Preparations for December Vote ‘Well Under Way’, Permanent Representative Stresses
Affirming that preparations for December presidential and legislative elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are well advanced, speakers in the Security Council this morning urged all stakeholders to reach consensus on outstanding issues to ensure that the poll results will be universally respected.
Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), said the electoral law has been revised, voter lists established and candidates for presidential, national and provisional assemblies validated for the 23 December polls.
Presenting the latest report of the Secretary-General (document S/2018/882), she said tensions persist, however, over the earlier invalidation of some candidates and questions about the use of voting machines, as well as the clean-up of the electoral lists. She called on all parties to resolve their differences through dialogue. Noting that security remains a challenge in parts of the country, she also recommended the deployment of special security teams to ensure a safe environment for the polls.
Attacks by armed groups in the east, notably around Beni in North Kivu, have also complicated efforts by humanitarian workers trying to contain the latest outbreak of Ebola. Paying tribute to the risks taken by those workers and the MONUSCO staff helping to protect them while also carrying out their mandate for the protection of civilians, she welcomed the more effective stance taken by the Force Intervention and other Mission units in that regard. However, she added, it was regrettable there were still difficulties in their getting adequate equipment due to Government restrictions.
Despite all those challenges, she looked forward to progress in the country in the important period ahead, she said. In particular, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. Denis Mukwege for his work with women victims of violence sent a positive signal to the women in the country that the scourge of sexual violence was getting the attention it deserved.
Said Djinnit, Special Envoy of the Secretary General for the Great Lakes, presented the latest report on implementation of the so-called Framework Agreement in the Great Lakes region (document S/2018/882), covering the period from 1 March to 31 August. He said insecurity in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo persists due to the presence of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) members, as well as those belonging to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), former 23 March Movement (M23) fighters, some Burundian elements and other local armed groups.
Allegations of cross-border interferences continue to be made and the activities of those groups are also fuelling mistrust among the region’s countries, factors which continue to threaten peace and security, he said. He spotlighted efforts to strengthen MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade and progress made in cooperation in the region, particularly in the repatriation of disarmed combatants from the armed groups.
Council members welcomed the progress made in electoral preparations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and seconded the call on all parties to resolve outstanding issues by consensus through dialogue. The need for transparency and respect for human rights on the part of authorities and for non-violence on the part of all was underlined by some speakers.
While all speakers recognized the importance of the elections, some cautioned that they were not a panacea and that for lasting stability in the country such factors as socioeconomic development, decentralization of State authority, security sector reform and increased cooperation within the Great Lakes framework were needed.
Many speakers also took note of the country’s willingness to take responsibility for financing and security of the elections. However, the representatives of China and the Russian Federation stressed the importance of national ownership of the process without undue international interference in the country’s sovereignty, emphasizing the need for MONUSCO to comply strictly with its mandated tasks and only assist with the vote as requested by the Government.
The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo affirmed that the preparations for elections were well under way for the 23 December polls. He also said he hoped that during their recent visit Council members gained a greater understanding of the use of the controversial voting machines, which, he explained are being utilized for reasons both of cost and timely reporting, having been vetted by independent organizations.
The country is committed to funding the elections itself and to devise its own security strategy as is its national responsibility, he confirmed, but added that it also reserved the possibility of requesting assistance if needed. He reiterated the Government’s pledge that the elections would be free and fair and reported that the climate is currently calm.
On the matter of security in the east, he said that the Congolese armed forces held the main responsibility for combat against armed groups. However, the Government had requested that, in the withdrawal of MONUSCO forces, the Forces Intervention be the last to go. He also described training for Congolese forces to prevent sexual violence, as well as efforts to prosecute armed groups for such crimes. Still, he called for more progress in repatriation of former fighters between regional countries as required by the Framework Agreement.
Finally, he described a significant Government response to the Ebola outbreak and a new strategy designed to deal with the persistence of the disease in the Beni area. Countries in the area are discussing a plan of action to deal regionally with such outbreaks and the Ministry of Health is providing daily updates. He finally gave thanks to the Security Council, MONUSCO and all those who have assisted his country emerge from conflict.
Also speaking were representatives of France, Kazakhstan, United States, Sweden, Netherlands, Peru, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, United Kingdom, Côte d’Ivoire, Poland and Bolivia.
The meeting began at 10:21 a.m. and ended at 12:55 p.m.
LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), thanked Council members for their visit to Kinshasa last week, noting that they were able to see first-hand the major steps taken towards holding national presidential and legislative elections in two-and-a-half months, as well as remaining challenges. She said the electoral law has been revised, voter lists established and submitted for audit, and 21 candidates validated to run for President, alongside 15,505 candidates for the National Assembly and 19,640 for provincial assemblies. At the same time, she expressed regret that no more than 12 per cent of the total candidates are women, even though more than half of the voters are female.
She went on to welcome the constructive attitude of political actors on all sides, despite the controversy over the invalidation of certain candidates and the opposition’s distrust due to questions about voting machines and the clean-up of the electoral lists. Yesterday’s meeting of the Independent Electoral Commission reflected the continuing tensions, with the distribution of voting machines across the country remaining a major logistical challenge. However, the 29 September meeting to follow up on tension-reduction agreements demonstrated that the environment should continue to remain peaceful, she said, welcoming, in that light, the approval of a political march in Lubumbashi on 13 October.
Turning to security, she emphasized the necessity of both protecting candidates and providing a safe campaign environment. It is particularly difficult to ensure safety for electoral activities in areas where armed groups are based, she noted, saying she has recommended the deployment of special election security units for that reason. The activities of armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, continues to pose a major challenge in terms of protecting civilians. Describing an alarming attack in North Kivu this week, she reported that MONUSCO immediately moved a Standing Combat Deployment to the area. Current developments in Beni, North Kivu are the most worrying, with near-daily attacks, presumably by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), on civilians, the Congolese Armed Forces and MONUSCO she said, adding, however, that despite such attacks, the Force Intervention Brigade has been able to take an increasingly robust posture.
Deteriorating security has also complicated an otherwise exemplary response by the Congolese authorities and humanitarian partners to the outbreak of Ebola in the area surrounding Beni, she continued. The local populations in some areas have shown mistrust towards responders and attacked them in one case. In such cases, MONUSCO staff undertake much risk every day to protect civilians and humanitarian personnel, she emphasized, welcoming in that regard the willing mindset demonstrated by the broader Mission and the Force Intervention Brigade to deploy where it is most needed and while ensuring the protection of civilians and humanitarian access. It is unfortunate, in the present security context, that the Mission faces such challenges as increased restrictions on the importation of arms and other military equipment for several contingents, including the incoming Rapidly Deployable Battalions.
Continued engagement with the Government on those issues have not yet yielded tangible results, she said, expressing regret that Mission forces are increasingly placed in situations in which they are inadequately equipped to fulfil their protection mandate. Despite all those challenges, however, MONUSCO looked forward to progress in the important period ahead, she said. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. Denis Mukwege for his work with women victims of violence sent a positive signal that the scourge of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, through which women paid the heaviest price in the continuing conflict, can be addressed and impunity ended. MONUSCO will remain at their side in that effort, she pledged.
SAÏD DJINNIT, Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, presented the recent report of the Secretary General on implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region (document S/2018/882) covering the period 1 March to 31 August. Recalling that a meeting of the Framework’s Regional Oversight Mechanism concluded in Kampala, Uganda, on 8 October, he said insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo persists as a result of the presence of ADF members and those belonging to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), former 23 March Movement (M23) fighters, some Burundian elements and local armed groups. Allegations of cross-border interferences continue to be made, and the activities of those groups also fuel mistrust among the region’s countries while threatening peace and security, he said.
Spotlighting the need to strengthen MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade, he said the Mission and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations began to the implement the recommendations contained in a report emanating from the recent Southern African Development Community (SADC) joint assessment mission to eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. On the repatriation of disarmed combatants, he said sustained efforts are being exerted through the reactivation of the Follow-up Mechanism, and they are yielding some results. A total of 41 persons have been repatriated to their countries of origin, including five former FDLR combatants and 14 ex-M23 combatants. “While these results may be modest, what is of importance is the fact that the Follow-up Mechanism has created a positive dynamic of cooperation between the concerned countries,” he said.
Pledging to continue to work in the same spirit of cooperation, he went on to outline efforts to strengthen the bonds of friendship and cooperation between core countries of the region. Recalling his previous statements to the Council on the need to address persistent mistrust among the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, he described initiatives intended to promote frank dialogue among their leaders in order to resolve differences and address issues that could jeopardize good relations and cooperation. They include a meeting during which President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda took over as Chair of the Regional Oversight Mechanism from President Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo.
Outlining efforts to support peaceful, credible and inclusive electoral political processes in the region, he said the situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan continue to contribute to instability in the region. Underlining the importance of peaceful and credible elections, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said efforts have focused on mobilizing concerted regional and international support for implementation of the 31 December 2016 political agreement and garnering strong regional support for the elections scheduled for 23 December 2018. Other activities include efforts to address the persistent differences between the Government and opposition in Burundi, supporting the inter-Burundian dialogue, and encouraging greater commitment to inclusive dialogue and political processes that engage women, youth and civil society throughout the region.
On the root causes of conflict in the region, he said that his Office is focused on fighting impunity and addressing protracted displacement, as well as supporting initiatives to address the illicit exploitation of and trade in natural resources. “Without justice and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms of the people no peace will be sustained,” he stressed. Efforts therefore continue towards realizing the Great Lakes Judicial Cooperation Network. He added that his Office — alongside the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and other partners – continues to promote durable solutions for protracted displacement in the cases of refugees from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, whose presence contributes to mistrust and places a high burden on host communities.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) called upon all citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to take up the historic opportunity and ensure fair elections in a peaceful climate. He said that while the agreement on the Great Lakes regional framework should work as a catalyst for progress, it is unfortunately beset by fragile electoral processes, the activities of armed groups, environmental damage, disease and other challenges. Mechanisms for dealing with such challenges have not yet been put in place, he noted, emphasizing the critical need to create such mechanisms while building confidence. Describing the upcoming elections as an opportunity for the entire region to coalesce around a new regional roadmap to bring more constructive relations among neighbours, he said France stands ready to work with all stakeholders in facing challenges and forging long-term regional stability.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) noted with regret the renewed inter-communal violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and called on all armed groups to lay down their weapons. Recalling that the President, Prime Minister and Vice‑Prime Minister have stressed the importance of fighting terrorism, he expressed regret that Council members failed to include that issue in their remarks, and called upon Member States to support Congolese efforts to address it. He also called upon the national authorities to continue executing measures to create the conditions required for credible and transparent elections, welcoming the President’s assurances that they will take place on time. Noting that elections are important for stabilizing the situation, he said they are only part of the solution, he said, emphasizing the importance of more security-sector reform, decentralization of State authority and socioeconomic development. On the humanitarian front, he said the Ebola outbreak has aggravated the situation of internally displaced persons and refugees against the backdrop of an underfunded humanitarian response plan. He encouraged signatory countries to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework to step up their efforts for full implementation of national and regional commitments, with regional institutions also playing a key role in the quest for peace and stability in the Great Lakes region.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States), noting that the international focus is on the state of election preparations, emphasized that yet another electoral delay is not acceptable. “The Congolese people have already waited two years to cast their votes,” he said, adding that should the Government request assistance, MONUSCO stands ready to distribute voting materials. However, it is not the Mission’s responsibility to carry out the elections. Expressing concern about certain choices made by the Independent National Electoral Commission, he said that building the people’s trust in the electoral process is crucial and can be accomplished through such tangible, immediate actions as ending the detention of political prisoners, developing logistical plans for the elections, and establishing a back-up voting system in case electronic ballot machines fail. While President Kabila has called for MONUSCO’s exit – a goal ultimately shared by the United States - the Mission continues its important work in combating armed groups and providing life-saving support for the Ebola response, he said. “When the time is right, we will be the first to celebrate,” he added in reference to the Mission’s exit, while stressing: “Now is not the time.” Finally, he called for a full investigation and a fair trial in the 2017 murders of two United Nations experts in the country’s Kasaï region.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said urgent efforts are needed to implement all parts of the 31 December Agreement, including confidence-building measures. Everyone must be able to campaign freely and peacefully, political prisoners must be released and the political rights of all must be safeguarded. “Unfortunately, the conditions for women’s participation look dire,” he noted, adding that the Independent National Electoral Commission can play a critical role in that regard. Independent election observers will bring further credibility to the electoral process and, in that context, Sweden welcomes the intention of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to send an observer mission. Expressing concern about the escalation of violence and attacks around Beni, in the Kasaïs and Rubaya, he stressed: “It is important to never let violence and human rights violations become the new normal.” MONUSCO must be prepared to manage violence and insecurity in the election and post-election contexts, and continue its engagement for the long-term transfer of capacity, he said. Highlighting the Swedish investigation into the murders of United Nations experts Zaida Catalan and Michael Sharp, he emphasized that national investigations must take note of the Mechanism’s recommendations.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), said that meeting with women candidates during the Council’s visit gave him a feeling of great hope for the elections and for the future. In that vein, he welcomed the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a champion in the fight to end violence against women. Affirming the importance of the upcoming elections, he called upon all actors to intensify cooperation and reach consensus on outstanding problems, emphasizing the need to ensure transparency, to allow all parties to campaign in peace, and to invite independent observers. He cautioned, however, that the elections will not get rid of deep-rooted conflicts, particularly in the east of the country. In that light, he welcomed MONUSCO’s new “protection through projection” strategy and its robust stance, while stressing that adequate equipment must be supplied for that purpose. The visit made clear that MONUSCO must focus on key tasks, avoiding the premature reduction of forces, he said.
FRANCISCO TENYA (Peru), recognizing the Government’s efforts to ensure the success of the upcoming elections, reiterated the importance of international support for the electoral process. Taking note of the concerns raised by the opposition regarding voting machines, he said that such worries must be addressed, while warning that the detention of political and civil society leaders would threaten the process. He welcomed the cooperation between all international and Congolese forces in deterring attacks in North Kivu, and commended MONUSCO’s efforts in freeing children from recruitment by armed groups, urging intensified efforts in that regard. He also commended those responding to the Ebola outbreak, recognizing the difficulties posed by the deteriorating security situation.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said the publication of the final list of candidates for the upcoming elections is encouraging, but despite the progress made, many challenges persist, including the observed lack of trust in the electoral process. Regarding MONUSCO, she noted that the Mission is carrying out its mandate in difficult circumstances and needs the Council’s support. She commended the Mission’s role in the response to the Ebola outbreak, including its operations to address the persistent threat posed by of armed groups. Expressing concern over negative forces operating in the region, she noted that during the recent high-level meeting of the Regional Oversight Mechanism of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework in Kampala, discussions stressed the need for a new approach to ensure greater regional cooperation in order to fully neutralize the negative forces. Regarding the Ebola situation, she highlighted the risk of the virus spreading to the wider region, with enormous implications for peace and stability, and called for greater mobilization of international support for ongoing response efforts to contain its spread.
SUSANA RADEGUNDA EDJANG MANGUE (Equatorial Guinea) underscored her country’s strong ties to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, saying “their problems are ours”. Expressing hope for the upcoming elections, she said they will be central to the country’s stability and urged all parties to continue to work together in strengthening the electoral process and in raising awareness of it among the population. Spotlighting one of the crucial lessons of the Council’s recent visiting mission, she said the impact of the elections “will be resounding” and all post-electoral scenarios should be carefully analysed. She welcomed President Kabila’s commitment to respect the constitution – including by not running for a third term – and urged the international community to continue its support for the Government while fully respecting Congolese sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. Noting the need for enhanced security measures to address escalating insecurity in the eastern provinces, she called on the Government to take all necessary action, and on armed groups to promptly cease their activities.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) expressed hope that the Council’s visit will have a positive impact on its continuing discussions about the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Describing elections as the country’s “biggest event”, he expressed hope that they will be free, transparent, inclusive and fully in accordance with international standards. Kuwait also hopes that outstanding differences on such issues as the electoral roll and electronic voting can be promptly resolved. Meanwhile, the country remains in need of vast amounts of humanitarian assistance, particularly in its communities of refugees and internally displaced persons, and the Ebola outbreak continues to require a strong and urgent response, he said. Expressing concern over the military activities of armed groups in various parts of the country, he commended MONUSCO’s efforts to combat their attacks and protect civilians, while calling on the armed groups to halt their activities immediately.
STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) noted that only 73 days remain until the crucial elections, saying that if successful, they will serve as a foundation upon which to build the country’s future stability. However, a conducive environment is required for credible elections, and many Congolese people clearly do not yet feel that such conditions exist, he cautioned. Encouraging the Independent National Electoral Commission to reach out to the population regarding the functioning of electronic voting machines, he also urged the Government to fully respect the 31 December 2016 political agreement, including by respecting the fundamental right to assembly and protest. While expressing support for the deployment of independent electoral observers from the region, he noted a “very worrying trend” of escalating violence in some parts of the country. Human rights violations have increased, and there are many reports of violations committed by State agents, he said, calling upon the Government to take action to address such crimes. He also pledged the United Kingdom’s support for efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak, and asked the international community – and the Council in particular — to remain closely engaged.
GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) welcomed the progress made in the electoral preparations and called upon all stakeholders to cooperate in ensuring peaceful, free and fair elections. Noting the remaining differences among actors over voting machines, among other issues, he called for constructive dialogue to resolve them. He also called on MONUSCO to “pull out all the stops” in tackling the deteriorating security situation in North Kivu, in cooperation with Congolese forces, to stem attacks by armed groups. He welcomed new initiatives to address the chronic security and economic problems of the Great Lakes region.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), emphasizing that “the Congolese people want a free and fair election and they deserve it”, said that building trust among all political and social actors remains a precondition for establishing an environment conducive to credible elections. She called for an “all-political consensus” on outstanding contentious issues, and stressed that respect for fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, is crucial for a democratic transition of power and national stability. MONUSCO’s engagement remains critical to the protection of civilians and the mitigation of the risks posed by the increasing activities of armed groups, she said, pointing in particular to the risks the latter pose to the electoral process. Meanwhile, the Government should take advantage of the Mission’s readiness to provide technical and logistical support to the Independent National Electoral Commission, she said. Expressing concern over continuing political and security challenges throughout the Great Lakes region, she said the signatories to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework must demonstrate greater political will and accelerate its implementation.
YAO SHAOJUN (China) welcomed the progress made in preparations for the elections, as well as the national ownership of the process, emphasizing that the Security Council and the international community should respect the sovereignty of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by recognizing its responsibility in shaping the components of the polls. Support should be provided when necessary resources and security are requested, he added.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), expressed hope that a successful election will contribute to the region’s stability. Calling upon opposition forces to refrain from negative agendas and participate in the elections without expecting the Security Council to weigh in on decisions of the Congolese courts, he said the same applies in the case of electronic voting machines. At the same time, he called upon the national leadership to make the necessary compromises in determining the final arrangements. In terms of financing the elections, he said his delegation respects the Government’s decision to rely primarily on its own resources, with MONUSCO ready to step in if requested. However, the Mission’s activities must not exceed its mandate, he emphasized. In addition, elections should not be seen as a panacea, and the root causes of conflict must be addressed, he added. Military means alone will not resolve conflicts, he said, adding that regional relations, as well as the restoration of national institutions in conflict areas must also be addressed. The repatriation of rebels and other political action are welcome in that context. He agreed that MONUSCO’s intervention forces can help the effort to meet the threat of armed groups in the region, but stressed that its operations must be focused on the areas under most duress.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), Council President for October, spoke in his national capacity, spotlighting the progress made and commitment demonstrated by the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the run-up to the December elections. “The country is on the right path” and has sufficient national capacity to successfully hold elections, he said, reiterating the need for all parties to implement the December 2016 political agreement. While welcoming regional support for the elections, however, he condemned the ongoing violence by armed groups and urged the Government to take action — in accordance with all relevant international laws — to end the threat. He also hailed the work of MONUSCO and pledged his country’s solidarity with those suffering from the Ebola outbreak, welcoming efforts by the Mission and the World Health Organization (WHO) to combat it. Turning to the illegal exploitation of and trade in the country’s natural resources, he stressed that it is not only that challenge – but also the “immoral distribution” of the resulting profits — that harm the Congolese people, who should be the beneficiaries of any trade in their own resources.
PAUL EMPOLE LOSOKO EFAMBE (Democratic Republic of the Congo) affirmed that the election preparations are well under way and assured the Council that demonstrations on how to use voting machines are being conducted in public places. He expressed hope that Council members gained greater understanding of the use of this technology, which is being used for reasons of both cost and timely reporting, noting that their functionality has been recognized by a variety of organizations. He went on to state that the electoral rolls have been properly edited to remove ineligible voters. The Government is committed to financing the elections with its own funds, but reserves the possibility of requesting assistance if needed, he said, reiterating the Government’s pledge that the elections will be free and fair.
He said the security situation ahead of the elections is calm on the whole, adding that the Government has decided to produce a security map for the elections and to request assistance when needed. It has also requested that the withdrawal of MONUSCO forces should proceed in such a manner as to ensure that the Force Intervention Brigade is the last to leave. He went on to say that the latest political demonstrations were held peacefully and previous violence is under investigation. However, violence is still occurring in certain parts of North Kivu, where the national armed forces are fighting them largely on their own, he noted.
With regard to the Framework Agreement, he affirmed that his country is abiding by its commitments, and called for the immediate repatriation of Congolese nationals, as required by that accord. Outlining progress in fighting sexual violence within the armed forces and police, he said training has been undertaken for that purpose, adding that trials are being prepared to prosecute militia cadres for gender crimes. He went on to outline a significant Government response to the Ebola outbreak, and a new strategy designed to deal with the persistence of the disease in the Beni area. He said countries in the region are discussing a plan of action to deal regionally with such outbreaks, and the Ministry of Health is providing daily updates.