posted on Mon 13 Jan 2020 3:48 PM
Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Role of the Region in the Stabilisation of eastern DRC

Tomorrow (14 January), the Security Council is expected to hold an informal interactive dialogue to explore and discuss the broader Great Lakes region and its role in contributing to security in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The meeting was initiated by the US, which sees it as a follow-up to resolution 2502, which renewed the mandate of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) on 19 December 2019, by bringing together various stakeholders to discuss how to support the DRC government in its efforts to stabilise eastern DRC.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of MONUSCO Leila Zerrougui, and the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Great Lakes region Huang Xia are expected to brief. The DRC, as well as several countries from the Great Lakes region, are expected to participate in the meeting, including Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. These members are expected to provide their views on how to put a stop to the armed group attacks and trafficking in eastern DRC.

The last quarter of 2019 saw a further deterioration of the security situation in eastern DRC. On 30 October, the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) launched a new offensive against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group that originated in Uganda. Fighting has been violent, and civilians have borne the brunt of the repercussions. More than 200 people have been killed by ADF fighters since the offensive began, according to civil society groups. This has led to public backlash against MONUSCO, with civilians feeling that the mission was not fulfilling its mandate to protect civilians. In response, MONUSCO increased patrols of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), and Special Representative Zerrougui has been in constant communication with DRC President Félix Tshisekedi and other senior officials.

In November and December 2019, Council members held two meetings in consultations to discuss the increase in violence. On 26 November, in a briefing on the situation under “any other business” at the Secretariat’s request, Zerrougui highlighted the upsurge in violence and the dissatisfaction among the population in the east. On 6 December 2019, Council members discussed the situation in eastern DRC, also under “any other business”, after an attack and protests against a MONUSCO compound in Beni. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix briefed members on his visit to Beni and other parts of eastern DRC on 2-3 December. During the meeting, Council members agreed to elements to the press that condemned the attacks against civilians and Ebola responders. The members also expressed their full support for MONUSCO’s efforts to protect civilians. The FARDC operations have continued into 2020, and the recent instability has contributed to a worsening of the humanitarian situation in an already fragile region. In addition, Ebola remains a worrying issue in this area.

On 1 December 2019, the FARDC reported that it had driven out the National Council for Renewal and Democracy (CNRD), an offshoot of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), from eastern DRC after launching a campaign against them a week earlier. Secretary-General António Guterres said in his most recent MONUSCO report of 26 November 2019 that the FDLR remains a major concern in the Masisi territory. Two FDLR leaders have been killed by the FARDC in fighting since September.

Resolution 2502 maintains the dual strategic priorities of the mission: protection of civilians and supporting the stabilisation and strengthening of the DRC’s state institutions. The resolution takes steps towards the closure of MONUSCO, starting with the request to the Secretary-General to work with the DRC government to create an exit strategy, with benchmarks, to be proposed to the Council no later than 20 October.

Also included in the resolution, and particularly relevant to this meeting, was reference to the involvement of countries in the region and also the role and duties of the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region. During the negotiations, one member wanted to emphasise the role of the Special Envoy and suggested language making Xia’s involvement and duties in the DRC more explicit, including his role in the development of a regional strategy. However, one permanent member did not agree that adjustments were necessary, and ultimately the new language was not included in the final version.  Members are likely to be interested in hearing more about Xia’s involvement in the regional strategy at this informal interactive dialogue.

President Tshisekedi has been active in trying to increase cooperation and transparency between the DRC’s neighbours. During regional visits and conferences  Tshisekedi has apparently been stressing the need to “build bridges, not walls” among his country’s neighbours. Within the first six months of his term, Tshisekedi travelled around the region to Angola, Burundi, Kenya, Namibia, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. Among the ideas discussed was a unified strategy to address the armed combatants’ issue. The details remain uncertain and could range from information sharing to the more unlikely coordinated military operations. In June 2019, Tshisekedi formally requested accession for the DRC into the East African Community (EAC).

The AU Peace and Security Council held a similar briefing on the situation in the Great Lakes region on 10 January with the participation of Smail Chergui, AU Commissioner of Peace and Security, and Basile Ikouebe, the AU Special representative for the Great Lakes Region.

The Council is expected to assess the role and future of MONUSCO ahead of the next renewal of the mission’s mandate in December. While resolution 2502 outlined steps towards the eventual withdrawal of MONUSCO, it did not go far enough for some members of the Council. For example, some members wanted more drastic changes to the FIB Brigade while others felt it was hasty. These members are interested in hearing from Lt. Gen. Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, whom the Secretary-General dispatched to eastern DRC to assess and make recommendations regarding MONUSCO’s ability to deliver its mandate to protect civilians. His report is apparently due in February or March.

The informal interactive dialogue focuses on how the DRC’s neighbours can help with the stabilisation of eastern DRC. It seems that some members in the Council have been unhappy with the Special Envoy’s narrow scope of reporting and are hoping that this meeting will provide the opportunity for more exhaustive discussion. This will also be the first opportunity for the five new elected members of the Council – Estonia, Niger, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, and Viet Nam—to express their opinion on the situation in the DRC.