Permanent Representative Says New Dynamic in Great Lakes Region Will Help Advance Anti-Weapons Trafficking Efforts
More than six months after its presidential elections, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is making satisfactory progress along the road to peace and stability, but many concerns remain, particularly in the east where armed groups remain active amid a renewed outbreak of Ebola, the Security Council heard today.
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), speaking via video-teleconference from Kinshasa, pointed to President Félix Tshisekedi’s reform agenda and improved relations with neighbouring countries as positive developments since his election on 30 December 2018. Talks are meanwhile continuing on the formation of a Government after the appointment of a Prime Minister on 20 May.
However, she expressed concern about the situation in Ituri province, saying spoilers there are attempting to play on ethnic tensions to stir intercommunity violence. Attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces are exacting an intolerable toll on civilians, while in North Kivu, armed groups are responsible for sexual violence and other atrocities. On the Ebola epidemic that has claimed more than 1,700 lives, she said isolated cases in Goma and across the border in Uganda have heightened concerns about its spread, leading the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare an international public health emergency.
Reviewing the Mission’s efforts, she said its military and police components are supporting Congolese security forces in responding to armed groups. The various United Nations agencies in-country are meanwhile coordinating their response to the humanitarian crises. A great deal of work remains in charting MONUSCO’s drawdown and exit, she explained, noting that an independent strategic review — requested by the Council through resolution 2463 (2019) and due by 20 October — will clearly outline the challenges that remain.
Briefing the Council in his capacity as Chair of the Security Council committee overseeing the Democratic Republic of the Congo sanctions regime, Kuwait’s representative detailed work over the past 12 months, as well as his visit to the country earlier this year. He noted that several interlocutors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo believe the sanctions list should be updated to identify current spoilers of the political transition and those committing grave human rights violations. He also reported a difference between the rhetoric of the former authorities and the incoming President’s public statements on MONUSCO’s work.
During the ensuing debate, Council members praised the new President’s efforts, including those to improve relations with neighbouring States in the Great Lakes region, while also expressing concern about the security and humanitarian situations, including the Ebola outbreak. Many strongly condemned attacks by armed groups on Ebola response teams.
The representative of South Africa reiterated the need to support MONUSCO’s efforts to stabilize the country’s east and to establish a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process for former combatants. Despite instability in the east, a positive trend has been observed, he said, with President Tshisekedi redefining his strategic approach to conflict resolution and peacebuilding at home and in the region.
Côte d’Ivoire’s representative welcomed socio-political progress and encouraged authorities to form a new Government and enact reforms. He called on international partners to support the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process. The Ebola crisis requires diligent and appropriate measures, and he encouraged humanitarian organizations, donors and other partners to step up assistance.
Similarly, Equatorial Guinea’s delegate acknowledged the President’s efforts to build peace, the rule of law, democracy, and social and economic development, while also responding to armed groups. She expressed concern, however, at the destabilizing activities of armed groups and intercommunity violence. She also called on the international community to prioritize the fight against Ebola by providing sufficient funding for the humanitarian response.
Belgium’s delegate said MONUSCO and the new sanctions regime must continue to contribute to the protection of civilians, and restoration of the rule of law and State authority. With the independent strategic review under way, Belgium expects to see benchmarks to measure the ability of Congolese to carry out tasks now being undertaken by the Mission.
The representative of Indonesia — which has more than 1,000 troops deployed to MONUSCO — called for sustainable humanitarian assistance. Welcoming WHO’s declaration of the international emergency, he said the agency and the Government must have the economic support required to prevent further Ebola outbreaks. It is deeply troubling that the illegal exploitation and trade of natural resources remains a funding source for armed groups.
His counterpart from the United States emphasized that the flow of arms and the illicit trade in gold and other precious metals helps to perpetuate the violence. “We remain concerned that the Congolese generals under United States sanctions continue to participate in illicit gold trafficking,” she said, adding that the United States is the largest financial contributor to efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak.
Rounding out the discussion, the representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said the President is focused on fulfilling promises made during the election campaign. The presence of foreign and national armed groups remains a grave concern, and the Government hopes the Group of Experts will shed light on the provenance of large numbers of sophisticated weapons acquired by armed groups despite 10 years of sanctions. Hailing the new dynamic in the Great Lakes region, he said that positive trend will help to combat trafficking in weapons and natural resources.
Noting that MONUSCO has been in his country for 20 years, he stressed that the independent review’s recommendations must not jeopardize the gains made. Operational efficiency must be strengthened with quality and properly-equipped troops. On the Ebola outbreak, he pointed out that while the country has faced the epidemic 10 times, this is the first time it has occurred in a conflict zone. He reassured the Council of his country’s determination to end it.
Also speaking today were representatives of France, Poland, Germany, China, Kuwait (in its national capacity), Russian Federation, Dominican Republic, United Kingdom and Peru.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended 12:06 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), speaking via video-teleconference from Kinshasa, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the Mission (document S/2019/575). More than six months after the 30 December 2018 elections, it is fair to express both satisfaction and concern about the progress the country has made. President Félix Tshisekedi has clearly expressed his intention to initiate brave reforms which, if fully implemented, should reinforce Congolese institutions and improve the quality of life. There have also been improvements in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s relations with its neighbours, she said, adding that the President is determined to make the Great Lakes region a haven for peace and development by promoting good neighbourly relations and regional economic integration. In that regard, she said she will keep working with the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and relevant regional organizations to support Congolese authorities in implementing the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region.
Since the appointment of Sylvestre Ilunga as Prime Minister on 20 May, a new Government has yet to be formed, she said, with laborious negotiations continuing between the President’s Cap pour le changement coalition and the Front commun pour le changement of former President Joseph Kabila. Describing those talks as an unprecedented exercise, she called on everyone involved to overcome their differences and swiftly meet the expectations of the people. The absence of a Government makes it hard to establish robust relations with partners, undertake reforms and consolidate a fragile transition. She said that in her meetings with major stakeholders, she encouraged them to preserve the gains made during the elections and peaceful transfer of power, and to carry out the concessions needed to form a Government. She added that constructive processes have been seen at the local level on the part of some provincial governors.
On MONUSCO’s eventual exit, she said the closure of several field offices in areas where there is no longer a serious threat of armed conflict will permit the Mission to focus resources on supporting the strengthening of State institutions and protecting civilians in places where armed groups still have a devastating impact. She expressed particular concern about the situation in Ituri province where spoilers are attempting to play on ethnic tensions to stir intercommunity violence. Attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces continue to exact an intolerable toll on civilians, while in Masisi, a town in North Kivu, armed groups including the Nduma défense du Congo-Rénové led by Guidon Shimiray Mwissa are responsible for conflict-related sexual violence and other atrocities. Emphasizing that violence is the main cause of humanitarian needs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said the deteriorating security situation is interrupting the return process, with 733,000 people in need of assistance in Ituri province. In South Kivu, intercommunity violence and armed group activity has displaced up to 180,000 people, she added.
Turning to the Ebola epidemic that has claimed more than 1,700 lives, she said recent isolated cases in Goma and across the border in Uganda have heightened concerns about its spread beyond the Geni and Butemo areas, leading the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the outbreak an international public health emergency. The problems faced in eradicating the disease are not only epidemiological, but also linked to a variety of political and social factors, including the activities of armed groups such as the Allied Democratic Forces and Mai-Mai, as well as high levels of community distrust of the response. Such a confluence of factors results in a deadly environment for those working to counter Ebola — to the point of being threatened and killed by armed groups. Thanking countries and donors that contributed funding to the Ebola response, she underlined the serious need to finance other crises, such as a measles outbreak that has killed more than 2,000 people — “even more than Ebola” — since the start of the year.
Reviewing the Mission’s efforts, she said it is engaging with various stakeholders at the national and provincial levels to defuse tensions. Its military and police components are supporting Congolese security forces in responding to armed groups. MONUSCO is also supporting authorities in executing an arrest warrant against the Nduma défense du Congo-Rénové leader and strengthening the fight against impunity. United Nations agencies are working under the coordination of her Deputy, who is also Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, to respond to the humanitarian crises. She drew attention to the opportunity presented by the growing number of armed combatants willing to lay down weapons, emphasizing that she is encouraging authorities to adopt a community approach to their reintegration. On the future of MONUSCO, she said a great deal of work remains in charting its drawdown and exit. The independent strategic review — which recently completed an information-gathering mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region — will report to the Council later this year, outlining the challenges that remain. She added that the Mission is making the best use of its funds, despite budgetary challenges that are stretching resources to the limit.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), as Chair of the Security Council Committee established in pursuant to resolution 1533 (2004) concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo, provided an overview of work since July 2018. The Committee has since held seven meetings, having met on three occasions in 2019. A briefing on all Member States was convened on 1 February, where the Coordinator of the Group of Experts presented the Group’s midterm report. During informal consultations on 25 March, the former Coordinator of the Group of Experts on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo made a presentation.
He went on to note that during informal consultations on 24 May, the Acting Coordinator of the Group of Experts presented the final report and the Committee discussed its recommendations. On 8 July, he said he provided an overview of his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and the United Arab Emirates which took place from 27 April to 6 May. The Mission of Kuwait also held six “informal informals” with Robert Petit, Senior Official of the Democratic Republic of the Congo follow-up mechanism, he explained expressing the Committee’s support for Mr. Petit as his team assists the Government investigation into the March 2017 murders of two former members of the Group of Experts, Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp.
Detailing his visit, he said the delegation was unable to hold meetings in Dar es Salaam. Several interlocutors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo expressed the view that the sanctions list should be updated and reorganized to identify current spoilers of the political transition and those currently committing grave human rights violations. To these ends, the Security Council, in resolution 2371 (2019), requested the Group of Experts to provide updated information on the sanctioned individuals and entities. He also described interest among some Committee members and MONUSCO to list individuals based on designation criteria outlined in paragraph 7 of resolution 2293 (2016). There was also a clear difference between the rhetoric expressed during the delegation’s meeting with the Democratic Republic of the Congo — which primarily featured the outgoing authorities — and the incoming President’s public statements on the work of MONUSCO and the international community in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
NICOLAS DE RIVIERE (France) described an opening of political space in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as various rebel groups have said they would lay down their arms and return to civil life. Support to combatants wishing to lay down arms is essential to prevent them from returning to violent means. Meetings of the Heads of State of the Great Lakes Region meanwhile have been positive and he urged parties to implement the Framework Agreement. Challenges persist, notably in the east, where the predatory actions of armed groups continue, making the long-term professionalization of the army and police crucial. Political dialogue is essential for a return to peace, he said, calling on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and all countries in the region to work together to end these conflicts. For its part, France is determined to protect women and children against sexual violence, he said, noting that regional action is required to undermine armed groups and “attack this scourge resolutely”. Natural resources can contribute to peace as can political meetings. Regarding the Ebola outbreak, he commended the World Health Organization (WHO) and MONUSCO, touching on France’s support for various humanitarian and security sector reforms.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States) said her country is extremely troubled by the resurgence of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She welcomed several militias’ decisions to lay down their arms since President Félix Tshisekedi took office. She encouraged the Government to clarify the confusion regarding the focal point of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, stressing that the United States is committed to fighting impunity and ensuring justice. Stressing that the flow of arms, and illicit trade in gold and other precious metals, helps to perpetuate the violence, she said “we remain concerned that the Congolese generals under United States sanctions continue to participate in illicit gold trafficking”. Ending Ebola remains a top priority, she emphasized, noting that the United States is the largest financial contributor to efforts aimed at combating the outbreak. MONSUCO cannot fulfil its tasks without a high-performing unit of troops and police, she added.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) welcomed the new positive dynamic launched by the Presidents but cautioned that the situation remains complex. Expressing concern about the humanitarian situation, he said that in addition to the Ebola outbreak, more than 87,000 people have been stricken by measles since the start of the year. Cholera is also claiming many victims. Given reports of human rights violations by the Congolese armed forces and national police, security sector reform must remain a priority. He added that MONUSCO and the new sanctions regime must keep contributing to the protection of civilians, the spreading of peace, and the restoration of the rule of law and State authority. In context of the ongoing strategic review, Belgium expects to see benchmarks to measure the ability of Congolese to carry out tasks now being undertaken by the Mission. Given the close links between the country and the Great Lakes region, he called on all stakeholders to make the most of the positive momentum.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) expressed hope that the constructive attitude of most political actors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will be maintained and encouraged authorities to enhance cooperation with civil society, including representatives of women and youth. Opportunities to neutralize foreign and internal armed groups, especially in the east of the country, cannot be lost, she said, emphasizing that the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme must be at the heart of countrywide stabilization efforts. She underscored the imperative need to hold to account those persons suspected of crimes against humanity, war crimes and other grave violations of international law. She expressed concern about the persistent Ebola outbreak and condemned attacks on humanitarian workers, medical personnel and hospitals. She went on to encourage the Secretary-General to provide the Council with a comprehensive strategic review of MONUSCO that would enable it to take a responsible decision about the United Nations future engagement on the ground.
GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) welcomed socio-political progress in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and encouraged its authorities to form a new Government and enact reforms. Attacks by armed groups on civilians and Ebola humanitarian personnel remain a grave concern, he said, also deploring attacks on 23 July carried out in the east by Ugandan militia that left 12 dead, including 2 children. He called on international partners to support the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process. Emphasizing that instability is having a negative impact on the humanitarian situation in the country’s eastern region, he said the Ebola crisis requires diligent and appropriate measures, and he encouraged humanitarian organizations, donors and other partners to increase their assistance.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said that despite the positive outlook shared today, many challenges remain in terms of Government formation, stressing that the former President “has to let go”. There are too many spoilers. Sexual violence persists targeting the most vulnerable — children and women. He underscored the need to hold a special Council meeting to address the Ebola crisis, stressing that the region — and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s neighbours — must be willing to “play ball”. Meanwhile, civil society and young people must be empowered to participate in the building of society. He looked forward to MONUSCO’s next report.
WU HAITAO (China) said positive developments demonstrate that Kinshasa has the ability and will to keep the country stable. However, the Ebola outbreak has worsened and there is great risk of spillover into other countries and regions. It is critical to help build the capacity of the security sector, he said, adding that Government bears the primary responsibility to protect its civilians and borders. All parties — in the country and international community — must encourage all armed groups to lay down their arms. Meanwhile, the United Nations must promote cohesion between the Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With the Ebola outbreak now deemed a public health emergency, Member States must provide strong support to the United Nations, particularly WHO, he asserted, also emphasizing the need to increase employment and tackle poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sanctions are not an end but rather a means, he recalled, urging MONUSCO to bolster its coordination and communication with the Government.
XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa) reiterated the need for continued support for MONUSCO’s efforts to stabilize the country’s east and for the establishment of an effective disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process. Despite instability in the east, a positive trend has been observed, with President Tshisekedi redefining his strategic approach to conflict resolution and peacebuilding, both at home and in the region — efforts reflected in the trust-and-confidence-building initiatives with neighbouring countries and his commitment to the Framework. South Africa commends President Tshisekedi’s outreach to the region which could lead to stability. Expressing particular concern over the Ebola outbreak, he condemned attacks by armed groups on Ebola treatment centres and staff, and commended MONUSCO and United Nations agencies for their efforts to fight the scourge.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), speaking in his national capacity, called on all parties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to prioritize the public good, refrain from violence and move towards a new phase of reconstruction and development. While the security situation has generally improved, armed conflict in some parts of the country remain a concern. He called for a halt to attacks and commended MONUSCO for its efforts to combat armed groups and protect civilians. He described the humanitarian situation as dire in some areas due to armed group activities and called on them to halt attacks in Ebola-affected areas. Hopefully, Ebola will soon be eradicated once and for all.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea), also welcoming progress since the elections, notably the expanding political space, acknowledged the President’s efforts to build peace, the rule of law, democracy, and social and economic development, while also responding to the scourge of armed groups. She noted his efforts to strengthen good relations with the region, as seen by his visits to neighbouring States. She expressed concern, however, at the destabilizing activities of armed groups and intercommunity violence. She also called on the international community to prioritize the fight against Ebola and provide sufficient funding for the humanitarian response. Emphasizing that the only way out for armed groups is to surrender, she called on international and regional organizations to support the Democratic Republic of the Congo going forward.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said important changes are under way in the largest country in Central Africa. He called on the Congolese to keep working towards peace and to take measures to prevent violence. He expressed serious concern about the situation in the eastern provinces amid the Ebola outbreak. Having closely read the Secretary-General’s report, he said his delegation on the whole shared its views and recommendations. MONSUCO should continue to support Kinshasa’s efforts to normalize the situation and make the most of the President’s constructive approach, he said, emphasizing however that it would be unacceptable for the United Nations to intervene in domestic matters. He also called for the sanctions regime to be used with care.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said the security situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo is of great concern, urging authorities to join efforts to neutralize armed groups and advance the fight against corruption. More attention must be paid to justice reform, disarmament and reintegration. “We must continue supporting the Congolese people in their initiatives toward stability,” he said. WHO has declared the Ebola outbreak an international emergency and he called on Member States to provide the economic resources needed to contain it, and condemned attacks against both medical facilities and staff fighting the epidemic. Expressing deep concern that sexual violence persists, he also called for ending the recruitment of children into armed forces. MONUSCO continues to focus on realizing local, national and regional peace, he added, noting that economic integration can help calm tensions.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) urged the international community to provide sustainable humanitarian assistance to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Welcoming WHO’s recent declaration of the international emergency, he said it is critical for the agency and the Government to have the economic support needed to prevent further Ebola outbreaks. On the security front, Indonesia remains deeply concerned by the continued presence of armed groups in the east, stressing that “for far too long, the country has been suffering from recurring cycles of conflict, persistent violence, and loss of innocent lives”. It is deeply troubling that the illegal exploitation and trade of natural resources remains a funding source for these armed groups. He commended MONUSCO’s critical work and welcomed the decision by ex-combatants to disarm and return to their communities. For its part, Indonesia has 1,044 personnel in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) said attacks against Ebola responders in North Kivu continue to undermine the fight against the epidemic, urging the Government to hold perpetrators to account in court. He expressed concern that armed groups in North Kivu are reported to have perpetrated over half of all cases of sexual violence in the country. He also expressed alarm over reports that some elements of the Democratic Republic of the Congo armed forces are alleged to have colluded with the Nduma défense du Congo-Rénové. The United Kingdom looks forward to Kinshasa holding perpetrators to account. The humanitarian situation is also dire and deeply concerning, he said, noting that one in 10 Congolese will need aid. The United Kingdom, as the second-largest humanitarian donor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, echoes the Secretary-General’s call for Member States to help close the funding gap. Also, stepped-up efforts are needed to fight Ebola, he said, urging in particular countries that have a “presence and a history in the region” to provide aid. Turning to local elections, he called for a prompt update to electoral mechanisms.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity to express concern over renewed interethnic violence. Such delicate circumstances make the non-military component of MONUSCO more important, he said, stressing also the need to redouble disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts. He hailed joint missions between MONUSCO and local authorities to counter armed groups and stop the recruitment of child soldiers. The delicate humanitarian situation meanwhile appears to be worsening, and with the Ebola virus crossing borders, the fight against that disease must be confronted in a comprehensive and coordinated way. He praised the release of some 700 political prisoners, but deplored overcrowding in detention centres. He also welcomed MONUSCO’s implementation of an action plan to address sexual violence against women in conflict areas.
PAUL LOSOKO EFAMBE EMPOLE (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said the President is focused on fulfilling the promises made during the election campaign. Steps taken to ease tensions, uphold human rights and open political space have included the return of opposition leaders from abroad, the release of political opponents, the freedom to demonstrate and access to public media “for all political stripes”, and the fight against impunity and corruption. On the security situation, he said the presence of foreign and national armed groups remains a grave concern. So long as there is no peace, negative forces will remain active, and the population — especially women and children — will remain victims of violations and abuse. He drew attention to large-scale military operations in Djugu and Mahagi, which have yielded large numbers of abandoned weapons and munitions. Police units from Kinshasa have been deployed in Djugu since mid-June to consolidate peace. He emphasized that the Government and Congolese armed forces, together with partners including MONUSCO, are determined to complete the eradication of armed groups. He added that the Government hopes the Group of Experts will shed light on the provenance of large numbers of sophisticated heavy weapons acquired by armed groups despite 10 years of sanctions.
Hailing the new dynamic in the Great Lakes region since the President took office, he said his meetings with regional leaders, as well as summit talks in Kinshasa and Luanda, were aimed at improving relations and strengthening the fight against armed groups while enhancing prospects for peace. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is convinced that this positive trend will lead to better security measures and border controls to enforce the arms embargo and illicit trafficking of natural resources, which is among the causes of the conflict. Recalling that MONUSCO has been in his country for 20 years, he said much has been achieved by its presence. At times, the worst was averted, and the Congolese people and Government are grateful to the United Nations, troop-contributing countries and peacekeepers for their efforts and sacrifices. In line with resolution 2463 (2019), which called for an independent strategic review of MONUSCO, he said its recommendations must not jeopardize the gains made. They must be in the interest of the country and its people, taking into account the wish of the Congolese for negative forces and armed groups to be eradicated in the east. Whatever the recommendations, he added, MONUSCO’s operational efficiency must be strengthened with quality and properly-equipped troops who can demonstrate agility in their work with armed forces. He acknowledged that Government security forces are deployed to secure mining sites, but added that if any become involved in mining activities, they would be subject to legal sanctions.
Turning to social issues, he said the situation remains dominated by the 100-day emergency period declared by the President to combat Ebola. It is the tenth time that the Democratic Republic of the Congo has faced an Ebola outbreak, but the first time it has occurred in a conflict zone. It is also the first time that the outbreak has lasted more than six months with so many victims, he said, noting that the Council is planning a meeting on the topic for 31 July. He reassured that his country is determined to end the epidemic with the support of its partners, with the President establishing a technical secretariat led by an epidemiologist to coordinate efforts. Ebola is no longer simply a health issue, but a cross-cutting issue, he said, emphasizing the need for better prevention measures, better coordination of actions on the ground and adequate financing.