6 October 2020

Special Representative Calls for Continued International Support to Tackle Armed Groups, Political Tensions in Democratic Republic of Congo

Looting of Natural Resources Feeds Activities of ‘Negative Forces’, Says Permanent Representative, Citing Recruitment ‘Uptick’

With the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) having successfully adjusted to COVID-19, its leader called for continued international support to help the country meet the challenges posed by armed groups and political tension, amid intensified planning for the Mission’s drawdown.

“I call on the Security Council to continue supporting MONUSCO in its efforts to help the Congolese Government and people preserve the gains made during the Mission’s presence and create the conditions for its responsible exit,” Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of MONUSCO told the Security Council during a 6 October video teleconference meeting.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation (document S/2020/919), she emphasized that, despite the pandemic, MONUSCO has successfully maintained continuity of operations while instituting procedures to prevent the Mission from becoming a vector of transmission.  It has enhanced screening capacity, temporarily halted troop rotations and quarantined returning personnel, she said, reiterating her appreciation to the troop-contributing countries for their cooperation and to the peacekeepers for their unwavering professionalism in a time of uncertainty.  She added that rotations have resumed and all personnel are at their stations.

On the political front, she said the political class is determined to work together for the good of the country, but some actors are undermining unity ahead of the 2023 elections, hindering needed reforms.  All actors must overcome their differences and work together to ensure that the peaceful transfer of power becomes a regular occurrence, she emphasized, noting that, to that end and in the interest of long-term stability and sustainable development, she is meeting with actors across the political spectrum.

The Joint Strategy for MONUSCO’s drawdown and exit will soon be ready to share, she said, envisioning a progressive transfer of tasks to the Government, with the cooperation of the United Nations country team.  The Joint Strategy is based on a series of region-specific strategies, tailored to the particular needs of the six provinces outside Kinshasa in which the Mission is still present, she explained.  There is agreement with the Government that in the coming years, MONUSCO will gradually consolidate its footprint in the three provinces where active conflict persists — North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri — while pursuing its work on good offices and strengthening of national institutions.

She went on to note that the report details continuing violence against civilians, reiterating her condemnation of such crimes.  MONUSCO is working with the Government to enhance protection, including by enhancing the performance of peacekeepers and harnessing technologies such as armed aerial surveillance, she said.  The protection of civilians requires an integrated approach that includes reconciliation, support for the justice system and reporting on civil rights violations, she added.  Describing cooperation between the Mission and its partners in meeting humanitarian needs, she expressed concern over attacks on humanitarian actors and urged all stakeholders to ensure complete humanitarian access to civilian populations.

Emphasizing the critical need to dismantle armed groups, she also stressed the need to avoid past mistakes in that effort, particularly in the integration of demobilized former combatants into the Congolese Armed Forces which resulted in the reinvigoration of armed groups.  There is, therefore, a need for a programme of community integration that reduces incentives to join the armed groups, she said, calling upon the Council to throw its full weight behind the new community‑based approach.  MONUSCO continues to exploit synergies with other United Nations presences in the region and with regional organizations on the promotion of non-military measures to control armed groups, she added.

She went on to describe the elections of 2018 and the resulting peaceful transfer of power as a historic turning point that has made it possible to start envisaging MONUSCO’s progressive drawdown and withdrawal from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  To meet remaining serious challenges the Security Council should continue supporting MONUSCO’s efforts to help the Congolese Government and people preserve the gains made during the Mission’s presence while creating the conditions for its responsible exit, she said.

Following that briefing, Council members stressed the importance of continuing support for MONUSCO to help the Congolese Government and people consolidate stability and ensure the protection of civilians.  Clear benchmarks for the Mission’s eventual exit must be met, many insisted.

The representative of Niger, briefing in his capacity as Chair of the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1533 (2004) concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo, outlined that body’s activities since he took office, noting that it held four meetings since his predecessor’s last briefing to the Council, as well as several videoconference sessions necessitated by the novel coronavirus outbreak.  During a series of consultations in August, he said, the coordinator of the Committee’s Group of Experts briefed members on his work plan, while outlining the contents of the Group’s midterm report, recommendations and findings.

In May, the Committee heard from the coordinator of the Group of Experts on its final report, he recalled.  Members also received a briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Other recent briefings included one by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in armed conflict, which focused on the situations in both that country and the Central African Republic, he reported.  Additionally, the investigation into the March 2017 murders of two member of the Group of Experts continues, he said.  Several proposed updates to the sanctions list have been circulated to Member States for review, with responses anticipated soon, he added.

France’s representative noted that some regions, including the Kasais and Tanganyika, are entering a promising phase of stabilization.  The Congolese authorities must continue to consolidate the progress achieved in the reinforcement of institutions and socioeconomic development, in order to take over from MONUSCO, which has begun its withdrawal.  However, other regions are still subjected to violence against civilians, particularly women and children, as well as against security forces, he said, adding that sexual violence persists.  “It is in these regions […] that the efforts of the Mission must be re-centred to ultimately reach the conditions of its withdrawal.”  He went on to underscore the need for a regional approach — since violence is perpetrated by both foreign and national armed groups — noting that violations of international law are on the rise.  The 1533 Sanctions Committee must do more in response and the Congolese authorities must continue to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court, he stressed.

The representative of the United States, expressing deep concern over the rising violence described in the report, declared:  “We must use all tools in hand to end historic drivers of violence and prevent impunity.”  For that purpose, the United States is supporting the addition of new units to the Force Intervention Brigade, she said, while reminding all perpetrators of violations that a targeted sanctions regime remains in place.  She welcomed the recent disarmament of armed cadres, emphasizing the need to stop human rights violations by State security forces and armed groups, while ensuring accountability.  She went on to express concern over allegations of sexual exploitation by international workers in the Ebola relief effort, as well as allegations against MONUSCO peacekeepers and civilian staff.  She urged all contributing countries, as well as the United Nations, to take serious action to counter the problem.

South Africa’s representative, speaking also for Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, emphasized the importance of full support for MONUSCO’s role in stabilizing eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Recognizing the efforts of the Force Intervention Brigade in addressing the threat posed by armed groups to the civilian population, he emphasized that the Brigade requires the Council’s continued support and must be fully capacitated to remain effective.  He said that, despite some progress in stabilizing and strengthening State institutions, he remains concerned at the prospect of a hasty drawdown of MONUSCO.  Emphasizing that the drawdown should be occasioned on the elaborate plan aimed at improving the State’s capacity to deliver while the Mission reduces its presence, he said the plan should include completed security sector reform, as well as disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes, fully functional State institutions, such as immigration and border control, improved police and army, and a strengthened judiciary.  Lastly, any drawdown should be based on a positive evolution of the situation on the ground as the Mission hands over its tasks to the Government, he stressed.

Viet Nam’s representative expressed concern over the worsening security situation in some parts of the country.  Condemning recent attacks that claimed civilian lives and impacted peacekeepers, he sounded the alarm over the eroding humanitarian situation and the added challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Calling for stronger international support “at this critical moment”, he said continuing conflict in some areas only further underscores the need to tackle its root causes — including socioeconomic challenges and the illegal exploitation of, and trade in, natural resources.

Belgium’s representative emphasized the need for a realistic approach, pointing out that ongoing tensions, recent clashes and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to necessitate a United Nations presence.  Expressing concern about increasing human rights violations, as well as escalating threats against human rights defenders, he said the Secretary-General’s latest report paints a worrying picture in those areas.  Welcoming new laws intended to advance the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s transitional justice agenda, he noted that the African Union has described it as a home-grown “transitional justice tool-kit” rooted in African values.  He went on to call for stronger regional cooperation in such critical areas as disarmament, demobilization and reintegration; the fight against the latest Ebola outbreak; and combating the illicit trade in natural resources.

Indonesia’s representative emphasized the particular importance of non‑military measures to curb the activities of armed groups, in coordination with regional efforts.  All United Nations units and their partners in the region must work together, he said, welcoming the Special Representative’s efforts to build trust among Congolese stakeholders.  He went on to call for increased humanitarian support, particularly in the area of food security.  Noting that an Indonesian peacekeeper was killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in June, he stressed that the safety of peacekeepers is critical.  Constant review and improvement of peacekeeping operations is needed for that purpose, he added, pledging that his country will continue to enhance its partnership with the Congolese people.

China’s representative expressed concern over the continued violence and humanitarian abuses, urging the United Nation to continue to provide assistance in that regard.  Calling for dialogue among political parties in tacking all challenges facing their country, he emphasized the need to address the root causes of conflict, as well as policies on the reintegration of former combatants.  He went on to urge improvements in the Force Integration Brigade, with the input of stakeholders, also stressing that future adjustments to MONUSCO must be gradual and fit conditions on the ground.  Given the additional challenges posed by COVID‑9, China encourages the international community to provide additional support, he said.  On sanctions, he stressed the importance of professionalism and impartiality on the part of the Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts.

Estonia’s representative said the joint transition strategy and its benchmarks must be conducted in collaboration with major humanitarian partners and other international and national civil society organizations.  Emphasizing the need for strong cooperation with the Congolese authorities in addressing the large number of human rights violations, he said accountability for such violations must be established to avoid the prevalence of a culture of impunity and to build trust in the national security forces.  Strengthening rule-of-law and justice institutions is a critical component of efforts to address the root causes of conflict, he added.

Germany’s representative noted that almost half of the 8 per cent increase in human rights violations are attributable to State actors, demonstrating the urgent need for reform.  Meanwhile, women and children continue to be disproportionately impacted by humanitarian challenges.  Calling upon donors to step up their support, he said Germany has contributed €70 million in 2020 humanitarian assistance to date.  Turning to the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, he emphasized that “it is important to focus on what can be done now” rather than just on the election year 2023.  Turning to MONUSCO’s reconfiguration, he reiterated Germany’s full support for the Mission’s indispensable work, especially its civilian-protection activities.  However, five recent allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers must be properly investigated by troop- and police-contributing countries and by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), respectively, he stressed.

The United Kingdom’s representative called for the creation of a national focal point on the demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants.  Condemning all violence against civilians, as well as human rights abuses by the national armed forces, she called for strengthening actions to end such crimes.  Acknowledging delays in mandated reform of MONUSCO and its Force Intervention Brigade due to COVID-19, she called for accelerated progress in those areas.  She went on to stress the need for clear and achievable benchmarks, with the cooperation of all stakeholders in meeting them, for a successful MONUSCO exit strategy.

The Dominican Republic’s representative expressed appreciation for the steps taken to define the borders between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia.  Expressing concern over the wide effects of continued violence by armed groups, she emphasized that natural resources must be controlled for the benefit of the population, and to reduce conflict.  Humanitarian programmes must provide all technologies needed to combat the virus, she said, calling upon the international community to support the humanitarian response and provide all equipment needed by MONUSCO.  Expressing further concern over the human rights situation, she welcomed agreements to end the recruitment of children and invited others to follow suit.  Programmes are also needed to increase the participation of women and youth in a range of areas, she said.  In addition, it is critical to ensure accountability on the part of the national security forces, she stressed.

The representative of the Russian Federation, Council President for October, spoke in her national capacity, noting the growing number of raids by armed groups, as well as rising intercommunal tensions, exacerbated by a resurgence of the Ebola virus and the COVID-19 pandemic.  Calling upon all actors to abandon narrow, partisan behaviour, she emphasized that any external interference in the domestic affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is unacceptable.  Sanctions imposed by States must not be allowed to have a negative impact on the humanitarian situation or on efforts to combat attacks by armed groups, she said.  The Russian Federation looks forward to MONUSCO’s gradual exit, which should take the situation on the ground, as well as Kinshasa’s views, into account, she added, pointing out that, in order to help tackle COVID-19, her country has shared rapid testing kits and personal protective equipment, and stands ready to provide support on vaccine-related issues.

The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said that his country’s security situation, which has remained generally calm, is now characterized by lingering attacks by armed groups in some areas.  Some of those groups had been showing signs of losing steam, but, regrettably, there is an uptick in new recruitment, he said, emphasizing:  “This represents a real sign of danger, which must be stopped.”  Outlining the Government’s efforts to eradicate negative forces, he noted that the looting of, and illicit trade in, natural resources is increasingly feeding their activities “with the help of certain accomplices”.  Appropriate, targeted sanctions should be applied, he stressed.

Welcoming the ongoing collaboration on the strategic review of MONUSCO, as well as plans for its reconfiguration, he expressed hope that the Mission’s exit will preserve the cooperation between the United Nations and the Government.  He went on to highlight the latter’s focus on human rights and fundamental freedoms, and on the preservation of democratic space, outlining its efforts to protect the rights of women and girls, combat human trafficking and corruption, and improve the management of public affairs.  Turning to humanitarian challenges — including rising rates of food insecurity and the impact of COVID-19 — he said the Government has established an emergency, multisector programme with a technical secretariat charged with tackling those issues.  Already, the COVID-19 fatality rate has been reduced from 10 per cent during the pandemic’s early days to less than 2.5 per cent today, he added.

For information media. Not an official record.