posted on Mon 14 Nov 2016 1:59 AM
Dispatches from the Field: Council Meetings in Beni

The Security Council visiting mission to Africa travelled today from Kinshasa to Beni, a town and area in the North Kivu Province that in the past two years has experienced the highest levels of violence in the country against civilians, mostly by armed groups.

The main focus of the visiting mission has been the current political crisis, but in recent years the key concern has been the continuing violence in the eastern part of the country. In discussions ahead of the visiting mission Council members stressed that they could not conceive of visiting the DRC without traveling to the east, and, given the current levels of violence, to the Beni area in particular. The North and South Kivu provinces in eastern DRC have been where the overwhelming majority of the resources of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) and its successor, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), have been deployed.

The visit to Beni lasted for about two-and a-half hours. Three meetings were held at the MONUSCO base in the town of Beni, comprising a briefing on the mission’s operational arrangements in the region and the implementation of a comprehensive approach to protection of civilians as mandated by Council resolution 2277; a meeting with the regional authorities; and a brief interaction with about a dozen representatives of local civil society organisations.

Special Representative of the Secretary-General Maman Sambo Sidikou chaired the meeting on MONUSCO’s operations and on a comprehensive approach to its protection of civilians mandate in the region. Force Commander Lieutenant General Derick Mbuyiselo Mgwebi briefed the delegation on MONUSCO’s operational structure in the region, and its approaches to and challenges in countering the armed groups present in the area. Mgwebi presented a comprehensive overview of the plethora of armed groups operating in the Beni area. These range from well-known and sizeable ones such as the Force Démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), whose strength MONUSCO estimates at about 1,100 fighters, to small and constantly evolving splinter groups of movements active in the area such as the Mai-Mai, which has more than a dozen sub-groups with an estimated strength ranging between 30 and 500 fighters each. He focused particular attention on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist Ugandan group, which has been present in the area since the late 1980s, but has become particularly notorious since October 2014, with attacks on civilians that have claimed some 700 lives, and included kidnappings, looting, and burnings of the infrastructure and property. He also described the gradual transition of the threats posed by the armed groups from conventional to asymmetric ones.

Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Operations and the Rule of Law David Gressly described steps taken by MONUSCO to enhance the implementation of the protection of civilians mandate. He acknowledged that with the large numbers of civilians being brutally massacred in the region, MONUSCO needed to sharpen its work towards a more pro-active implementation of the protection of civilians mandate. He said that failure to do would lead to frustration on the part of the population about MONUSCO’s role, and misunderstandings about what is being done and what is feasible. He described steps being taken such as better concentration of all the mission’s resources, increased resort to foot patrols, the use of community liaison assistants and better outreach to the population. In this context, he cited the recent opening of a local studio for the UN-backed Radio Okapi.

Members expressed their deep appreciation and support for MONUSCO, while stressing that Beni epitomised how MONUSCO was perceived by the population and that the operation’s reputation was at stake.

Local leaders who addressed the delegation – the governor of North Kivu, Julien Paluku; the mayor of Beni, Bwanakawa Nyonyi; the regional commander of the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), General Mushale Tshitamba Wambilamo; and the governor of South Kivu, Cishambo Ruhoya Marcelin – all stressed how important the presence of MONUSCO was for the region. They expressed concerns about the emerging phenomenon of asymmetrical threats and spoke of measures that could be taken to counter this threat. They indicated their appreciation of the Council’s visit, and some expressed their wish that it could have been longer.

The final meeting in Beni involved about a dozen representatives of the local civil society, including human rights organisations, women’s groups and clergy. They presented an alarming picture of rampant victimisation of the civilian population by armed groups and human rights violations, including killings, sexual violence, destruction of schools and hospitals, and displacement. They expressed their disappointment that after the Force Intervention Brigade of MONUSCO was successful in defeating the M-23 movement in 2013, it did not have a similar impact on armed groups operating in their region. They also emphasised the need for accountability and justice, and called for thorough investigation of all massacres by independent monitors to combat impunity.

The meeting with the civil society representatives was cut short by an unexpected change in the weather and the need for the flights to depart ahead of schedule. Several members of the delegation expressed their regret at not being able to have a fuller interaction with the representatives of the civilian population.

Today, the delegation is in Luanda, for meetings with Angolan political leaders and the diplomatic community to discuss steps being taken in the region to address the political crisis in the DRC.