Amid concern about unceasing hurdles to the exercise of political freedoms and human rights in the Great Lakes region, the United Nations is launching a new strategy focused on preventive diplomacy, security cooperation and development, the Secretary‑General’s senior political official for the strife‑torn area told the Security Council today, noting that the plan would guide the Organization’s action for the next 10 years.
“The situation in the region in recent months has indeed remained broadly stable, with encouraging progress despite persistent challenges,” said Huang Xia, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for the Great Lakes Region, updating the 15‑member organ on implementation of the 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region. The Special Envoy said he submitted the new strategy – devised after input from the region’s countries and partners – to the Secretary‑General on Monday.
Noting positive developments in the region, he welcomed the peaceful transfer of power in Burundi following general elections in May and the prospects for greater regional stability, as illustrated by the return of Burundian refugees from Rwanda and the United Republic of Tanzania. Following the formation of a new Government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, President Félix Tshisekedi organized a mini summit on 7 October, bringing together his Angolan, Ugandan and Rwandan counterparts to discuss key security and economic cooperation issues. In addition, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia resolved their border dispute using diplomatic channels and regional mechanisms.
On the security and humanitarian fronts, however, he said the situation remains worrying, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s eastern provinces, with sporadic cross‑border incidents and activity by armed groups continuing to cause intolerable human suffering. “The impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these traumatic crimes affects populations and negatively affects relations between countries,” he said, calling for effective implementation of the Nairobi Declaration on justice and good governance.
Emphasizing that high-level political buy-in as well as adequate resources are essential to improve the security environment, he said the holding of the next Summit of the Regional Follow‑up Mechanism will be crucial to obtain political support.
In the ensuing discussion, several Council members said they look forward to receiving and reviewing the new 10‑year strategy, while emphasizing the need to rein in the activities of armed groups threatening the region, improve security and regulate the trade in natural resources.
France’s representative said the positive developments of the past several months must be extended to all security challenges in the region, particularly in ending the violence perpetrated by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The root causes of instability must also be addressed cooperatively, with an effective, transparent framework for regulating natural resources. His country is doing its part in collective efforts to ensure that new regulations on conflict‑related minerals come into force in the coming year, he said.
Tunisia’s delegate, speaking also for Niger, South Africa and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, encouraged the region’s leaders to further expand the cooperation they developed in countering the COVID‑19 pandemic for the sake of peace and stability. The cooperation framework provides a platform for peace and economic progress, he said, urging all signatories to abide by their commitments.
The representative of the United States drew attention to three prominent reports the Council is expected to receive this month: a regional strategy for the Great Lakes; an assessment of the Organization’s role in Burundi; and a report on the exit strategy and drawdown benchmarks for United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).
China and the Russian Federation pushed for the removal of Burundi from the Council’s agenda, with their delegates highlighting the peaceful transfer of power in that country and the subsequent return of refugees from the neighbouring countries as signs that the situation there no longer poses a threat to international peace and security.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s delegate, noting that his country’s President had just recently visited North Kivu to express his determination to restore peace in the country’s north, stressed that security is still inadequate, and the armed groups have retaliated against local populations. In this regard, he requested that the operations of MONUSCO, particularly those of the Force Intervention Brigade, be bolstered. International support is also needed to stem the illicit exploitation of resources in the region, which is a major source of funding for the armed groups, he added.
Also speaking were representatives of the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Germany, United Kingdom, Indonesia (also on behalf of Viet Nam) and Belgium.
Beginning at 10:00 a.m., the meeting ended at 11:38 a.m.
HUANG XIA, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for the Great Lakes Region, introduced the biannual report titled “Implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region” (document S/2020/951), covering the period from 16 March to 15 September 2020. Recognizing the commitment to continue regional efforts to improve political, economic and security cooperation, in accordance with the commitments of the Framework and the 2006 Compact on security, stability and development, he said: “The situation in the region in recent months has indeed remained broadly stable, with encouraging progress despite persistent challenges.”
He welcomed the peaceful transfer of power in Burundi following the general elections in May and the prospects for greater regional stability, as illustrated by the return of Burundian refugees from Rwanda and the United Republic of Tanzania, as well as the visit of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Foreign Minister to the Burundian city of Bujumbura on 4 and 5 October. Democratic Republic of the Congo President Félix Tshisekedi organized a mini summit on 7 October, bringing together his Angolan, Ugandan and Rwandan counterparts to discuss important issues relating to security and economic cooperation.
He also welcomed the use of diplomatic channels and regional mechanisms to resolve their differences peacefully, as evidenced by the resolution of the border dispute between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia. The commitment of Rwanda and Uganda to continue the process of normalizing their relations, through the good offices of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is another positive example, he noted. On the security and humanitarian fronts, however, the situation remains worrying, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s eastern provinces, with sporadic cross‑border incidents and activism of armed groups continuing to cause intolerable human suffering. “The impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these traumatic crimes affects populations and negatively affects relations between countries,” he said, calling for effective implementation of the Nairobi Declaration on justice and good governance to step up the fight against impunity.
Turning to implementation of the Framework, he outlined five priorities. He said he asked the Peacebuilding Commission and international financial institutions to support the region, but the resources mobilized so far are still considered insufficient by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to initiate an ambitious recovery policy. Increased international support is needed, as are access to financial relief options, such as debt relief and restructuring initiatives.
He said his Office also engaged in dialogues with the authorities of Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda, among others, enhancing hope for improved good neighbourly relations and regional stability. On security, his Office has remained in close contact with the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to identify courses of action for increased support for the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism, including the promotion of non‑military measures, such as the strengthening of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes. Turning to natural resources, he said that the preliminary results of a study commissioned by his Office have shown that, even during the pandemic, the illicit trade in minerals in the region has not decreased. He said he is pleased with the decision of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to organize a virtual meeting of the Regional Monitoring Mechanism, to overcome the constraints imposed by the pandemic. The conference on investment and trade will be organized by Rwanda in 2021.
As for the progress in implementing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), some countries in the Great Lakes region are among the 25 nations with the best representation of women in parliaments, he said. His Office organized three round tables in July and August on women’s private entrepreneurship, the prevention of sexual and gender‑based violence, as well as women’s political participation in the context of COVID‑19. The conclusions of these consultations recommend full integration of the women, peace and security agenda into efforts to consolidate peace and development in the region.
He said that on Monday he submitted to the Secretary‑General the new United Nations strategy for the consolidation of peace, prevention and resolution of conflicts in the Great Lakes region for his approval, following an inclusive process and the rich contributions of all countries and partners in the region. The strategy has 10 priorities, structured around three pillars, namely: peace, security and justice; sustainable development and shared prosperity; and resilience. These priorities aim to provide a horizon of 10 years for action in the area of preventive diplomacy, security cooperation, development, promotion of human rights, and strengthening of the role of women and young people by 2023.
Concluding, he said the region has come a long way. Emphasizing that high‑level political buy‑in as well as adequate resources are essential to improve the security environment, he said the holding of the next Summit of the Regional Follow-up Mechanism will be crucial to obtain political support. “Given the worrying economic impact of COVID‑19, it will be just as crucial to step up efforts for dynamic economic cooperation around cross‑border projects and shared management of natural resources,” he said, focused on a holistic approach involving all regional actors and relying on strengthened regional mechanisms, in particular those of the International Conference. Despite remaining challenges that remain, the peoples and countries of the region continue to demonstrate immense resilience and determination to move forward, he said, calling on the Security Council to remain engaged and to maintain sustained support.
NICOLAS DE RIVIERE (France) welcomed the positive developments of the past several months in the Great Lakes region as described by the Special Envoy. It is essential that this dynamic be extended to all security challenges in the region, particularly in ending the violence perpetrated by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The root causes of instability must also be addressed cooperatively by the regional States. Notably, an effective, transparent framework for regulating natural resources must be implemented. His country is doing its part in collective efforts to ensure that new regulations on conflict‑related minerals come into force in the coming year. In light of the COVID‑19 crisis, health services and human rights regimes must also be strengthened. He noted his country’s contributions to that effort and others in the region. Affirming support for the Special Envoy and welcoming his work in the promotion of investment in the region, he said the Special Envoy’s role is critical in ensuring that cooperation in fighting COVID‑19 and other ills continues to be inclusive. He looked for a concrete strategy on the part of the United Nations to foster integration of initiatives to achieve sustainable development and stability across the region, pledging that France’s unwavering support for such efforts will continue.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) welcomed the coordinated regional efforts to combat COVID‑19 as well as evidence of cooperation in areas of peace and security. The development of friendly relations shows the benefits of regional leadership. Condemning continued violence by armed groups, he called upon regional leaders to exercise better control of arms and to use the certification system for control of the trade in natural resources. Given the obstacles posed by the COVID‑19 pandemic and the dire humanitarian conditions in parts of the region, he called for more donor support and for open access to any vaccines that are developed for the virus. He stressed that regional mechanisms should be optimally operationalized in all matters, including justice, peace, respect for human rights, fairness and sustainable development for all.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) stressed the importance of cooperation, saying that the shared benefit from working together is always greater than working individually. He commended the resolute cross‑border steps of countries of the Great Lakes region such as the mini summit hosted last week by President Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Southern African Development Community (SADC)‑facilitated solutions to border disputes. He also praised the work of the quadripartite process on Uganda and Rwanda, and the resolve of Rwanda and Burundi in normalizing their bilateral relations. “We look forward to receiving an update on the new UN regional strategy on peace and security for the Great Lakes region,” he said. With elections upcoming in several countries in the region, he stressed the importance of initiatives promoting the meaningful participation of women in political and electoral processes and advancing the women, peace and security agenda.
GUENTER SAUTTER (Germany) stressed the need for regional cooperation but expressed concern about the impact of COVID‑19 on health infrastructure and other areas. Human rights violations must stop. There is an urgent need to address the root causes of instability. In this regard, regional organizations, such as the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and the African Union, play an important role. Voicing concern about the situation in eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he called for improved cross‑border intelligence and security measures. The Regional Oversight Mechanism meeting must take place without delay. Burundi seems ready to normalize relations with its neighbours and the international community, but visible changes are needed, with democratic space narrowing and human rights violations continuing, he said.
JAMES PAUL ROSCOE (United Kingdom) praised regional efforts in the Great Lakes to contain COVID‑19 and to build on that cooperation to make progress in other areas, including through virtual engagement. Welcoming recent steps to improve relations, including last week’s mini summit and the dialogue between Rwanda and Burundi, he called for these processes to be maintained. He also called on national leaders to ensure that all elections are free and fair, and for regional strategies to improve the humanitarian situation and to control resource flows to armed groups. Protection of human rights and the fight against impunity must also be prioritized. He looked forward to details of the Special Envoy’s regional strategy and to evidence of that strategy being coordinated with all other United Nations organizations in the area.
ADEL BEN LAGHA (Tunisia), also speaking for Niger, South Africa and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, commending States of the region for their COVID‑19 efforts, encouraged the region’s leaders to further expand the cooperation they developed in the counter‑pandemic effort for the sake of peace and stability. In that context, he expressed deep concern about the activities of armed groups. At the same time, he welcomed successful election processes that had taken place and efforts to settle inter‑State tensions peacefully. Concurring with the Secretary‑General’s concern over the current humanitarian situation including widespread displacement, he condemned human rights abuses by both armed groups and State actors. Maintaining that the peace and security framework in the Great Lakes region provides a platform for peace and economic progress, he urged all signatories to abide by their commitments. In all regional efforts, he encouraged greater involvement of women and youth, as well as action to end impunity and to synthesize the efforts of all actors in the region.
SCOTT TURNER (United States) said October is an important month for the United Nations engagement in the Great Lakes region with three prominent forthcoming reports: a regional strategy for the Great Lakes; an assessment of the Organization’s role in Burundi; and a report on the exit strategy and drawdown benchmarks for the peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His delegation looks forward to receiving these reports and working with the United Nations to advance long‑term regional stability and security. Washington, D.C. is pleased to see the efforts of the Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia, supported by SADC for work to address a long‑standing border dispute. He also welcomed reports of meetings between Rwandan and Burundian security officials, as well as continued progress to mediate disagreements between Uganda and Rwanda. “This news bodes well for regional stability,” he said, adding however that he is disappointed by reports of violations of the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework.
DAI BING (China) said that the situation in the region has stabilized, presenting “a rare window of opportunity for peace and development”. As countries in the region share a common destiny, any negative development in one country could spill over into the region, he emphasized, calling on them to step up joint efforts. Beijing attaches great importance to implementation of the Framework with respect for each country’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Pointing to the peaceful transitions of power in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi through elections, he said the time has come to remove Burundi from the Security Council agenda as the situation in that country no longer poses a threat to international peace and security. His delegation looks forward to a report of a United Nations visiting mission to Burundi. The root cause of instability in the region is underdevelopment, he said, calling for efforts to address the illicit trade of natural resources as well as for greater investment in the economy.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), also speaking for Viet Nam, welcomed Congolese efforts to maintain a favorable political climate in the Great Lakes region, the peaceful political transition in Burundi and regional commitments to continue pursuing peace with neighbors. This progress should be reinforced by enhancing the process of reconciliation at national and regional levels, addressing threats caused by armed groups, strengthening the governance of natural resources and providing development opportunities. Highlighting the important role of regional mechanisms, he welcomed the engagement of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and SADC in addressing COVID‑19 and facilitating border negotiations and peaceful general elections. The International Conference also plays a vital role for preserving peace and stability by preventing the illicit exploitation and movement of natural resources. Turning to the COVID‑19 crisis, he stressed that humanitarian relief must be prioritized for the 22 million Congolese facing food insecurity, the 5.9 million internally displaced persons and refugees and vulnerable groups such as women, children and the disabled.
PHILIPPE KRIDELKA (Belgium) welcomed the elaboration of a new strategy for the Great Lakes region that includes efforts in human rights and sustainable development and involves diverse actors, including his country. He expressed hope that the strategy will foster a coherent approach for the United Nations in the context of the drawdown of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and adaptation of the Organization’s presence in Burundi. In the light of continued bilateral tensions, he underlined the importance of the good offices’ role of the Special Envoy, as well as an approach that includes all regional organizations as well as partners such as his country and the European Union. Welcoming recent actions against impunity for sexual violence committed by Congolese security personnel, he called for greater protection and empowerment of women and youth in conflict areas and in demobilization centres.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), Council President for October, spoke in his national capacity, noting that the national armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have not been able to reverse the tide against illegal armed groups in that country’s eastern provinces. The situation has been exacerbated by numerous cross‑border incidents and the spread of the pandemic over the last six months. Citing successful diplomatic efforts, such as SADC’s mediation to resolve border disputes between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia, he said all these efforts deserve international support. The Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework is a foundational document that must be implemented in full and without conditions. A regional strategy being prepared by the Special Envoy would breathe new momentum into the implementation of the Framework. Describing the recent repatriation of Burundi refugees from neighbouring countries as a positive development, he said the situation in that country no longer poses a threat to international peace and security and therefore the Council should decide to remove that country from its agenda.
PAUL LOSOKO EFAMBE EMPOLE (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said that the four‑party talks that included his country had significantly contributed to strengthening relations in the region. During the recent mini summit, a wide range of subjects were discussed and all countries expressed willingness to combine their efforts to eradicate armed groups. Recalling bilateral efforts over the past year, he assured the Council that such efforts will continue until armed groups are completely eradicated. His President had just recently visited North Kivu to express his determination to restore peace and to bolster military operations for that purpose. Those efforts have led to tangible results, but security is still inadequate and the groups have retaliated against local populations. He requested that the operations of MONUSCO, particularly those of the Force Intervention Brigade, be bolstered for that purpose. He said he hoped for further cooperation with all units of MONUSCO in the fight against the groups.
International support, he said, is also needed to stem the illicit exploitation of resources in the region, which is a major source of funding for the armed groups. All stakeholders need to combine their efforts in that area. Regional mechanisms must be improved for that purpose and appropriate sanctions must be applied. All countries of the region should also continue non‑military measures to stem violence. In that light, he called on all groups to lay down their arms. Describing efforts to improve the human rights framework in his country, he said there is a focus on improving the rule of law. Lasting solutions must also be found for refugees and other displaced persons. The Democratic Republic of the Congo remains committed to the Framework Agreement, which could prevent incursions into neighbouring territories. It will continue to carry its responsibilities under the Agreement, he pledged, in the interest of bringing stability back to the Great Lakes region. He called on the region’s countries as well as the guarantors of the Agreement to expand cooperation to all needed areas and help bring about the well‑being, peace and the economic development to which they all aspire.