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SC/14573
7 July 2021
8813th Meeting (AM)

Special Representative Stresses Need for New Government to End Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, as She Briefs Security Council

Permanent Representative Highlights Kinshasa’s State-of-Siege Decree, Improved Neighbourly Ties, High-Profile Female Appointments

Following the confirmation of a new Government and the enactment of its programme of action for 2021-2023, efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must now coalesce around ending an upsurge of fighting in the eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country told the Security Council today.

Bintou Keita, who is also the Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), said the Government’s programme of action — adopted on 26 April — covers the protection of civilians, neutralization of armed groups, and importantly, a new programme to disarm, demobilize, reintegrate and stabilize former fighters.

She went on to outline efforts to establish a joint working group to support implementation of the Government’s plan of action.  Launched on 5 July, its first task is to devise a plan for MONUSCO’s own transition, to be submitted to the Security Council in September, the success of which will depend on the mobilizing resources and the stability of the new ruling political coalition — l’Union Sacrée de la Nation.

Concerning security, she emphasized that said civilians in the east remain “under serious threat”, from bomb explosions in Beni, to Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) attacks in North Kivu, to intercommunal tensions in Ituri and the Hauts Plateaux in South Kivu.  With MONUSCO’s transition hinging on the return of peace to those areas, the Mission has a “robust posture”, she said, noting that the enhancement of its Force Intervention Brigade is “on track” following the deployment of the quick-reaction force from the United Republic of Tanzania in May.

She went on to cite meetings between the governors of South Kivu and those of neighbouring areas in Rwanda and Burundi, as part of an encouraging pattern of reduced political tensions between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbours.  The state of siege declared in North Kivu and Ituri on 6 May, meanwhile, remains in effect following parliamentary approval for extensions, she said.

Appealing for the Council’s full support in finding non-military solutions to conflict in the east and agreeing on transition benchmarks to link the Government’s programme of action to an adjusted MONUSCO presence, she cautioned:  “I believe that there is still much work to be done before MONUSCO can responsibly withdraw.”

Dovetailing with her briefing, Ritha Kibambe, Deputy Head of the Laboratory of Medical Biology at Ngaliema Clinic in Kinshasa, the capital, drew the Council’s attention to the particular challenges faced by women since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.  “Women have taken the fight to COVID-19, in spite of many prejudices and the fear of death,” she asserted, pointing out that, with schools closed, their care work has increased dramatically and girls’ education has been disrupted.

“If we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we are duty-bound to learn from these crises,” she stressed, urging the Council to facilitate capacity-building in health systems and to bolster education systems with digital technology — for the women who are the “backbone of society in Africa”.

In the ensuing debate, delegates welcomed the formation of the new Government and its significant inclusion of women in the Cabinet.  Several speakers condemned the intensifying unrest in the east, while some commended the Government’s prompt humanitarian response to increased needs.  Kenya’s representative, speaking also for Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, called for enhanced joint planning and tactical operations, notably the deployment of intelligence and surveillance capabilities, urging the United Nations, as well as financial and technical partners, to bolster the institutional capacity needed to uphold the rule of law.

France’s representative, meanwhile, called for efforts to refocus MONUSCO on the eastern provinces, emphasizing that the Force Intervention Brigade must play its full part.  Warning that those who carry out or participate in attacks against medical personnel may be listed and sanctioned by the Council, he said reforms must go hand in hand with MONUSCO’s transition.

The Russian Federation’s representative noted that illegal groups maintain significant military capacity, with the main threat posed by ADF.  He added that it is disconcerting that the authorities are still unable to resolve the illegal exploitation of natural resources, used by armed groups to finance their activities, emphasizing that his delegation expects the Government will work to resolve border disputes, address intercommunal tensions and implement its disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme.

Addressing the Council’s concerns, the representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said that, as part of ongoing efforts to normalize relations with neighbouring countries, the Government signed a protocol with Uganda in June relating to Ugandan members of ADF and transborder commerce, among other outstanding issues.  He described the state-of-siege proclamation as an opportunity to eradicate “all negative forces”, emphasizing the President Félix Tshisekedi’s determination to advance the rule of law at the head of an administration that manages its borders and exerts the State’s authority across the country.

Also speaking today were representatives of China, India, Mexico, United States, Estonia, Norway, Viet Nam, United Kingdom and Ireland.

The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:42 a.m.

Briefings

BINTOU KEITA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), first reported on the Government’s plan of action, covering the protection of civilians and neutralization of armed groups, its new programme for the disarmament, demobilization, community reintegration and stabilization of former combatants, and the organization of national and local elections in 2023.  Noting that the National Assembly adopted the action plan on 26 April, an event which also saw the swearing in of the new Prime Minister, Jean‑Michel Sama Lukonde Kyenge, she said the new Government includes 15 women in ministerial posts — representing 27 per cent of the total number and a nearly 30 per cent increase in comparison to those in the last Government.  The appointment of the first woman to the Congo Central Bank is another encouraging sign, she added.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2021/587), she outlined efforts to establish a joint working group involving the new Government, MONUSCO and relevant agencies to support implementation of the action plan and supervise the Mission’s transition.  Launched on 5 July, its first task is to devise a transition plan to be submitted to the Security Council in September, she said.  Its implementation will depend on the mobilization of resources and the stability of the new political coalition — L’Union Sacrée de la Nation — formed in April, she added.  Emphasizing the importance of holding the elections within the constitutional timeframe, she said national consensus must be forged around appointees to the Independent National Electoral Commission and reform of the electoral law.  The elections must be inclusive and peaceful and avoid the potentially dangerous consequences of a divisive debate on nationality.

On the security front, she said conditions in the provinces of Ituri, and North Kivu and South Kivu are of grave concern, exacerbated by the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo on 22 May, which amplified vulnerabilities near Goma.  From bomb explosions in Beni to attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in North Kivu to intercommunal tensions in Ituri and the Hauts Plateaux in South Kivu, civilians remain “under serious threat”, she explained.  With MONUSCO’s transition hinging on the return of peace to those provinces, she detailed a holistic strategy to address challenges in the east, notably through a “robust posture” to counter threats to civilians.  The reconfiguration, and enhancement, of the Mission’s Force Intervention Brigade is “on track”, with the deployment of the United Republic of Tanzania’s quick-reaction force in May and the pending arrival of three others.

She said MONUSCO’s ability to gather tactical information also received a boost with the Tactical Intelligence Unit having reached full operational capacity and a Geolocation Threat Analysis Unit detachment deployed to Beni, North Kivu.  That resulted in greater sharing of intelligence with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and support for the training of 1,700 national troops in Ituri.  She cautioned, however, that without restoring State authority — bolstered by local civil administration, a security sector reform plan and reconciliation among local communities — progress will remain elusive, she said.  Efforts must focus on the social, economic and governance needs, including by addressing the underlying challenges of land reform and improving governance of the mining sector.

Stressing that the solution rests with the Government, she reported that the President enacted the new disarmament, demobilization, community reintegration and stabilization programme on 5 July.  MONUSCO’s draft strategy to support its operationalization focuses on national and foreign combatants in Ituri, the Kivus and Tanganyika Province, she said, describing the programme as a priority area for the Mission’s joint working group with the Government, adding that it is concurrently accelerating its political engagement.  She cited outreach related to intercommunity violence in the Hauts Plateaux and South Kivu; support for Government efforts to advance stabilization; meetings between the governors of South Kivu and those of neighbouring areas in Rwanda and Burundi; and meetings with forums for representatives of women, young people and the private sector.

Those efforts form part of a broader, encouraging pattern of reduced political tensions between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbours, she said, describing it as a priority area for the new President.  Kinshasa’s relationships with Uganda and Rwanda “turned a corner” following meetings with their respective presidents, she added.  The state of siege declared in North Kivu and Ituri on 6 May, meanwhile, remains in effect following parliamentary approval for extensions and MONUSCO continues to engage with civilian and military authorities on the matter.  She went on to define the immediate primary tasks as supporting the programme of action’s implementation, intensifying the use of good offices to create the conditions for the elections, greater political engagement in the search for non-military solutions in the east, and agreement on transition benchmarks linking the programme of action to an adjusted MONUSCO presence.  She appealed for the Council’s “full support in this regard”.

RITHA KIBAMBE, Deputy Head of the Laboratory of Medical Biology at Ngaliema Clinic in Kinshasa, the capital, drew the Council’s attention to the particular challenges faced by women since the start of the pandemic.  “Women have taken the fight to COVID-19, in spite of many prejudices and the fear of death,” she asserted, recounting the story of two women hospital workers in a heavily impacted medical ward in Kinshasa, who were tasked with preventing the spread of the coronavirus despite severely limited personal protective equipment.  By devising innovative solutions and using resources creatively, they were able to successfully eliminate the spread among hospital staff, she said.

However, with supplies, such as oxygen, ambulances and other critical equipment, remaining limited even today, delivery continues to pose challenges due to limited and precarious transportation capacity, she noted.  Throughout the country, women have not only been heroes amid the pandemic, but have also borne the most severe burden, she emphasized, adding that, with schools closed, their care work has increased dramatically and girls’ education has been particularly disrupted.  “If we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we are duty-bound to learn from these crises,” she stressed, calling upon the Council to create real and lasting support — including by facilitating the building of institutional capacity in health systems and bolstering education systems with digital technology — for the women who are the “backbone of society in Africa”.

Statements

DAI BING (China) said the current political situation on the ground is generally positive, demonstrating the Government’s firm resolve to promote peace and stability.  Calling upon all the parties to unite behind those goals, he nevertheless described the situation in the east as “grim” and expressed support for the Government’s critical disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts, as well as strong regional support and socioeconomic programmes aimed at tackling the root causes of conflict.  However, more work is needed to address the illicit trade in natural resources and to prevent the cross-border flows of weapons, he emphasized, adding that, amid the pandemic, resurgent Ebola and the recent volcanic eruption, humanitarian challenges are severe.  He went on to welcome the signing of a relevant credit programme by several global financial institutions, and urged other international partners to step up their support.  In light of MONUSCO’s phased drawdown, he also called upon United Nations agencies and other partners to jointly increase their input for peacebuilding efforts, while pledging China’s continued support.

MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), also speaking on behalf of Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, reaffirmed their continuing support for MONUSCO’s mandate and its effective response to the dynamic operating environment.  Echoing expressions of concern over the growing humanitarian needs in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, which are being exacerbated by ongoing violence and the coronavirus pandemic, he commended the Government’s prompt humanitarian response to the volcanic eruption of Mount Nyiragongo and called for international support for the country’s 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan.  Turning to the violence still being perpetrated by armed groups, he called for intensified joint planning and tactical operations, including the deployment of intelligence and surveillance capabilities for the early detection of potential threats posed by the activities of such groups.

He also urged the United Nations, financial and technical partners to help strengthen the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s institutional capacity — especially in relation to the rule of law, security and inclusive development.  As for disarmament, demobilization and repatriation programmes, he said they must offer comprehensive solutions to former combatants and strengthen the resilience of host communities, emphasizing that, in light of MONUSCO’s gradual exit and drawdown, a transition plan that includes the efficient transfer of key tasks is critical.  It should be complemented by peacebuilding efforts focusing on socioeconomic development initiatives that promote post-conflict reconstruction, in order to prevent a relapse into conflict.  He went on to express concern over the increasing use of improvised explosive devices by armed groups, calling for measures to deny them access to the components of such weapons, and stressed the important role of regional organizations in supporting the mediation and dialogue.

RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) said recent political developments illustrate the firm commitment of the national leadership to move forward on its reform agenda.  The “political climate remains vibrant, which is a healthy sign”, he added, expressing hope that that the ruling coalition and the opposition will continue to reduce tensions and tackle challenges, including the security situation in the east.  The military leadership and armed forces should undertake operations to neutralize armed groups there and address the people’s grievances.  Strongly condemning the killing of peacekeepers and calling for urgent and effective measures to “protect the protectors”, he welcomed the Government’s proactive regional diplomacy and its new disarmament, demobilization, community reintegration and stabilization programme, as well as its reforms in the security and justice sectors.  He went on to emphasize that MONUSCO’s planned drawdown should be based on the security situation and the capacity of the national Congolese armed forces, and that the Comprehensive Planning and Performance Assessment System must cover both uniformed and civilian components — including leadership — without any selectivity that holds only troop-contributing countries accountable.

ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico) recognized the Government’s efforts to increase the number of women in the Cabinet while taking note of the state-of-siege decree for North Kivu and Ituri, as well as ongoing violence in the east.  Firmly condemning the actions that led to civilian deaths and impacted religious sites in Beni, she called for an investigation and urged the authorities to bolster national control over materials used for making improvised explosive devices.  She went on to emphasize the need for unfettered humanitarian access — especially universal, fair and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines — as the 36,000 doses delivered are insufficient for a country of 90 million people.  She welcomed the joint working group comprising the Government and United Nations stakeholders, saying it will work to set benchmarks and allow the MONUSCO drawdown.  Mexico hopes that security sector reform and the new disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme “will take solid hold”, she said, stressing that actions to combat hate speech must be part of any ongoing political processes.

RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States), condemning all attacks on peacekeepers in the strongest terms, welcomed the record number of women appointed to key Cabinet posts.  Noting that violence in the east continues to threaten civilians and imperil fragile gains, he expressed deep concern over the upsurge in civilian deaths linked to ADF and other armed groups.  Given the state of siege in Ituri and North Kivu, it is critical that security services respect human rights, he said, emphasizing that the Government bears primary responsibility for the protection of civilians.  He went on to call for transparency and coordination with regional partners across the Great Lakes region.  Efforts must also be made to operationalize the new disarmament, demobilization, community integration and stabilization programme, he said, reiterating the importance of addressing the causes of violence — notably the illegal exploitation of minerals — and designing alternative employment opportunities for ex-combatants.  The United States is encouraged by MONUSCO’s efforts to implement reform of the Force Intervention Brigade, he said, noting that its real task will be in executing its civilian-protection mission.  Expressing concern over reports of rape and other forms of conflict-related sexual violence, he urged the Government to meaningfully promote women’s participation in the security sector.

SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) welcomed the formation of a new Government and the progress towards greater representation of women in public life, while emphasizing that such reforms must remain high on the country’s list of priorities, alongside preparations for the 2023 elections.  However, he expressed concern over the continued deterioration of the security situation in the east, where multiple armed groups and State agents continue to perpetrate human rights abuses and violations.  Condemning the recent attack against MONUSCO in which one peacekeeper was killed, he stressed the need for additional efforts to address the root causes of conflict, investigate and prosecute perpetrators of serious violations and bring them to justice.  He commended the efforts of MONUSCO and its Force Intervention Brigade while welcoming the implementation of the joint strategy for the Mission’s progressive and phased drawdown, underlining the need to include objective, measurable benchmarks and indicators.

MONA JUUL (Norway) said the installation of a new Government — containing more women Cabinet members than ever before — and its adoption of the Programme of Action together provide the basis for solid progress.  The Government should include all stakeholders, notably civil society, women and young people, in reform efforts, as all voices must be heard in the run-up to presidential elections, she said.  Violence, especially in Ituri, and the growing number of violations against children is particularly concerning, she emphasized, demanding that all actors comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights law, especially in provinces currently under a state of siege.  Security-sector reform and the framework for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration are crucial and must be complemented by efforts to promote peace and reconciliation, including through greater support for transitional justice, she noted.  “We are at the turning point in terms of MONUSCO’s presence,” she acknowledged, expressing Norway’s expectation that the Mission will continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure that the drawdown remains stable.  Its role in protecting civilians must remain a priority, she said, stressing that she looks forward to receiving MONUSCO’s transition plan, as requested in resolution 2556 (2020), in September.

PHAM HAI ANH (Viet Nam) welcomed steps taken by the new Government to ensure political stability and pursue reforms, but noted that the security situation in North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri is troubling.  The humanitarian situation also remains alarming, he added, calling upon the international community to step up its assistance.  The root causes of instability must also be addressed, including through intensified regional cooperation to combat, among other things, the illegal exploitation of natural resources.  Turning to MONUSCO’s exit strategy, he emphasized that its hard-won achievements must be preserved through a conditions‑based transition that takes the evolving situation into account.  A detailed transition plan — as requested in resolution 2556 (2020) — will therefore be instrumental to evaluate the next steps forward, he said.

JAMES PAUL ROSCOE (United Kingdom) urged the Government to ensure that the state of siege announced by the President on 6 May remains transparent and time‑limited, and that its implementation continues with respect for human rights and international law.  He also encouraged greater collaboration between the armed forces and MONUSCO, including joint planning for coordinated efforts to tackle armed groups.  Noting that his country has provided almost $17 million to support the response to COVID-19, said the swift and effective response to the recent resurgence of Ebola in North Kivu demonstrated the importance of responding to health emergencies through local health structures and leadership.  He encouraged the Government to engage fully with MONUSCO and the United Nations country team through the joint working group on the articulation of a joint transition plan, to be presented to the Council in September.

AEXANDER V. REPKIN (Russian Federation), citing constant attacks by armed groups in the east and the related state-of-siege decree, said the illegal groups continue to maintain significant military capacity, with the main threat posed by ADF.  It is disconcerting that the authorities are still unable to resolve the illegal exploitation of natural resources, used by armed groups to finance their activities.  However, the situation in Tanganyika is stabilizing, thanks to efforts by the Government and MONUSCO, he noted.  Citing COVID-19, the incipient economic downturn and the eruption Mount Nyiragongo among the country’s challenges, he commended the Government’s rapid reaction, saying it enabled most people to return to their homes.  Noting that pilots contracted by his country provided assistance to refugees and victims, he said the Russian Federation expects that the Government will work to improve humanitarian conditions, resolve border disputes, address intercommunal tensions and implement its disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme.  He went on to emphasize the need to implement the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement, a pillar of which is expanded cooperation with neighbours, noting that regional players must continue their efforts to build an atmosphere of cooperation.  The Russian Federation therefore welcomes the offer by the Chairperson of the African Union of his good offices to resolve tensions.  He pledged that his country will continue contributing to the peace process in the country and the region as a whole, while expressing dismay over reports of protests against MONUSCO’s presence in North Kivu and attacks by locals against the Mission.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) said the Government’s programme of action marks a significant effort towards reform in both the country and the region, welcoming the priority focus on women’s participation in peace negotiations.  However, she expressed deep concern over rising insecurity, deteriorating humanitarian conditions and “alarming levels” of human rights violations, including by State actors, emphasizing that reports of widespread sexual and gender-based violence call for the Government urgently to redouble efforts to hold perpetrators accountable.  The precarious situation of children affected by armed conflict must also remain in focus, she stressed.  Noting that her country provided €4.5 million in humanitarian assistance in 2021, she underlined the critical need for humanitarian workers to operate in safe conditions, condemning attacks against them in the strongest terms.  She said that MONUSCO’s drawdown must be coupled with reforms in the justice and security sectors, while the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme must be effective and inclusive in order to achieve lasting peace.  Similarly, implementation of the transition likewise should take place with the involvement of United Nations agencies, the Peacebuilding Commission, non-governmental organizations and the Government itself, she said.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) called for efforts to refocus MONUSCO on the eastern provinces, emphasizing that the Force Intervention Brigade must play its full part.  Welcoming efforts by political leaders and civil society to combat hate speech, he cautioned against any violence directed at national institutions or the international presence.  Human rights must be respected and civic space guaranteed, notably in areas under a state of siege, he added, welcoming the sentencing of 21 combatants by the Ituri tribunal for crimes against humanity.  He said France and the national Government signed a €9 million convention to provide backstopping for the health system in North Kivu.  Warning that those who carry out or participate in attacks against medical personnel may be listed and sanctioned by the Council, he emphasized that reforms must go hand in hand with MONUSCO’s transition, with a priority focus on creating stability in the east.  He also called for continued reform of the police and army and for a credible plan for the 2023 elections, stressing that success will hinge on the sustained resolve of neighbouring countries.  MONUSCO’s withdrawal from Kasaï and Tanganyika means that efforts by international financial institutions and regional organizations will be essential for the sake of the country’s future stability, development and peace, he added.

PAUL LOSOKO EFAMBE EMPOLE (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said political events in his country have been dominated by the formation of a new Government, representing a new political coalition established by the President.  Led by the Prime Minister, the Government won Parliament’s approval on 26 April, following the adoption of its programme of action, which authorized it to implement the security, justice and administration reforms contained therein.  As part of ongoing efforts to normalize relations with neighbouring countries, the Government signed a protocol with Uganda in June relating to Ugandan members of ADF, transborder commerce and the construction of a road, he reported, also citing three agreements on the promotion and protection of investments.

Turning to security, he said the Government imposed a state of siege in North Kivu and Ituri in May, with military vice‑governors nominated in those two provinces to fight armed groups.  Progress to date includes the neutralization of several hundred militia members and efforts to disrupt rebel resources and supply networks.  He described the state-of-siege proclamation as an opportunity to eradicate all negative forces, saying the Government has also establish up a disciplinary mechanism to punish soldiers who violate human rights.  He said that, under resolution 2556 (2020), the Government also established a joint working group with MONSUCO to create a reference document that will allow the Mission’s orderly and definitive withdrawal, noting that MONUSCO closed two offices in Tanganyika and Kasaï.  He went on to emphasize the President’s determination to create peace and advance the rule of law, led by an effective administration capable of managing borders and exerting State authority across the country.

For information media. Not an official record.