Despite recent advances in governance and regional cooperation in the Great Lakes, insecurity and human rights abuses, particularly in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, still require urgent attention, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for the region told the Security Council today.
“There is now a golden opportunity to address the root causes of instability in the region, which must be seized by strengthening regional cooperation to permit the populations to benefit from the region’s wealth,” Huang Xia said as he briefed on the latest report on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region (document S/2019/783).
Positive developments, he said, include the formation of a new Congolese Government, as well as steps taken by the country’s new President, Félix Tshilombo Tshisekedi, to strengthen relations with neighbouring countries and similar efforts by Angola, Rwanda and Uganda to advance regional cooperation to counter the continued ravages of armed groups in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He said that all stakeholders in the region must focus on accelerating development programmes and regional integration, so the region will be able to engage in a proactive approach to stability. Intensified action must be taken to counter illicit trade in resources, combat Ebola and stem displacement through regional integration. Justice, greater equity and more respect for human beings must be promoted, he added.
To support those goals, he said his Office is working with the guarantors of the Framework Agreement to facilitate cooperation of the various national security services. It is also supporting non‑military measures that could support military efforts, such as reintegration of ex‑combatants and aid to affected communities. Regional cooperation on the issue of natural resources has also made gains.
He called on Council members to support the upcoming conference on the region’s development planned for Kigali, which, he commented, will also require support from the private sector. His Office, he said, is also promoting the empowerment of women, youth and society at large, including through joint solidarity missions to boost women’s participation in all areas and combat gender‑based violence. Consultations between the guarantors and civil society are being facilitated so that the population has a voice in all such areas.
Following that briefing, Council members welcomed the political progress in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region that Mr. Huang described. Most urged further cooperation between the countries of the region to tackle the pressing problems of armed groups, displacement and Ebola, as well as the overarching development needs, calling for further support for those efforts by the international community. The representative of the Russian Federation said such support should be provided in concert with International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and other regional actors in accordance with the maxim “African solutions to African problems”.
While many speakers today welcomed positive political developments in Burundi, the representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom, affirming the importance of good governance in the region, cautioned the leaders of that country that rule of law and freedom of expression must not be abridged, calling on the Council to carefully monitor the situation. South Africa’s representative described his country’s support to the ongoing inter‑Burundian dialogue process.
The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, speaking last, said that his President has been working tirelessly to address the sources of instability in the country, launching a peace and security initiative based on capacity‑building for the country’s defences and security services, national reconciliation and regional diplomacy. In support of his efforts, he called for the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) to be rendered leaner, better equipped and with a mandate well adapted to the realities on the ground. He affirmed that action to neutralize armed groups in the east will continue until those factions are totally eliminated.
Drawing attention to the successful repatriation of elements of the FDLR to Rwanda, he reiterated his country’s determination to fulfil all its commitments under the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework and called for support from both regional States and Council members. “A wind of hope and confidence is currently blowing across the Great Lakes,” he said, urging its leaders to continue to “sing from the same hymn sheet”.
Also speaking today were the representatives of France, Belgium, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, China, Equatorial Guinea, Peru, Poland, Indonesia, Germany, Kuwait and South Africa.
The meeting began at 10:01 a.m. and ended at 11:42 a.m.
HUANG XIA, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for the Great Lakes Region, expressing a note of optimism over recent developments in the region, said that the region is resolutely moving forward towards stability, having made important steps to implement the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region. Notable in that regard was the peaceful transfer of power in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the reaffirmation of the will of other leaders in the region to face challenges together.
After taking office, he said, Congolese President Félix Tshilombo Tshisekedi is engaged in working closely with partners to re‑establish peace and security in the east of his country and all the leaders in the region have expressed the will to work towards that goal. He praised Uganda and Rwanda in particular for making strides in rapprochement, and Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo for facilitating dialogue in the region, as well as Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda for talks towards strengthening cooperation in countering armed groups. “There is now a golden opportunity to address the root causes of instability in the region, which must be seized by strengthening regional cooperation to permit the populations to benefit from the region’s wealth,” he said.
For that to occur, he said, all stakeholders in the region must focus on accelerating development programmes and regional integration, so it will be able to engage in a proactive approach to stability. Intensified action must be taken against local armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to counter their illicit trade in resources and harm to communities. Justice, greater equity and more respect for human beings must be promoted.
To support these goals, his Office has worked with the guarantors of the Framework Agreement to facilitate cooperation of the various national security services, he said. It is also supporting non‑military measures that could support military efforts, such as reintegration of ex‑combatants and aid to affected communities. Regional cooperation on the issue of natural resources has also made gains.
He called on Council members to support the upcoming conference for the region planned for March 2020 in Kigali, which, he commented, will also require support from the private sector. His Office is also promoting the empowerment of women, youth and society at large, including through joint solidarity missions to boost women’s participation in all areas and combat gender‑based violence. Consultations between the guarantors and civil society are being facilitated so that the population has a voice in all such areas.
NICOLAS DE RIVIERE (France), hailing a “new momentum” in the region over recent months, said the strengthened will to reduce insecurity has already resulted in tangible progress, including a newly signed memorandum of understanding between Uganda and Rwanda. However, tensions are also escalating in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with armed groups violating basic human rights and humanitarian challenges increasing. Welcoming that Government’s announced efforts to strengthen the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and to better manage the country’s natural resources, he called on neighbouring States to enact similar measures and to strengthen their borders. He also urged them to redouble efforts to address the root causes of conflict, including by facilitating community reconciliation processes, strengthening human rights and ensuring humanitarian access to all in need. Welcoming disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes already under way in the cases of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and M23 armed groups, he said they must be taken to their conclusion. Warning against allowing any further backsliding into conflict, he stressed that “time is against us”, while calling for stronger commitments to combat Ebola, malaria and cholera in the region.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) agreed with the Special Envoy that economic development is crucial in the region. However, he stressed that it requires respect for environmental sustainability as well as a level playing field for economic development and investment. Calling for increased transparency in the mining and related sectors, he said that would allow international financial institutions to re‑engage. He went on to express concern about ongoing intercommunal violence in parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as outbreaks of Ebola, malaria and cholera that continue to claim many lives. Meanwhile, respect for human rights and the rule of law are essential, and violations continue to occur in parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo — including at the hands of State agents. Welcoming efforts to implement reforms in that country, he said the current proactive attitude should be encouraged and supported by the international community. The support of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), as mandated by the Council, remains crucial. In that context, he pointed out that the Mission’s future will be considered before the end of 2019, and called for a concerted approach by the United Nations to the Great Lakes region.
GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) urged the authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to continue to build on recent institutional momentum in order to satisfy its people’s urgent needs. In Burundi, he encouraged all stakeholders to engage in dialogue and pool their efforts to ensure that upcoming elections are fair, peaceful and credible. Welcoming the recent signing of a Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic, he went on to express hope that all those positive developments will contribute to stability in the wider region. Nevertheless, regional States and international partners must not lose sight of ongoing challenges, including threats posed by armed groups — especially in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On the health front, he expressed alarm about the continuing threats posed by the spread of Ebola and called for preventive measures, both in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and along its borders with other States.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) joined other speakers in welcoming progress in the region, including in the degree of women’s political representation and new commitments towards regional integration. However, his delegation remains troubled by the poor security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which still suffers attacks by armed groups. “These attacks weigh heavily […] on the region as a whole,” he stressed, urging international partners to help States of the region to stamp out such challenges as the illicit exploitation of natural resources and the recruitment of young people by armed groups. Noting that the climate of insecurity feeds the worrying humanitarian situation on the ground, he cited the increasing number of displaced persons and refugees as one result. In the case of Burundi, some 75,000 refugees have returned home but about 400,000 Burundians remain scattered around the region. Spotlighting a crucial upcoming regional conference on investment and trade, he said a common analysis of the Great Lakes’ various opportunities and challenges is needed, as well as stronger support for efforts to address the latter.
ZHANG JUN (China), noting the potential and challenges of the Great Lakes region, as well as recent positive developments there, expressed support for the mandate of the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy. He called for strengthening of efforts to further build cooperation in the region as well as Council support for such efforts. Priorities are facing the humanitarian crisis, which he said includes food insecurity and epidemics, through increased aid and support for resettling displaced persons. He called on the United Nations and other major players to continue to leverage their mediation roles to strengthen cooperation. He stressed that achieving socioeconomic development is the key to solving all other problems, calling on the international community to increase aid. He welcomed the upcoming conference for that purpose. His country is ready to work with the international community for peace, stability and development in the region, providing military assistance, capacity‑building and supporting peace through development, while building partnerships built on mutual interests.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), noting progress and persistent challenges in the region, said that cross‑border and regional cooperation is crucial, as is the empowerment of women and nurturing the business sector. Hailing political progress in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he also welcomed the trend towards regional dialogue as well as positive steps in Burundi, the Central African Republic and other countries of the area. He also welcomed recent efforts to ensure women’s participation in peace processes. Reaffirming his country’s support for the African Union’s “Silencing the Guns by 2020” initiative, he expressed concern about the plight of those who have been displaced by armed groups in the region, as well as the sporadic clashes of the armed forces of States and attacks on humanitarian workers. These issues must be addressed in a coordinated way. He called on regional organizations and international partners to continue to work alongside States of the region to nurture the growing trust among them, so that they could make as much progress as possible towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
KELLY CRAFT (United States), finding encouragement in recent developments in the Great Lakes, stressed the responsibility of all signatories of the region to cooperate with efforts to stem illicit activities and human rights abuse. Her country will continue to work with the region towards greater stability, peace and prosperity. Reminding Burundi of the need to restore freedom of expression and make progress towards free and fair elections, she stressed the need for continued attention on the country from the Council. All such concerns must be comprehensively addressed if the gains made in the past few months are to be built upon, she emphasized.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), noting that the Great Lakes region has been historically characterized by internal tensions, welcomed the momentum towards peace — especially the newly signed memorandum of understanding between Uganda and Rwanda, confidence‑building measures and meetings being convened between various security and intelligence actors in the region. Nevertheless, he spotlighted immense challenges that continue to exist in such arenas as development, health and the provision of humanitarian assistance. Joining other speakers in calling for a concerted and collective approach, he expressed particular concern about the ongoing criminal activities of armed groups along the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Noting that the latter will not be resolved solely by military means, he called on regional States and their partners to prevent armed groups from receiving support and to help transform illicit flows of gold, charcoal and other resources into legal, sustainable, responsible supply chains. Drawing attention to alarming restrictions on political space in Burundi — including on media freedoms — he also urged regional States to ensure that the various upcoming elections are free, fair and credible.
PAUL DUCLOS (Peru) also welcomed positive developments in the region, including the potential for rapprochement, increased political dialogue and efforts towards economic integration. Welcoming movement towards a new civilian Government in Sudan, he nevertheless voiced concern about the continued actions of armed groups as well as ongoing intercommunal violence and human rights violations in that country. He called for more joint initiatives to combat these threats, while warning that no improvements have yet been seen in reducing the high numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees. Compounding these challenges are outbreaks of Ebola, measles and cholera. Calling for support from the international community, he went on to welcome regional efforts aimed at neutralizing armed group spoilers and facilitating stronger, more inclusive dialogue processes.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), stressing that countering illegal cross‑border activities must be an integral part of responding to the challenges in the Great Lakes region, welcomed ongoing efforts to strengthen regional security cooperation mechanisms, notably the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism and the Joint Follow‑up Mechanism on the Allied Democratic Forces. Also recognizing the vital role of women in the efforts to maintain peace and security in the region, she called on all stakeholders to implement the regional action plan, notably by achieving the agreed quota for women’s representation in peace and political process by 2020.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) agreed with the Secretary‑General’s desire for a comprehensive approach to address the region’s root causes of conflict as international communities unite to back African efforts towards peace and security. Improved humanitarian assistance and support must be made a priority. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, has hosted 548,153 refugees and asylum seekers and 4.8 million internally displaced persons, while Burundian refugees in the region have exceeded 400,000. The Council must support the work of regional organizations, such as the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as well as United Nations missions in the region. He commended the Conference for its efforts to ensure all countries engage in peace, including its work in preventing the illicit movement of natural resources. Indonesia also recognized the role of United Nations peacekeepers and is proud that Indonesian peacekeepers in MONUSCO have successfully helped the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process by working with local communities. Indonesia remains committed to its role as a true partner of Africa, he stressed.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), expressing agreement with the characterization of the regional situation in the Secretary‑General’s report, said that his country will continue to support regional cooperation in the Great Lakes. Noting the challenges posed by armed groups, displacement and poverty, he concurred with the need for a holistic approach in facing them. Good governance is key to that approach, he stressed, echoing statements on Burundi that had previously been made in that regard. The participation of women is also crucial, as is ending sexual violence, which unfortunately continues to be perpetrated by members of the armed forces. He called for intensified focus on such crimes, as well as attention to the overall rule of law. Noting significant humanitarian funding for the region by his country, he called for MONUSCO to be better harnessed in fighting the scourge.
BADER ABDULLAH N. M. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait), expressing full support for the activities of the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy, placed importance on strengthening cooperation between States and other stakeholders in the region to achieve stability. Welcoming political progress in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region, he affirmed that the Framework Agreement is the optimal way to achieve further progress. As development is key to solving the region’s problems, he called on all countries of the region to constructively participate in the upcoming conference in Kigali on the topic. Expressing concern about continued violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, he welcomed steps by the country’s President and other States to coordinate security services to counter it. He stressed that all previous agreements for peace in the region must be upheld. On Burundi, he expressed hope that conditions remained conducive for scheduled elections. He also called for further cooperation in meeting the challenges of Ebola and displacement in the region.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) called for the unconditional commitment of all signatories of the Framework Agreement to meet their responsibilities. Welcoming the efforts of the new Congolese President and advances in security cooperation between neighbours in the region, he expressed, however, concerns about armed clashes and epidemics in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. He called on all positive forces in the region to work together to stem the activities of the armed groups, and make further efforts to repatriate refugees, welcoming recent agreements to harmonize strategies to deal with those problems. He called on States in the region to iron out disagreements in this and other areas and work together. He called on the international community to support the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and other regional actors in accordance with the maxim “African solutions to African problems”.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), Council President for October, spoke in his national capacity, welcoming positive recent developments in the Great Lakes region. However, he voiced concern about the security situation in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as the deteriorating humanitarian situation in parts of the country. Underscoring the need for the Government to strengthen the capacity of its institutions, with MONUSCO’s support, he expressed his hope that the strategic review report will reflect the aspirations of the Congolese people. Also voicing concern about the Ebola outbreak and resulting loss of lives, he went on to note with concern the logistical challenges hampering the smooth implementation of the Political Agreement for Peace in the neighbouring Central African Republic. Non‑State actors there continue to violate provisions of the agreement, he said, including by introducing illegal taxation and obstructing State institutions. Hailing regional support, he urged all development actors to continue playing a central role in building and sustaining peace in that country. Meanwhile, he noted South Africa’s support to the ongoing inter‑Burundian dialogue process and welcomed recent meetings between Government and opposition leaders in South Sudan.
IGNACE GATA MAVITA WA LUFUTA (Democratic Republic of the Congo), welcoming the Secretary‑General’s most recent report, nevertheless expressed regret that it was only provided to his delegation last night. Since having taken office, President Félix Tshilombo Tshisekedi has begun working tirelessly to address the sources of instability in parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including by reinvigorating the national monitoring mechanism aimed at ensuring the implementation of its peace agreement. The new President has also launched a peace and security initiative based on three pillars, namely capacity‑building for the country’s defences and security services, national reconciliation and regional diplomacy. Spotlighting the President’s recent visits with various States across the region — aimed at rebuilding trust — he also drew attention to broader diplomatic efforts including summits in Kinshasa and Luanda which demonstrated the region’s determination to consolidate peace, security and stability.
Turning to MONUSCO, he called for the Mission to be rendered leaner, well equipped and with a mandate well adapted to the realities on the ground. Regarding the security situation, he said efforts to neutralize armed groups in the east of the country — as spotlighted in the Secretary‑General’s report — will continue until those factions are totally eliminated. Drawing attention to the successful repatriation of elements of the FDLR to Rwanda, he reiterated his country’s determination to fulfil all its commitments under the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework and called for support from both regional States and Council members. “A wind of hope and confidence is currently blowing across the Great Lakes,” he said, urging its leaders to continue to “sing from the same hymn sheet”.