posted on Mon 23 Mar 2020 5:34 PM
UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) Informal Meeting via Videoconferencing

On Tuesday (24 March), Security Council members will convene an informal videoconferencing meeting on the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

This is the first Council business since 12 March and follows measures announced by the Secretary-General to address COVID-19, including a partial closure of UN headquarters that began on 16 March. At this time, it appears that Special Representative and head of MONUSCO Leila Zerrougui and Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix will both participate.

Originally, tomorrow’s MONUSCO meeting was planned for today (23 March) as a briefing, followed by consultations. While several other meetings this week have been postponed, Council members felt strongly that some sort of discussion on MONUSCO needed to take place. Council members spent last week, during which no Council meetings were held, testing the videoconferencing technology with assistance and technical support from the Secretariat. This will be the first chance for the Council to discuss an issue with this technology and may reveal how to proceed on other issues.

The Secretary-General’s recent report on MONUSCO, released on 18 March, describes the political situation in the DRC as stable with underlying tensions. The report also highlights Zerrougui’s meetings with DRC stakeholders to develop a transition strategy that would set out priorities for MONUSCO’s eventual exit. The report describes how MONUSCO and the UN Country Team have created an Integrated Transition Team. Its purpose is to coordinate the transition planning process so that the stability gains of the past decades can be sustained. The transition planning process may be a topic of discussion in the meeting.

In addition to learning more about this process, members may want to discuss the challenges in protecting civilians in the DRC. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group and its ongoing attacks against civilians are cited in the Secretary-General’s report as a continuing threat to the DRC’s security. According to the report, the ADF was responsible for the death of 300 civilians during the reporting period covering 27 November 2019 to 16 March 2020. The report also notes that “the rise in attacks against civilians resulted in strong sentiment among some members of the local population against MONUSCO and the Congolese authorities”. DRC continues to have one of the largest populations of internally displaced people in the world; the report puts the number at over five million at the end of 2019.

There are a number of issues that Council members will want to follow up on, although in general all Council members currently have a positive outlook on the situation in the DRC. They may want to hear how the UN Department of Peace Operations (DPO) is implementing an action plan in response to the independent assessment report, prepared by Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, on the protection of civilians and neutralisation of armed groups in Beni and Mambasa Territories. Cruz’s report was released on 16 January; he briefed Council members under “any other business” on 20 January, and the DPO was due to use the assessment’s recommendations to create a response soon after. The report made several recommendations for how the UN could improve its role in the protection of civilians in those two territories. Prime among them was the call for more proactive, effective, and mobile actions by MONUSCO, which, the assessment suggests, would require more operational intelligence and a stronger relationship with the Forces armées de la république démocratique du Congo (FARDC). In general, Council members were receptive to Cruz’s assessment and the Secretary-General praised the assessment in his latest report.

Council members may also discuss the recent visit of High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to the DRC. On 11 March, Council members attended an informal debriefing of Bachelet at the Belgian Mission, where she highlighted positive steps taken by President Félix Tshisekedi in terms of transitional justice and human rights, while stressing that further action in these areas is crucial.

The DRC continues to face severe health challenges, which are exacerbated by its struggling healthcare system. This may also be discussed in the meeting. The DRC is facing a record measles outbreak: nearly 320,000 cases and more than 6,000 deaths, mostly children, recorded between January 2019 and January 2020. Malaria and cholera are also threats to the population. One positive piece of news is that it appears that the Ebola epidemic might be ending, with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reporting that the “last patient with a confirmed case of Ebola” was discharged from one of its facilities on 3 March. The DRC has approximately 30 reported cases of COVID-19; Zerrougui is expected to address the anticipated impact of the pandemic on the ground, which Lacroix may complement by describing measures being taken in support of the mission.

The Council will continue to monitor the situation on the ground in the DRC, with a view to further assessing the future of MONUSCO ahead of the next mandate renewal in December. The Secretary-General has been requested by the Council in resolution 2502 to submit recommendations for a drawdown, in consultations with the government of the DRC, by 20 October.