Secretary-General’s Special Representative Urges Continuing Security Council Support to Safeguard Post-Transition Gains in Democratic Republic of Congo

SC/13741
18 March 2019
8486th Meeting (AM)

Secretary-General’s Special Representative Urges Continuing Security Council Support to Safeguard Post-Transition Gains in Democratic Republic of Congo

Permanent Representative Says Security Situation Remains Most Pressing Challenge as New President Completes Formation of Government

The Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) called today for continuing Security Council support for what has been achieved since that country’s first-ever peaceful transfer of power.

With MONUSCO’s mandate up for renewal at the end of March, Leila Zerrougui, who is also the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, pointed to the progress the country has made since Félix Antoine Tshilombo Tshisekedi’s inauguration as President on 24 January, succeeding Joseph Kabila after largely peaceful elections held on 30 December 2018.

She told members:  “We must support the Government in its efforts to honour the expectations of the Congolese population, to advance political dialogue and collaboration, and to seize the opportunities which we are now seeing for a sustainable reduction of armed groups in some areas.”  Emphasizing the high expectations of the Congolese people, she acknowledged outstanding challenges, including intercommunal violence and attacks by armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo that have complicated the humanitarian response to a renewed outbreak of Ebola.  “Even areas not historically affected by armed conflict can prove fragile,” she noted, stressing that the Government must be encouraged to address the potential causes of violent conflict across country.

The Council also heard from Anny Tenga Modi, Executive Director of AFIA MAMA, a Congolese non-governmental organization committed to the reproductive health of young women and their access to justice, leadership development, economic empowerment, legal assistance and social development.  Speaking via video-teleconference from Kinshasa, she said the country is at a historic juncture, noting that the Government has established quota for women in the security sector and set up a special unit to tackle gender-based violence and stamp out such abuse by police.  She went on to stress the importance of raising awareness of gender issues among male parliamentarians while calling for the inclusion of more women in the defence and security sectors.

In the ensuing discussion, several Council members welcomed President Tshisekedi’s pledges to build democracy and the rule of law while promoting and protecting human rights, as well as his prompt efforts to reach out to neighbouring States.  They also underscored their concern over ongoing violence, the Ebola outbreak and the precarious humanitarian situation.  Many expressed support for renewal of MONSUCO’s mandate while recommending an independent strategic review of the Mission.

Equatorial Guinea’s representative applauded the way in which the Congolese people seized the historic opportunity afforded by the peaceful handover of power.  However, the spoiler activities of armed groups and ongoing intercommunal violence means that 12.8 million people still need humanitarian assistance and protection, she noted.

South Africa’s delegate called for a greater focus on the situation in the east, expressing support for the Secretary-General’s recommendation for a 12‑month extension of MONUSCO’s mandate — which expires on 31 March — to allow for a more comprehensive review of operations.  The Government, meanwhile, should be given time to outline its priorities before the Mission’s drawdown, she added.

Indonesia’s representative, pointing out that his country is among the largest contributor of troops to MONUSCO, said that its 17,000 “Blue Helmets” are deployed in a vast nation of 84 million people and with a surface area of 2.34 million square kilometres — in other words, one peacekeeper per 4,941 persons and 137 square kilometres.  While Indonesia supports a planned exit strategy, it is concerned about the prospect of scaling down an important mission at the peak of its work, he added.

France’s representative noted that the Democratic Republic of the Congo country has hosted United Nations peacekeeping missions for the last 20 years.  France will soon table a draft resolution renewing MONUSCO’s mandate while calling for a strategic review, he said, expressing his delegation’s hope that the Council will begin a transition to other forms of support later in 2019, with a view to the Mission’s eventual withdrawal.

The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported that his country has been establishing new institutions following the 24 January transition of presidential power.  Elections delayed in some areas affected by Ebola are now scheduled for 31 March, while negotiations for the full formation of the new Government are under way, he said, adding that the security situation is the Government’s primary concern.  Turning to MONUSCO’s future, he said President Tshisekedi has acknowledged the need for a progressive withdrawal, a joint exit strategy and a strategic dialogue.  The Government is calling for a one-year extension of MONUSCO’s mandate, which will allow for the repositioning of troops to better tackle asymmetric warfare and a qualitative improvement with better equipped troops, he said.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Peru, China, United Kingdom, Kuwait and the Russian Federation.

The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 12:29 p.m.

Briefings

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), presented a 30-day update on the political and technical build-up to the country’s recent presidential election covering the period 1 to 31 January (document S/2019/159), as well as the latest report of the Secretary-General on the Mission’s work (document S/2019/218).  She emphasized that the context today is far more tranquil than it was in December 2018 and January 2019, with the post-election transition of power unfolding peacefully.  While some disputed the outcome, most Congolese citizens were pleased with the handover, she said, noting that gubernatorial elections are continuing while voting remains delayed in four areas affected by the Ebola outbreak.

She went on to state that the new President’s stated commitment to peace, the rule of law, democracy and human rights has been followed up with tangible acts, including the release of political prisoners and meetings with opposition figures.  Meanwhile, discussions on the formation of a new Government are under way, with agreement reached last week on the future Prime Ministers.  Emphasizing the tremendous expectations of the Congolese people, she said they must not be made to wait too long nor have their hopes dashed, she said, stressing that there is a real opportunity to build peace and security in several provinces following the voluntary surrender of members of armed groups.

Turning to the situation in the Grand Nord region of North Kivu Province, where the second-largest Ebola outbreak is ongoing, she said elements of the rebel Allied Democratic Forces and Mai-Mai groups continue to attack civilians and Government forces, as well as humanitarian workers and MONUSCO personnel.  The Mission’s military and police components are sparing no effort to protect civilians and support Government forces, while civilian teams pursue good offices, advocacy and dialogue initiatives at the local level, she said.  With preparations for national and provincial elections at the end of March, MONUSCO will do its utmost to prevent and mitigate any risk of violence, she added.  As for clashes between militia in Minembwe, South Kivu Province, she said the Mission is supporting the reinforcement of Government forces and providing intercommunal mediation.

In order to sustainably address the drivers of insecurity in North and South Kivu, she said, there must be concentrated engagement going forward to address conflict dynamics related to identity, access to land and resources, and regional issues.  “Even areas not historically affected by armed conflict can prove fragile,” she noted, stressing that the Government must be encouraged to address potential causes of violent conflict nationwide.  In light of the opportunities and challenges in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Council must maintain its support for the consolidation of what has been achieved in recent months and in addressing remaining threats to peace and security, she said.  “We must support the Government in its efforts to honour the expectations of the Congolese population, to advance political dialogue and collaboration, and to seize the opportunities which we are now seeing for a sustainable reduction of armed groups in some areas.”

ANNY TENGA MODI, Executive Director and Co-founder of AFIA MAMA, said she spoke on behalf of women and girls in her country, and expressed appreciation to Member States for their ongoing acknowledgment of African women’s leadership.  While welcoming the peaceful handover of power following the December 2018 presidential election, she noted that the poll faced challenges, including street protests, restrictions on public freedom and detention of protestors.  The introduction of electronic voting machines further contributed to controversy, she said, adding that physically getting materials to polling stations was also problematic.  She warned against the risk of local elections triggering ethnic conflicts if they are not properly supported and backstopped.

However, the country is at a historic juncture, she said, noting that the Government has set a quota for women in the security sector as part of its ongoing reform.  It has also established a special unit to tackle gender-based violence and stamp out such abuse by police.  Making recommendations to the Government, she stressed the importance of raising awareness of gender issues among male parliamentarians while calling for the inclusion of more women in the defence and security sectors, including crisis-prevention work.  She called upon the Government to accept external support for the holding of local elections, place more women on electoral lists and roll out training programmes for managerial capacity.  The Council can support civil education involving youth, she said, stressing the need to strengthen national and subregional institutions.

Statements

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) noted that since taking office, President Félix Antoine Tshilombo Tshisekedi, has been fighting corruption, addressing security issues and promoting development while committing himself to dialogue with other actors.  Within two months of taking office, the people have already begun to see positive developments, including the release of prisoners and the closure of some detention centres.  Noting that thousands of combatants have laid down arms, he said the United States is committed to creating a more peaceful country by working closely with the new Government.  He went on to welcome MONUSCO’s proactive decision to redirect its focus to the country’s east, while also warning of rising border tensions among countries of the Great Lakes region.  Noting that it has been two years since nationals of Sweden and the United States were murdered in the line of duty while engaged in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex‑combatants, he underlined the need for accountability for those crimes.

AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) hailed the Congolese people for the way in which they seized the historic opportunity afforded by their country’s first-ever peaceful handover of power.  While welcoming the President’s stated commitment to peacebuilding, democracy, the rule of law and development, she said the spoiler activities of armed groups and ongoing intercommunal violence means that 12.8 million people still need humanitarian assistance and protection.  Their sad plight means financial and technical assistance must continue, she emphasized, urging the international community to fund the three-year humanitarian response plan in full.  Condemning ongoing attacks against humanitarian personnel, she said it is vital to implement the framework for peace and cooperation aimed at dealing with armed groups running rampant in the region.  She went on to urge the Congolese authorities and regional partners to strengthen cooperation within the Great Lakes region for the sake of economic integration.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), citing delays in establishing a new Government, as well as reports of large-scale corruption, emphasized that the Council must not lose sight of the fact that the electoral process is not yet completed.  He urged President Tshisekedi to put forward credible initiatives for combating corruption, stressing that robust, authoritative and impartial national institutions will help reinforce the Government’s legitimacy and facilitate a culture of democratic transitions of power.  On MONUSCO, he said the Mission’s future must rest on clearly identified benchmarks set out by an independent strategic review.  A time‑bound mandate will avert the risk of inertia in shifting circumstances, he said, emphasizing the regional context and the close interconnection between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the wider Great Lakes region.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) noted that although President Tshisekedi has taken several welcome steps, the political process remains fragile.  He encouraged the Democratic Republic of the Congo to continue on its current path, cautioning:  “It is no walk in the park, but there is no alternative.”  Urging a larger role for women in the security forces, he stressed that no effort must be spared to strengthen the rule of law, counter corruption and tackle impunity.  Regarding MONUSCO’s future, he said the Council needs to know the President’s view, but the Mission must, in the interim, focus on the important tasks set out in its mandate.  Its withdrawal must be preceded by an independent strategic review, he added.

Ms. MOGASHOA (South Africa) called for a greater focus on the situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and expressed support for the Secretary‑General’s call for the Mission’s adjustment to redirect its priorities to that area, where instability and violence remain prevalent.  South Africa also supports the Secretary-General’s recommendation for a 12-month extension of the MONUSCO mandate to allow for a more comprehensive review of operations in full consultation with the new Government and other stakeholders, she said.  The Government should be given time to determine and outline its priorities before the Mission’s drawdown, she added, emphasizing that any consideration of an exit strategy must be based on the positive evolution and evaluation of the security situation on the ground.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said that, despite shortcomings, the new Government will demonstrate its commitment to reform.  If it succeeds in such endeavours, historians will record the recent transfer of power as a turning point, but if they fail, it will be recorded as a new disappointment, she cautioned.  Disputes over the election outcome should be resolved through legal channels, she said, adding that local elections in 2020 can be used as building blocks.  She condemned attacks against humanitarian workers, including medical staff, and called for unhindered access to areas affected by Ebola.  Turning to the renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate, she said any move to adjust the Mission will require cooperation with the new Government, which should be given a few months to set its priorities.  She invited the Secretary-General to conduct an independent strategic review of the Mission.

GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) said that the sociopolitical situation following the transfer of power is stable overall, adding that it will gain further traction through the release of detainees, measures to restore trust, and the resumption of dialogue with international and regional actors.  An improved security situation in the east is possible, he said, calling upon armed groups to lay down their weapons and engage in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.  According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 260,000 children in the Kasaï region suffer malnutrition, he said, calling upon the international community to support the agency.  Côte d’Ivoire fully supports the renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate, he said.

MELANIE HIDALGO (Dominican Republic), citing spoiler activities by armed groups, as well as intercommunal clashes, noted that the country’s security situation remains tense.  Donors must live up to their pledges and address gaps in humanitarian funding, she emphasized.  Pointing to insecurity, attacks against clinics and the lack of access complicating the response to the Ebola outbreak, she called for full, safe, immediate and unhindered access to affected areas.  While welcoming the President’s pardon of political prisoners, she stressed that sexual and other violence by Government forces and armed groups remain a troubling threat to civilians.

PAUL DUCLOS (Peru) expressed concern over the state of insecurity in various parts of the country, which are exacerbated by the serious humanitarian situation and the Ebola outbreak.  The desire to foster a climate of trust among the people will not be achieved without measures to defend and promote human rights, including by addressing sexual violence, he emphasized.  Peru fully supports the renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate, he said, underscoring its role in protecting civilians.

WU HAITAO (China) welcomed the peaceful transfer of power, describing it as a testament to an African country’s re-appropriation of its national priorities.  He emphasized the importance of MONUSCO demonstrating full respect for Congolese sovereignty as part of its efforts to enhance security and help contain the Ebola outbreak.  For the time being, MONUSCO is essential for maintaining peace and stability, he said, expressing support for extending its mandate.  He went on to express hope that the Government and troop-contributing countries can make an assessment in due course and make proposals for the future mandate, with a view to the gradual transition of security responsibilities to the Congolese Armed Forces, he said.

DAVID CLAY (United Kingdom) stressed the importance of helping victims of sexual violence, citing a project launched in 15 villages of the Ituri region in the east which, he said, demonstrated the possibility of reducing the incidence of this type of violence.  The United Kingdom remains concerned about reported discrepancies around the official results for the presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections, he noted, emphasizing that continued efforts for greater transparency and a more inclusive dialogue with all political parties remain vital as the electoral process continues towards local elections in late 2019 and 2020. The Congolese people clearly voted for change, and the United Kingdom will engage with President Tshisekedi and his team so as to understand their plans for improving stability and prosperity in the country, he said.  As for MONUSCO’s mandate, he said now is the time for the Mission to re-focus on an exit strategy, stressing that it is incumbent upon all to ensure a responsible and sustainable exit for the Mission.  A fully consultative strategic review must therefore be undertaken before the Council makes a decision on the shape of its exit, he said.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said there have been positive developments in the political situation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the beginning of the year.  Kuwait hopes that trend will continue, he added, welcoming President Tshisekedi’s visits to neighbouring States and his commitment to establishing peace, the rule of law and democracy.  With violence still plaguing several parts of the country, Kuwait calls upon all parties to halt attacks, save civilian lives and ensure stability.  Turning to the Ebola outbreak, he welcomed the strategic response plan devised by the Ministry of Health with technical support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other United Nations agencies, expressing hope that the virus will be eradicated within months.  He went on to endorse the Secretary-General’s recommendations on extending MONUSCO’s mandate.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said his country takes pride in being among the largest troop-contributing countries to MONUSCO with 1,041 personnel, of which 28 are women peacekeepers.  Indonesia’s contribution also includes a 850‑strong Rapidly Deployable Battalion, he added.  Noting that the Mission, currently comprising 17,000 peacekeepers, covers a country of 84 million people and whose surface area total 2.34 million square kilometres, he said this means a single peacekeeper will have to protect 4,941 persons over an area of 137 square kilometres.  While expressing support for the planned exit strategy, he expressed concern that an important United Nations mission like MONUSCO is required to reduce its capabilities at the peak of its work.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) urged the Congolese people to advance peace and adopt measures to forestall all forms of violence.  Describing the situation in the east as troubling and complicated, he called for qualitative progress in disarming, demobilizing and socially integrating armed combatants.  He went on to urge the Congolese authorities to stamp out the illicit exploitation and export of minerals.  On MONUSCO, he said it must keep supporting normalization efforts, underlining that interference by anyone in domestic affairs is unacceptable.  The Russian Federation stands ready to work on a resolution to extend the Mission’s mandate, he added.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), Council President for March, spoke in his national capacity, applauding the briefers’ analyses as critical to clear-eyed understanding of the situation on the ground, and congratulating the Congolese people on the first peaceful handover of power since their country’s independence.  President Tshisekedi has taken robust initiatives for peace and national reconciliation, he noted, adding that that the next steps should include formation of the new Government and the organization of local elections.  MONUSCO has played an important role through its approach involving both military pressure and dialogue to normalize the situation, he said.  Noting that the country has hosted United Nations peacekeeping missions for the last 20 years, he said it is time to reconfigure the MONUSCO’s presence to provide the best support for the country.  To that end, France will soon table a draft resolution renewing the Mission’s mandate while calling for a strategic review, he said, adding that his delegation hopes the Council will initiate a transition to other forms of support later this year, with a view to MONUSCO’s ultimate withdrawal.

IGNACE GATA MAVITA WA LUFUTA (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said his country has been busy establishing new institutions following the 24 January handover of presidential power from Joseph Kabila to Félix Antoine Tshilombo Tshisekedi.  Elections delayed in some areas affected by the Ebola are now scheduled for 31 March, he added.  President Tshisekedi undertook a tour of neighbouring countries on the basis of good neighbourliness, he said, adding that he also released political prisoners.  Negotiations for the full formation of the new Government are under way, he said, adding that the security situation is the Government’s primary concern.  Turning to MONUSCO’s future, he said the President acknowledged the need for a progressive withdrawal, a joint exit strategy and a strategic dialogue.  The Government calls for a one-year extension of the Mission’s mandate, which will allow for the repositioning of troops to better tackle asymmetric warfare and a qualitative improvement with better equipped troops, he said.  Emphasizing that the reduced troop ceiling should not impact the Intervention Brigade, he said that his country’s Government wishes to see a new mandate incorporating disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, as well as an element that will fight the looting of natural resources.  He went on to outline the Government’s efforts to eradicate the Ebola and address human rights violations.

For information media. Not an official record.