posted on Wed 22 Jun 2016 5:01 PM
Renewal of Democratic Republic of the Congo Sanctions

Tomorrow (23 June), the Security Council is set to renew the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) sanctions regime until 1 July 2017 and the mandate of the Group of Experts assisting the DRC Sanctions Committee until 1 August 2017. The draft resolution requests the Committee to report to the Council orally, through its Chair, at least once a year, on the state of the overall work of the Committee, and encourages the Chair to hold regular briefings for all interested Member States.

The draft resolution follows a briefing on 13 May by the Group of Experts to the Committee on its annual report, which was presented to the Council by the Chair of the Committee, Amr Aboulatta (Egypt), on 16 June (S/2016/466). The report contained a number of areas of relevance to the draft resolution, including the activities of domestic and foreign armed groups in the DRC and the illicit trade in natural resources, particularly gold.

On rebel groups, the report detailed how while the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) continue their military operations against both foreign and local armed groups in eastern DRC, these groups continue to control territory and profit from natural resources. The Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda remain the largest armed group in the country, although seriously destabilised by operations carried out by FARDC and Mai Mai groups in 2015. In addition, many Congolese armed elements are involved in criminal networks and banditry rather than being structured armed groups, and while causing similar levels of insecurity are more difficult to combat with traditional military operations. Some FARDC officers were documented collaborating with Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) elements in Beni territory. (The DRC sent a letter to the Council on 15 June saying it will investigate the matter [S/2016/542])

Another focus of the report was natural resources. The Group found that some FARDC elements were extensively involved in the illegal exploitation of natural resources, especially through the taxation of miners. Armed groups also continue to generate significant revenue from the control, taxation or looting of natural resources, especially gold, but also tin, tantalum, tungsten, charcoal and timber. Elephant poaching continues to pose a serious threat to wildlife.

On gold, illegal taxation and looting by armed groups and some FARDC elements, as well as illegal cross-border trafficking, affect much of the artisanal and small-scale mining gold production. Gold from non-validated mining sites, which may therefore benefit armed groups, is laundered into the legitimate supply chain and, subsequently, into the international market. However, due to the structure of the supply chain, it is difficult to obtain evidence of a direct link between an exporter and armed groups. The Group accordingly recommended that the Council consider revising the sanctions criteria to include entities and individuals supporting armed groups or leaders and exacerbating State fragility through gold-related illicit financial flows or money laundering, apparently to be able to list individuals throughout the gold supply chain.

Council members’ experts met twice over the last week to negotiate the resolution, based on a French draft circulated on 15 June. The initial draft suggested that in addition to individuals supporting armed groups, those supporting criminal networks involved in the illicit exploitation or trade of natural resources, including gold or wildlife as well as wildlife products, be listed. The text also suggested eliminating the link required between such actions and activities destabilising the DRC, thus expanding the listing criteria in accordance with the Group of Experts’ recommendation. However, some Council members, such as Russia and Egypt, questioned the need to expand the text on illicit trade in natural resources (which already covers gold), and viewed the link to destabilising activities and international peace and security as necessary in order to be within the Sanctions Committee’s mandate. A compromise was found by reinserting the text on the linkage to destabilising activities but keeping the reference expanding the listing criteria to criminal networks.

While the resolution is focused on sanctions, it does touch upon the fragile political situation in the DRC, in particular the presidential elections scheduled for November. Many fear that President Joseph Kabila intends to stay in power after the second of his constitutionally-mandated two terms expires at the end of 2016, and that the impractically dense electoral calendar and consequent delays are part of a strategy dubbed by rivals as “slippage”. Preparations for elections are at a standstill, and with the DRC’s electoral commission warning that it would take at least 13 months to conduct a census to update the voter register ahead of the vote, it seems unlikely that presidential elections can or will be held on time. Tensions are also high regarding the ability of opposition parties to participate in political activities leading up to the elections, with reports of increased harassment and human rights violations, mostly against opposition members, civil society representatives and journalists.

In the negotiations, Council members disagreed over the extent and substance of language on the electoral process. The initial draft (which included suggested language by the UK and US) stressed several times – both in the preambular and operative clauses – the importance of a peaceful and credible electoral cycle, in accordance with the Constitution, and elaborated on the various restrictions of freedoms of the opposition and related political rights (mainly based on language from resolution 2277 on MONUSCO). However, while accepting that something should be said about the political context of the sanctions regime, some Council members viewed the number of such references as shifting the weight of the resolution from sanctions to one focused on the political situation. They also expressed reservations over the elaboration of the political situation in the paragraphs and the focus on human rights, preferring fewer references and less expansive language. Accordingly, some of the paragraphs on these issues were removed. The draft resolution now urges the DRC as well as all relevant parties to ensure an environment conducive to a free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful and timely electoral process in November 2016, in accordance with the Congolese Constitution. The issue of related political freedoms is mentioned only in the preambular paragraphs.