Briefing Security Council on Democratic Republic of Congo, Special Representative Underscores Need for Credible Electoral Process, Despite Unrest

SC/13238
7 March 2018
8198th Meeting* (PM)

Briefing Security Council on Democratic Republic of Congo, Special Representative Underscores Need for Credible Electoral Process, Despite Unrest

Discussing the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today, Security Council members underscored the importance of the holding of fair and credible elections, as the electoral process in that country continued amid continued increasing violence and unrest.

Presenting the latest report of the Secretary‑General on the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), outlined the ways in which the country was continuing with its political preparations.  She expressed her concern over the disproportionate use of force by security services during recent demonstrations.  The Government should investigate and take appropriate measures, she said.  There was also a need to restore confidence in the political process, including through the release of political prisoners.

However, she noted, there had also been some positive steps, including significant progress regarding the presidential and legislative elections registration process, as more than 46 million people had signed up to vote.

With regard to the MONUSCO mandate, she recommended that the Council renew it, as well as to keep its focus on how the political and electoral processes could best be supported in line with the 31 December Agreement, the electoral calendar and the Congolese Constitution.  She also urged the Council to consider how the security situation could be stabilized.

Léonard She Okitundu, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, underscored that incendiary statements and unfair sanctions that violated the principles of international law did not help improve the pre-election climate.  Indeed, the concept of political de-escalation should not be a demand placed only on the Government but rather all stakeholders involved in the political process.  He also outlined the activities of the Armed Forces of his country, noting that those Forces were working to eradicate negative forces in North Kivu and South Kivu, as well as to reinforce State authority in Kasai.  Operations were also continuing against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which had been greatly weakened, he said.

On the renewal of the Mission’s mandate, he noted that in March, his Government had requested that any renewal consider the Congolese people’s desire for the eradication of armed groups in the east of the country.  With that in mind, United Nations forces should be strengthened, particularly that of the Force Intervention Brigade.  Other MONUSCO units that were not essential to respond to the problem of armed groups should be drawn down, he emphasized, noting that his Government regretted that it was not consulted on the withdrawal of Tanzanian artillery and South African aircraft.

The representative of France noted while the Democratic Republic of the Congo had reached a turning point, the challenges that remained were immense.  Those included a deteriorating humanitarian situation and an increase in violence.  The instability was a result of delays and uncertainty in the electoral process, he said, underscoring that the holding of timely elections was vital if stability was to return.  Not only that, but if the results were to be universally accepted, then they had to be held in a peaceful climate where candidates could campaign without fear of retribution.

Sounding a positive note, Ethiopia’s delegate welcomed the progress that had been made regarding the preparation for the elections.  The voter registration process had been completed across all 26 of the country’s provinces.  In addition, the release of opposition leader Moise Katumbi’s former Chief of Staff was a step in the right direction.

In a similar vein, the representative of Côte d’Ivoire highlighted the progress made in the electoral process, while stressing the need for the country’s political class to provide the conditions needed to hold a peaceful election.  His country supported the Secretary-General’s request for the renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate, he said, highlighting the Mission’s vital role in the provision of technical and logistical support.

Many delegates underlined the important of MONUSCO’s work, including the representative of Kuwait, who said that he supported the renewal of its mandate for another year, as it gave important support to the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as it prepared for the country’s future.  It was also the biggest Mission in the United Nations system, he said, and he condemned the attacks carried out against its troops.

The representative of the United States noted that MONUSCO was the most expensive and complex Mission in the history of the United Nations.  It should do everything possible to ensure that elections would be held in the country as the Government had promised.  Free elections were the next step in the development of the country, she said, noting that Democratic Republic of the Congo President Joseph Kabila had already stayed in office longer than he should have.

Bolivia’s delegate, in addition to highlighting the work done by MONUSCO, also took the opportunity to highlight the important work done by various regional organizations in support of the upcoming elections, noting the efforts of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union Peace and Security Council in particular.  In addition, cooperation with the Mission and the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region was vital, he said.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Sweden, Peru, Equatorial Guinea, Poland, Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, China and the Netherlands.

The meeting began at 3:06 p.m. and ended at 5 p.m.

Briefing

LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), said significant progress had been made towards preparing for the presidential and legislative elections, with more than 46 million people — 47 per cent of them women — registering to vote on 23 December.  However, several major challenges remained, she said, emphasizing the need to restore confidence in the political process among the signatories of the New Year’s Eve Agreement, including through the release of political prisoners.  Voicing her concern over the disproportionate use of force by the security services during recent demonstrations, leaving several people dead and injured, she called on the Government to undertake credible investigations and take appropriate measures.  On the electoral process, she said several key issues had yet to be resolved.  They included, among other things, the adoption by Parliament of provisions for the distribution of legislative seats, the allocation of election-related financial resources, and the potential use of voting machines.

She noted that while national political attention remained centred on the confidence-building measures and progress in the electoral process, the security situation in the country had continued to deteriorate.  That had brought increased risks for renewed instability, and posed serious threats to the civilian population.  In the Kasai region, the security situation remained fragile, with reports of increased destabilizing activities of Kamuina Nsapu and other militia groups.  The rapidly deteriorating situation in Ituri province, centred around events in the Djugu territory, was of grave concern.  She condemned the persistent attacks by the various armed groups and militia, the recruitment of children, the rape of women and young girls, the burning of houses and schools, and the desecration of places of worship.  It was the responsibility of those that direct and those that perpetrate those attacks to ensure that the unacceptable violence came to an end.

The country also continued to face one of the world’s most serious humanitarian crises, she said.  The number of those internally displaced in need of humanitarian assistance had reached 4.5 million persons, the highest number in Africa.  She encouraged the Council, in its deliberations on the renewal of the MONUSCO mandate, to maintain its focus on how the political and electoral processes could best be supported in line with the 31 December Agreement, the electoral calendar and the Congolese Constitution.  She also urged the Council to consider how the security situation could be stabilized.  Those who had lost their lives in the name of peace should not be forgotten.  That included Congolese from all walks of life, including the 27 Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) staff that had lost their lives during the voter registration process.

Statements

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that the briefing by the Special Representative had underscored the extent to which the Democratic Republic of the Congo was at a turning point and the electoral procedure was essential in that regard.  The challenges were immense, and included a serious deterioration in the humanitarian situation and an increase in violence, both of which should prompt the Council to act.  The current instability stemmed from delays and uncertainty in the electoral process.  Holding elections on time was crucial for a return to stability.  MONUSCO had a key role to play in that context.  The Congolese must have confidence that the electoral calendar was being respected.  In addition, the CENI had a key role to play in the process, and he encouraged it to work in a spirit of transparency.  There must be a return to a spirit of consensus.  For the election results to be accepted by all, they must be held in a peaceful climate where all candidates could campaign without fear of reprisals.

MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said that the deteriorating political, security and humanitarian situation was a matter of serious concern, and the continued instability had displaced many and caused a major humanitarian crisis.  She welcomed the progress made in preparation for the elections, including the completion of the voter registration process across the 26 provinces, including the troubled Kasai region.  Initiatives such as the release of the former Chief of Staff of opposition leader Moise Katumbi, as well as amnesty to several individuals, were steps in the right direction.  The role of MONUSCO continued to be important in support of the implementation of the 31 December 2016 Agreement and the electoral process as well as regarding the protection of civilians.  She supported the extension of the Mission mandate for another year, based on the recommendations of the Secretary-General.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) called on the signatories to the 31 December Agreement to implement its provisions, especially confidence-building measures, and to abide by the principles of preventative diplomacy and good offices.  Commending the work of regional organizations, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union Peace and Security Council in supporting the forthcoming elections, he said cooperation with MONUSCO and the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region was important as well.  He encouraged MONUSCO to expand its programme for reduction of community violence and for its Force Intervention Brigade to support the electoral process through the protection of civilians.  He went on to say that, 20 years after its deployment, it was important to re-evaluate MONUSCO’s priorities, taking into considering the need of the Congolese people and whether root causes — such as illegal mining — had been properly addressed.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said his country was deeply concern by the proliferation of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as the significant increases in human rights abuses, including those perpetrated by State agents.  Instability had resulted in a devastating humanitarian crisis, he said, adding that there was a clear link between political uncertainty and increasing insecurity, with Congolese people unable to express their concerns without risking their lives.  Welcoming progress towards elections so far, he said there was no time for complacency, and that it was essential to honour the electoral calendar.  He called on the Government to implement the 31 December Agreement in full, including through confidence-building measures, and to respect fundamental rights and freedoms.  He called on the opposition to engage constructively with the electoral process based on the 31 December Agreement.  On MONUSCO, he said it had a crucial role to play in 2018, and welcomed efforts to improve its ability to fulfil its tasks.  It was important that reforms be swiftly implemented, he added.

CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) said credible, transparent, inclusive and peaceful elections on 23 December would be a first step towards lasting peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  “This is something we all need to support,” he said, emphasizing respect for human rights, the effective participation of women and adequate resourcing for MONUSCO in supporting the electoral process.  Recalling the 2017 murder of Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp, members of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo who went missing on 12 March 2017, he said the perpetrators must be brought to justice, adding that MONUSCO must support the Group of Experts in carrying out its mandate.  In the long run, the situation in the country could only be resolved by addressing root causes, he said, underscoring the need for an integrated plan for a whole-of-United-Nations approach in support of sustainable peace, he said.

FRANCISCO TENYA (Peru) said that his country followed with concern the worsening of the security situation particularly in the eastern part of Democratic Republic of the Congo and the presence of armed groups in the Kasai region.  He also expressed his concern over the increase in displaced persons and refugees.  He rejected acts of intimidation against the staff of MONUSCO that had been attributed to security forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Those forces must cooperate in the fulfilment of the work of the Mission.  He also highlighted the importance of the successful carrying out of the postponed elections.  The Mission should continue to provide the logistical support needed, but it was up to the Government to ensure that free and fair elections be held.  He welcomed the announcement of the non-re-election of President Joseph Kabila in accordance with the Constitution.

ELAINE MARIE FRENCH (United States) said that the people in the African country were on the verge of a democratic transfer of power.  Despite threats, the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had eagerly lined up to vote, and they had a desire and a right to determine their own future.  For nearly 20 years, the international community had invested in MONUSCO.  It was the most expensive Mission in the history of the United Nations and the most complex.  Free elections were the next indispensable step in the country’s development.  The elections would represent much more than the fulfilment of the minimum requirements of a democracy.  They would be a concession that Government did not exist to extract wealth and power for an elite.  President Kabila had already stayed in office long past its limit, and the Government continued to pursue questionable charges against political opponents.  However, there were also signs of hope amid the violence and uncertainty.  The Government was satisfying the technical requirements for holding the elections.  The Mission should do all it can to ensure elections would be held as the Government had promised.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) called on all political actors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure a clean, fair and transparent electoral process, with the international community and all those involved in the conflict aiming to give all necessary support to the Independent National Electoral Commission.  To resolve problems, the international community must fully respect the Government’s authority and leadership, he said, adding that solutions designed by the global community would be more effective if they complemented the Government’s actions.  Emphasizing that the humanitarian situation remained a concern, he said illegal mining by militias and diverse armed groups must cease.  All parties meanwhile must abstain from any actions that would worsen the situation, he said, adding that all parties must engage in political dialogue with a positive attitude.  He expressed his country’s full support for MONUSCO and its appreciation for the work of regional organizations, including the African Union, European Union, SADC and the International Conference on the Great Lakes.

BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire), welcoming progress made so far in preparing for elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, called on the political class in that country to provide the conditions needed to hold a peaceful vote.  Noting the commitment of the Congolese authorities to organize the elections within the established calendar, he called on the opposition to play a constructive role in implementing the New Year’s Eve Agreement.  He welcomed the technical and logistical support being provided by the United Nations, and expressed his country’s concern over the actions of armed groups in several provinces as well as the humanitarian situation.  He expressed Côte d’Ivoire’s support for the renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate and its continued cooperation with the Congolese authorities.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said that she was worried about the divisions among political and civil society actors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  There was a lack of good will that put at risk the holding of fair and credible elections.  All concerned parties should engage in the ongoing political process.  In January, the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo committed to holding elections as planned, ensuring that the Constitution would be respected.  The Government should take concrete steps and release political prisoners, lift the ban on public demonstrations and bring to justice alleged perpetrators of human rights violations.  By doing so, the Government would show its will to normalize the situation the country.

BADER ABDULLAH N. M. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait) said that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was witnessing a critical period when it came to the current political process, which was taking place against the backdrop of the commitment of the Government to have an electoral calendar and to hold the election as agreed.  He welcomed the efforts made by the Government in that regard.  The elections should be free, democratic and fair, including participation by all political parties in the country.  In relation to the extension of the mandate of MONUSCO, he supported its renewal for another year, as it gave important support to the Government as it prepared for the country’s political future.  It was the biggest Mission in the United Nations, he noted, condemning the attacks against the Mission by armed groups.  Those perpetrators should be brought to justice, he said.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), expressing hope that the timely organization of presidential elections would decrease tensions in Congolese society, said opposition forces should cooperate more actively with the Independent National Electoral Commission.  MONUSCO’s role should not go beyond technical and logistical assistance, he said, adding that growing activity by illegal armed formations in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a negative trend that would indicate whether the situation was stabilizing or not.  Attacks by rebels on peacekeepers and the overall security situation in the east led the Russian Federation to question the outcome of MONUSCO’s strategic review.  The Mission’s mandate was to protect civilians and directing attention away from that task was ill-advised.  He said that during the 6 March Council meeting with troop-country countries, his delegation was surprised to learn of a lack of joint operations against illegal armed groups.  He regretted that some proposals in the strategic review were being implemented without the Council’s approval.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said that his country was deeply concerned with the increased tensions between the ruling majority and the opposition forces regarding the implementation of the 31 December 2016 Political Agreement.  Confidence-building measures were essential throughout the electoral process to ensure free and credible elections.  He also noted considerable divergence within the opposition, which was impeding the political process.  The role of MONUSCO was critical in creating the environment conducive for fair elections.  The international team of electoral experts should be quickly operationalized, and work with the dedicated senior United Nations adviser.  It was necessary to support MONUSCO in providing technical and logistical assistance for the electoral process.

ZHANG DIANBIN (China) said that the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remained complex.  He stressed that advancing the political process was an important path towards resolving the tensions in that country.  The international community should respect the ownership of the political process by the Government and the people.  The international community should continue to support African, regional and subregional organizations as main channels of good offices.  Security and stability served as the basis to promote the political process and national reconstruction, and the Government had the primary responsibility of protecting its civilians.  MONUSCO played an important role in maintaining peace and security in the country, and China supported the continuation of the extension of the mandate of the Mission.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said that the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo looked forward to the country’s first peaceful transfer of power through free, fair and credible elections at the end of 2018.  Progress towards that historic day was continuing, but progress on the implementation of the Sylvester Agreement had stalled, and fundamental freedoms were threatened.  He condemned the violence during the protests that were held on 25 February, noting that all harassment of civil society, journalists and human rights defenders must end.  MONUSCO had a vital role to play, not only to provide logistical support but also to support the implementation of the Sylvester Agreement and to monitor progress towards the elections.

LÉONARD SHE OKITUNDU, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reviewed the preparations under way for the forthcoming elections, including two meetings in January between the Government and MONUSCO on the question of reducing political tensions.  The concept of political de-escalation should not be a demand placed only on the Government.  Incendiary statements, appeals to upend the political order and unfair sanctions that violated the principles of international law did not help improve the pre-election climate.  Reducing political tensions must be the responsibility of all actors, including the opposition, civil society, the Catholic Church and international partners.  Human rights violations, when they occurred, were the acts of individuals which could not go unpunished, he said, recalling that the Government had established a joint commission of inquiry into the loss of life during demonstrations on 31 December, 21 January and 25 February, with its findings to be referred to the Ministry of Justice and judicial bodies.  Regarding the murder of the two United Nations experts, he said a trial of which began on 5 June before a military tribunal in Kananga was holding its twenty-eighth public hearing.  Twelve suspects were standing trial while 13 others were being tried in absentia, he said, adding that one of the alleged commanders of the murders, Tshidima Constantin Bula Bula, apprehended at the end of December, was undergoing questioning.

Turning to security matters, he said the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was pursuing its operations to eradicate negative forces in North Kivu and South Kivu and to reinforce State authority in Kasai.  The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) was a major source of concern, having stepped up its attacks on the Armed Forces, civilians and United Nations peacekeepers, and it deserved the attention of the entire international community.  Meanwhile, the Armed Forces were continuing operations against a weakened Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), he said, conveying his country’s request for the unconditional repatriation of former combatants of that group, and those of M23, who were still in transit camps in Kisangani, Kanyabayonga and Walungu.

On the humanitarian situation, he said there was a significant disparity between statistics given by some external partners and those of the Congolese public services, and called for bolstered cooperation and partnership to remove any doubts about the number of people who required assistance.  It went without saying that outside support for the Government’s national fund for humanitarian solidarity would be welcome, he said, adding that great strides had been made in the struggle against sexual violence, which the Secretary-General had acknowledged in his letter of 27 April 2017 and in various reports.  He recalled the Government’s March 2017 request that a renewal of the MONUSCO mandate consider the Congolese people’s desire for the eradication of armed groups in the east of the country.  To that end, it was imperative to strengthen the operational effectiveness of United Nations forces, starting with those of the Force Intervention Brigade, which was the spearhead of the partnership between MONUSCO and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In that vein, MONUSCO units not essential to military operations against armed groups, or in areas where the Mission’s presence was not justified, should be drawn down, he said, adding that his Government regretted not being consulted on such developments as the withdrawal of Tanzanian artillery and South African aircraft.  Concluding, he said the eradication of armed groups must be a priority in MONUSCO’s mandate, in partnership with and under the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  That partnership, to be effective, must be given the resources needed to carry out non-conventional warfare, he added.

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*     The 8186th & 8187th Meetings were closed.

For information media. Not an official record.