posted on WED 13 NOV 2013 5:27 PM
Adoption of Presidential Statement on Developments in the DRC

Council members appear ready to adopt a presidential statement on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) tomorrow morning (14 November). The presidential statement comes in the wake of significant developments on the ground, notably the recent surrender of the March 23 (M23) rebel group.

Following the suspension of the Ugandan-mediated Kampala peace talks between the DRC and the M23, fighting resumed between the latter and the DRC army, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), on 25 October. The FARDC offensive forced the M23 to retreat until finally, on 5 November, the M23 declared an end to its military operations that started in April 2012, adding that “commanders are requested to prepare the troops for the process of disarmament, demobilization and social reintegration whose terms are to be agreed with the Congolese government.” The head of the M23, Sultani Makenga, who is on the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee list, surrendered himself to Ugandan officials on 7 November, reportedly along with roughly 1,500 rebels.

The DRC and the M23 were scheduled to sign an agreement on 11 November but eventually failed to conclude their negotiations in Kampala and the agreement remains pending. Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to the Great Lakes Region Mary Robinson and other envoys to the region stated that “the parties have expressed no differences on substantive points within the draft document. However, agreement on the format has not yet been reached. Despite a change in the military situation, it is important that there be a political conclusion to the dialogue”. Yet, according to some media reports, the failure to reach an agreement also revolves around the fate of the M23 fighters, currently in Uganda, once they are returned to the DRC, and Uganda’s unwillingness to turn them over to the DRC at present.

Council members were briefed via video-teleconference by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), Martin Kobler, and Robinson in consultations held last Wednesday (6 November).

Kobler updated Council members on negotiations between the DRC and the M23 to reach a political agreement, now that the M23 is no longer a military threat. He also mentioned that MONUSCO can now focus on other armed groups such as the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR). Robinson urged Council members to seize the moment to create political momentum.

During the meeting, several Council members expressed clear positions. France, the penholder on the DRC, said it intended to circulate a draft presidential statement that same day, while stating that MONUSCO must not allow other rebel groups to take advantage of the vacuum left by the M23 and that the root causes of conflict must now be addressed. Rwanda, in turn, wanted to know if and how MONUSCO - via its intervention brigade - will now neutralise the threat posed by the FDLR, accusing the DRC of providing support for the armed group. Other Council members such as the US and Russia also emphasised the importance of neutralising the FDLR and other armed groups. The UK expressed its opinion that this is the right moment to ensure that the DRC undertakes the reforms it committed to under the Peace and Security Coopetation (PSC) Framework Agreement.

France circulated a draft presidential statement on 7 November, and negotiations at the expert level took place on 8 and 12 November.

The draft presidential statement touches upon several issues. It calls for a swift conclusion and implementation of a final, comprehensive and agreed outcome, in line with the Kampala talks, that provides for the disarmament and demobilisation of the M23 and accountability for human rights abusers. It stresses the implementation of the PSC Framework, in particular the commitment of the DRC to implement various reforms, such as establishing a professional, accountable and sustainable national army, finalising the development of a comprehensive Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) and Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DRRR) plan, consolidating state authority and enhancing the judicial system and the rule of law.

Apparently, at the insistence of some Council members during the negotiations, the draft presidential statement contains substantive language on the implementation of Council decisions on women, peace and security and children and armed conflict in the DRC. It also stresses accountability for human rights abuses by armed groups, and reiterates that those responsible for human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law will be held accountable and should not be eligible for integration into the FARDC or other elements of state security forces. It further urges the DRC government to expedite its investigation into the November 2012 mass rapes committed by elements of the FARDC in Minova.

Another issue that came up during the negotiations is the appropriate language to address the issue of humanitarian access. As it did during the negotiations of the 25 July presidential statement (S/PRST/2013/11) on the DRC and in other country situations (see our 11 November What’s in Blue story on Somalia), Russia insisted on retaining previously agreed language, which calls for “safe and unhindered access for the timely and full delivery of humanitarian aid to all civilians in urgent need of assistance, in accordance with relevant provisions on international law, including international humanitarian law and the UN guiding principles of humanitarian assistance”. While some Council members wanted to expand on this language, the presidential statement kept to the language used in previous decisions.

An additional element of the presidential statement that was given attention during negotiations is finding a balance between the wish of some Council members - and in particular Rwanda - to stress the need to neutralise the FDLR and the need for MONUSCO to address all rebel groups operating in the DRC. The final text emphasises the threat posed by the FDLR and the need to address this threat permanently. It welcomes the public statement of DRC President Joseph Kabila to neutralise the FDLR and stresses the need to follow through on this commitment promptly. The statement then stresses the importance of “neutralizing the FDLR and all armed groups” and goes on to list several of those.

Council members are in general agreement that it is important to adopt an outcome at this juncture, due to the dramatic developments on the ground and the opportunity to create political momentum based on the recent military developments. Also, some feel this is an appropriate time to adopt an outcome document seeing as the last such statement was adopted in July, and many critical events on the ground have unfolded since.

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