posted on Tue 29 Mar 2016 5:02 PM
Renewal of UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Tomorrow (30 March), the Council is set to renew the mandate of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) until 31 March 2017 at its current troop level.

The draft text of the resolution to be adopted tomorrow takes into account exchanges between Council members during its last meeting on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on 23 March (S/PV.7624). Briefing the Council on the latest MONUSCO report (S/2016/233), Special Representative of the Secretary General for the DRC Maman Sidikou said that political tensions are mounting leading up to the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for November 2016. He noted that the electoral process was stagnant, and emphasised the need for a credible dialogue among all political stakeholders to move forward in order to avoid a real risk of violence. Currently, the main opposition parties refuse to enter into a dialogue with President Joseph Kabila, arguing that the dialogue is, in fact, intended to delay the electoral process and allow him to prolong his presidency beyond the constitutionally mandated term. (For more information, please see our March Forecast).

Another point raised was the deteriorating security situation in areas in eastern DRC, due to increased activity of various armed groups. Sidikou noted that the DRC’s recent agreement to renew military cooperation with MONUSCO against armed groups will significantly increase the mission’s effectiveness in protecting civilians and tackling these groups. He added that MONUSCO and the DRC government are discussing an exit strategy for the mission’s further drawdown and eventual withdrawal, taking into account the political and security realities on the ground. In this context he noted that the Secretary-General’s recent recommendation in his letter of 16 December 2015 (S/2015/983), to draw down 1,700 military personnel (on top of the drawdown of 2,000 troops over the last year) while addressing MONUSCO’s inefficiencies, should be viewed as a “concrete step forward in facilitating the strategic dialogue between the mission and the Government, with a view to achieving a common goal — a gradual and progressive exit for MONUSCO that preserves the gains and investments made so far.”

Following Sidikou, the DRC Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Raymond N’Tungamulongo, addressed the Council and spoke about the renewed cooperation between his country and MONUSCO, emphasising the positive dialogue concerning MONUSCO’s exit strategy. He added that the DRC is pushing for security sector reform and developing “rapid reaction forces” within its military in order to provide security in the east. These efforts, he said, will make it possible for MONUSCO to be reduced by half by the end of 2016.

In the consultations following the briefing, Council members exchanged views, with reference to the approaching mandate renewal. Some Council members emphasised that approving the proposed troop reduction will facilitate further cooperation between MONUSCO and the DRC which is necessary for the success of the mission. However, it seems that despite the recommendation of the Secretary-General, the majority of Council members were of the view that the situation on the ground does not warrant further troop reduction at this stage, particularly given the fragile political situation and deteriorating conditions in eastern DRC. Some members may be cautious at this stage given what they perceive to be a possible trend of host states trying dictate the conditions under which peacekeeping operations operate.

Accordingly, a compromise was found in the draft resolution to reflect that at this point the Council does not agree to a troop reduction, but would consider it if warranted by circumstances on the ground. The text maintains MONUSCO’s troop level while taking note, in an operative paragraph, of the Secretary-General’s recommendation for a reduction, taking into account progress in the development of an exit strategy, and in addressing the threat posed by armed groups. The draft adds that the Council will consider further troop reductions once significant progress has been achieved and asks the Secretary-General to report back on this issue.

Another focus of the negotiations was how to address the impasse in the electoral process and lack of dialogue between stakeholders in the DRC. Some Council members wanted to refrain from particular mention of the presidential elections and a specific date for holding them, as they were told by Sidikou in the consultations that the November 16 is unrealistic and there are necessary steps to be achieved beforehand. Other Council members wanted to be clear in their message that holding elections in accordance with the constitutional time limits is critical for stability, and even if delays occur they should be minimal.

The agreed text calls on the government to put in place an adequate electoral budget and an electoral code of conduct, and to carry out without delay a credible update of the electoral register, in order to ensure the successful and timely holding of elections, in particular presidential and legislative elections on November 16 , in accordance with the Constitution. It also calls on the National Independent Electoral Commission to publish a new comprehensive electoral calendar.

The resolution calls upon all stakeholders to engage in an open and inclusive political dialogue over the holding of presidential elections, in accordance with the Constitution. There was disagreement over language on support to the AU consultations to facilitate the national dialogue. Some countries, including Egypt, supported a request for the Secretary-General to provide support, including good offices, for these efforts. The US was against requesting the Secretary-General to support the AU consultations, as it believed this detracted from the emphasis on an election deadline, but the text in blue retains this request, adding that the Secretary-General’s efforts should be consistent with the current resolution.

In light of the fact that concerns over human rights abuses related to the electoral process were highlighted in the recent Secretary-General’s report, the draft resolution also urges the government as well as all relevant parties to ensure an environment conducive to a free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful and timely electoral process, in accordance with the Congolese Constitution. This includes freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of assembly, access to media, and safety and freedom of movement for all candidates, as well as for election observers and witnesses, journalists, human rights defenders and civil society actors including women. The text also requests the Secretary-General to update the Council in his next report on human rights violations and abuses in the context of the elections, including any necessary adjustments in MONUSCO’s deployment to address associated instability.

Finally, another contentious point among Council members was the definition of the tasks of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) of MONUSCO in relation to MONUSCO as a whole. While no changes were made to the existing language that MONUSCO will neutralise armed groups and carry out targeted offensive operations “through the Intervention Brigade in cooperation with the whole of MONUSCO”, some language was added in relation to MONUSCO’s strategic priorities.

An initial draft suggested that MONUSCO’s strategic priorities should include protection of civilians and the reduction of the threat posed by Congolese and foreign armed groups and of violence against civilians, through a comprehensive approach involving all of its components. However, some Council members opposed this language as it relates to the role of units other than the FIB regarding armed groups. A compromise was found by referring to the protection of civilians, “through a comprehensive approach involving all components of MONUSCO, including through reduction of the threat posed by Congolese and foreign armed groups”.