Credible and inclusive elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, followed by a peaceful transfer of power, would have a positive effect on peace, stability and development in the wider Great Lakes region of Central Africa, speakers said today as the Security Council debated regional developments that also included humanitarian concerns and the activities of armed groups.
Said Djinnit, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region, reporting on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region, urged the Council to remain united in its support for the implementation of the 31 December 2016 political agreement among Congolese political leaders under which elections would be held on 23 December 2018 for a successor to President Joseph Kabila.
The Great Lakes was among Africa’s most volatile and complex regions, but it was also one that could make a meaningful contribution to the continent’s stability and development, he said. He encouraged the Council to keep urging the parties concerned to work towards the common goal of peace, stability and sustainable development for the region and its populations.
The representative of the Congo, whose President holds the Chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region’s Regional Oversight Mechanism, said the Democratic Republic of the Congo was undoubtedly the nerve centre of the Great Lakes region and the cornerstone of the Framework. The task at hand was to help that country regain stability so it could become a catalyst for lasting peace in the wider region. In that regard, he added, the international community must mobilize around regional efforts with strengthened coordination and cooperation.
In the ensuing debate, which followed the Council’s renewal on 27 March of the mandate of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) (see Press Release SC/13265), several speakers drew a link between the forthcoming elections and improving the lives of millions in the wider Great Lakes region. Many drew attention to other challenges, too, including human rights abuses, the humanitarian situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the flow of refugees and internally displaced persons.
The representative of France, the Council penholder on the Great Lakes region, emphasized the importance of elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a peaceful handover of power, stating that regional stability was at stake. Respect for human rights and the electoral calendar was key, he asserted, underscoring the role of regional organizations as well as the need to confront armed groups and the illicit trafficking in natural resources.
Equatorial Guinea’s delegate said the Great Lakes region had strategic importance for the stability of all Africa. The enormous potential of the region’s natural resources — once peace was achieved — would allow the region to flourish. As things stood now, conflicts were “bleeding its countries dry”. Emphasizing that the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was central to overall regional stability, he said the upcoming elections could help open a new chapter, and that Kinshasa must work closely with its regional and international partners to ensure that voting was carried out smoothly.
In the same vein, the representative of the United States urged the Special Envoy to ensure that the electoral process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo moved forward. Those elections must be inclusive and credible, followed by a peaceful handover of power, she said, adding: “No more delays would be tolerated.” For its part, the Council must not lose sight of other challenges in Great Lakes region, she said, urging the Special Envoy of any steps that might be required to advance his mission.
Ethiopia’s delegate said displacement resulting from conflicts had resulted in a humanitarian crisis. A major challenge faced by the Democratic Republic of the Congo was the persistence of armed groups in the east. Expressing hope that the Council would seriously consider that matter, he called for enhanced regional cooperation to support the successful conduct of the upcoming elections. Going forward, the work of Special Envoy’s office and the implementation of the Framework would remain crucial, he added.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, Russian Federation, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Kuwait, Netherlands, Bolivia, Poland and Peru.
The meeting began at 10:52 a.m. and ended at 12:42 p.m.
SAID DJINNIT, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region (document S/2018/209). Since his last briefing to the Council, his office had continued to support the Framework’s implementation in close collaboration with the African Union, Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. In particular, it focused on negative forces in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, support to meaningful dialogue and electoral processes, addressing root causes of conflict and mobilizing the region’s leadership through the Framework’s governing mechanism to promote dialogue and cooperation between its signatory countries.
Noting the Framework’s recent fifth anniversary, he said that instrument had yet to fully deliver on expectations. However, it remained a vital tool for promoting regional cooperation, peace and stability alongside the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region of 2006. At a consultation in Addis Ababa, participants highlighted the need for greater political will. Going forward, he said there must be greater resolve to mitigate mistrust between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, and cited efforts in that regard by regional leaders, the African Union and the President of the Congo in his capacity as President of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.
Turning to the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said that — in addition to strengthening the United Nations force intervention brigade under the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) — it was important to tackle the financing of armed groups by combatting the illicit exploitation and trafficking of resources. To set the stage for inclusive and credible elections, it was crucial that the Council remain united in its support for the implementation of the 31 December 2016 peace accord. Regarding the situation in Burundi, he said regional leaders and the African Union, with United Nations support, must do more to encourage dialogue between the parties in that country. States in the region and humanitarian actors must also propose sustainable regional solutions to the Great Lakes region’s humanitarian crisis.
He said that the United Nations must, in collaboration with leaders in the region, address the overlap of mandates and objectives between the Framework and the Pact on Security, Stability and Development, considering the comparative advantages of each instrument and the need to ensure complementarity and synergy. Concluding, he said the Great Lakes remained one of Africa’s most volatile and complex regions, but also one that could make a meaningful contribution to the continent’s stability and development. He encouraged the Council to continue to urge the parties concerned to work towards the common goal of peace, stability and sustainable development for the region and its populations.
RAYMOND SERGE BALÉ (Congo), noting that his country’s President was Chair of both the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region’s Regional Oversight Mechanism, briefed the Council on the 19 October 2017 regional summit in Brazzaville, which focused on the neutralization of negative forces, the repatriation of disarmed fighters, and dialogue and political processes. He drew attention to significant progress in the electoral process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, emphasizing, however, the need to respect the electoral calendar and to make progress on electoral financing, logistics and security vis‑à-vis armed groups. “We are moving into a critical phase,” he said, calling on the political class and civil society to go the extra distance and ensure a peaceful electoral process. The international community had an essential role to play in that regard and the guarantors of the Framework must work towards the implementation of the electoral road map.
He went on to review developments elsewhere in the region, including the reconciliation agreement in Kenya, the persistence of violence in the Central African Republic, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) dialogue process in South Sudan and the upcoming constitutional referendum in Burundi, as well as efforts to improve relations between Burundi and Rwanda. Emphasizing the link between peace and development, he said the international community must look beyond electoral calendars, as lasting peace and security would require other means of support. Returning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said that country was undoubtedly the nerve centre of the Great Lakes region and the cornerstone of the Framework. The duty now was to help it regain stability so that it could become a catalyst for lasting peace in the wider region. In that regard, the international community must mobilize around regional efforts with strengthened coordination and cooperation.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the development of the Great Lakes region hinged on reinforcing political stability, strengthening democratic institutions and fighting impunity. He emphasized the importance of elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a peaceful handover of power, stating that regional stability was at stake. Respect for human rights and the electoral calendar was key. Underscoring the role of regional organizations, he emphasized the need for military engagement against armed groups, as well as political action to demobilize, disarm and reintegrate foreign fighters in their countries of origin. At the same time, there could be no stability so long as illicit trafficking in resources continued, he said.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said that, five years after the Framework’s signing, the security situation in the Great Lakes region remained worrying. The displacement resulting from conflicts had resulted in a major humanitarian crisis. The major challenge faced by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in particular, was the continuing operation of armed groups in the country’s eastern section. Expressing hope that the Council would seriously consider that matter — especially in light of the country’s upcoming elections — he also hoped more efforts would be pursued towards confidence-building measures among actors on the ground, and that all would refrain from actions that might escalate tensions. Calling for enhanced regional cooperation to support the successful conduct of the upcoming elections, he said conflicts in the region could only be resolved through a peaceful political process on the basis of the Arusha Agreement. Going forward, the work of the Office of the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and the implementation of the Framework would remain crucial, he said, underlining the need to redouble efforts towards the latter.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said the Great Lakes region had strategic importance for the stability of the entire African continent. All actors must seek a common ground, in particular in implementing the Framework. The great potential of the region’s natural resources — if peace was achieved — would allow the Great Lakes region to flourish, he said, noting that on contrast the current conflicts were “bleeding its countries dry”. Calling for full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and all the States of the region, he said the situation in that country was central to the region’s overall stability and added that its upcoming elections could help open a new chapter for its people. All possible scenarios for the election should be studied with great care, and that country’s Government must work closely with its regional and international partners to ensure that it was carried out smoothly.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said “what happens in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] over the next few months could be a defining moment in greater regional stability”. The United Kingdom remained committed to supporting the Framework’s implementation, as well as the conduct of free, fair and transparent elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in December. However, several key challenges — including a lack of progress in repatriating some foreign fighters — remained, and she was concerned about the continued proliferation of violence in North and South Kivu, the Kasaïs and other parts of the country. There were more internally displaced people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo than in any other country in Africa and more than 13.1 million of its people needed humanitarian assistance and protection. The signatories of the Framework must work to implement that accord, and ensure the smooth conduct of the upcoming elections by adhering to the electoral calendar and fully respecting the confidence-building measures agreed in 2016, she said.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said his delegation concurred that the Framework was a cornerstone for Great Lakes stability. There must be full compliance by all signatories of that still relevant document. Five years after the Framework’s adoption, its military provisions were far from being implemented, with the activities of armed groups prolonging interethnic conflict, illicit resource trafficking and fuelling a deterioration of the humanitarian situation. Emphasizing the need to address root causes, he said it would be unacceptable to impose solutions at a time when many Great Lakes countries were building or reforming democratic institutions. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo in particular, responsibility for normalizing the situation rested with the people. External assistance — including robust mediation involving the African Union, United Nations, the International Conference and others — should in that context play a constructive and positive role.
ZHANG DIANBIN (China) said peace and stability in the Great Lakes region had remained fragile. Emphasizing the principle of “African solutions to African problems”, he said the leadership of regional countries and organizations must be respected. The international community should do more to help the region build up its security capacity, honour its commitments in a timely fashion and increase its infrastructure investment. Economic and social development should be promoted, including effective solutions to youth employment and refugees. He went on to note China’s support for peace efforts and its contributions to United Nations peacekeeping operations in the region.
BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire), noting that the Council had often discussed the situation in the Great Lakes region several times in the past three months, said it was clear that progress towards lasting peace and stability was running up against security, political and humanitarian challenges. He urged the Special Envoy to persevere in his efforts towards the effective implementation of the Framework, and expressed support for the priorities set out by the instrument’s signatories. Côte d’Ivoire called on all stakeholders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to implement the 31 December 2016 agreement with the aim of holding credible elections. At the same time, he said the worsening security and humanitarian situation in the east of that country was especially alarming, and urged donors to ensure the success of the upcoming high-level conference in Geneva on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
DIDAR TEMENOV (Kazakhstan), welcoming the Framework’s signatories’ increasing ownership for its implementation, nevertheless expressed concern about recurring cycles of violence in the region and its deteriorating humanitarian situation. Noting that the destabilizing actions of local and foreign armed groups exacerbated political tensions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he called for efforts to strengthen the capacity of that country’s armed forces to combat such groups with the help of the Mission’s intervention brigade. Also critical would be reactivating the regional follow-up mechanism to expedite the repatriation of disarmed combatants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and neighbouring countries. Echoing concerns about the lack of progress in the inter-Burundian dialogue, he called on all stakeholders to establish constructive dialogue in the spirit of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, and urged the international community to continue to support the East African Community’s promotion of inclusive dialogue. Additionally, the suffering of the region’s 11 million internally displaced persons should remain a focus, and efforts must be pursued to address the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the region’s combat zones, which funded armed groups and criminal networks.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said that strengthening regional forums for dialogue, information-sharing and transparency, as well as increased joint monitoring, could help the Great Lakes region resolve key issues central to building sustainable peace. The United Nations had an important role to play in that regard. Emphasizing that the humanitarian, political and security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was the most pressing issue, he said that — in partnership with regional actors — the Council must support credible, transparent, inclusive and peaceful elections on 23 December. It was essential for women’s voices to be heard, he said, adding that continued regional leadership — including implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — was essential for peace and development.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) described the spread of armed groups in the Great Lakes, as well as the violence they committed and their pillaging of natural resources, as a critical challenge to the region’s stability and to its future development. Expressing concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation, he said all actors must prioritize efforts to end conflicts, neutralize armed groups and address the humanitarian crises resulting from forced displacement. The United Nations missions in the region were among the world’s largest in terms of human resources and budgets, he said, noting that that activities reflected the international community’s common commitment to restore stability and alleviate suffering. When the Framework Agreement was signed in 2013, it had been held up as a source of hope and a possible cornerstone for stability in the Great Lakes region; regrettably, the agreement was now entering its fifth year without adequate implementation. Calling on States and regional organizations to step up efforts in that regard, he said the escalation of violence by armed groups in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo — and especially their attacks against civilians and peacekeepers — were of critical concern. The Governments of the region must unify their efforts to curb those attacks, he stressed.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), citing significant progress achieved in the five years since the Framework’s adoption, said the presence of some foreign armed groups had been reduced, judicial and development cooperation had been increased, and regional organizations, such as the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, had been strengthened. However, challenges remained, including the continued operation of some armed groups and the failure to repatriate members of some foreign groups such as the 23 March Movement and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. The Framework remained a relevant and viable tool to deal with those challenges, he stressed, citing the region’s complex security environment and spotlighting the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s December elections. Calling on the Government of that country, and of Burundi, to respect fundamental human rights and to open political space to ensure the full and free participation of peaceful political parties, civil society and media, he also underscored the importance of regional cooperation, welcoming the roles played by the African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and SADC in the Framework’s implementation.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said his country was optimistic about the Framework’s implementation and called on its signatories to keep promoting peace and security. The Great Lakes region was rich in natural resources, but multinationals and neocolonial mechanisms had weakened the ability of States to use those resources to their own benefit. Armed groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Lord’s Resistance Army meanwhile remained a constant threat. Expressing concern over violence and a worsening security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere, he said confidence-building measures must be strengthened.
PAWEL RADOMSKI (Poland) said political tensions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, South Sudan and the Central African Republic remained a source of instability. Implementing confidence-building measures and ensuring a peaceful political process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo would be critical to the stability for the wider region, while countering illegal cross‑border activities was essential for addressing the threat posed by armed groups. Expressing concern about a significant increase in refugees and internally displaced persons, he said more attention must be given to the human rights situation, as well as an effective international response to attacks and abuses, including those which targeted women and children. Full implementation of the Framework was in the interest of its signatories, who should step up their commitments, he said, calling also for more preventative diplomacy, promotion of good practices and continued interest by the international community with the situation on the ground.
ELAINE MARIE FRENCH (United States) said political impasse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had heightened tensions, weakened State authority and increased the risk of unrest. The United States urged the Special Envoy to ensure that the electoral process moved forward, with the 31 December 2016 political agreement being fully implemented. Elections must be inclusive and credible, followed by a peaceful handover of power, she said, adding: “No more delays would be tolerated.” While the focus remained on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Council must not lose sight of other challenges, she said, urging regional stakeholders to do more to foster dialogue in Burundi. She went urged the Special Envoy to continue engaging with regional stakeholders and to inform the Council of any steps necessary to advance his mission.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), Council President for April, speaking in his national capacity, highlighted the importance of a regional approach, emphasizing that efforts by various partners must be coherent in order to be complementary, leading to better cooperation for the benefit of all. Elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and dialogue in Burundi must advance in an inclusive manner, with broad participation from their respective populations. Expressing concern about the humanitarian situation, he said violence and insecurity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, South Sudan and the Central African Republic had put more than 11 million people in a precarious situation. They must be protected, including women, girls and boys, he said, emphasizing also the need to effectively fight impunity.