooperation between the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) and MONUSCO in tackling this violence and their efforts to neutralize armed groups operating in eastern Congo.
“The Security Council reiterates its full support to MONUSCO and its appreciation for the Special Representative’s leadership in trying to ease tensions. The Security Council urges MONUSCO to fully implement its protection of civilians mandate, including to respond to current and ongoing security threats and reminds troop and police contributing countries of the need for a comprehensive approach and to take all necessary measures to carry out MONUSCO’s mandate as set forth in resolution 2277 (2016).“The Security Council welcomes the regional initiatives and efforts by regional states to promote peace, stability and democracy in the DRC, to enhance cooperation towards the neutralization of armed groups in eastern DRC, including the establishment by the DRC, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda of a joint follow-up mechanism, and encourages further action. The Security Council extends its thanks to Angola, chair of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), for the fruitful discussions held in Luanda on 14 November 2016. The Security Council also welcomes in that regard the reform of the governing mechanisms of the PSC Framework, including the decision to hold one annual high-level meeting of the Regional Oversight Mechanism in a signatory State, with a view to strengthening regional ownership of the framework.
“The Security Council expresses its determination to continue to closely follow the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in particular the security conditions on the ground and the efforts to successfully conclude the electoral process.”