posted on Wed 24 Jun 2020 9:07 PM
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Security Council Developments

Tomorrow (25 June) Security Council members will have an active day on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). After the provisional 24-hour voting period, the Council will adopt a resolution in the afternoon renewing the measures under the 1533 DRC sanctions regime, which expires on 1 July. The mandate of the Group of Experts assisting the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee expires on 1 August and is traditionally renewed with the sanctions measures themselves.

Preceding the vote, Council members will hold an open videoconference (VTC), followed by a closed VTC, in which they will discuss the Secretary-General’s most recent report on the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Special Representative and head of MONUSCO Leila Zerrougui and Jamal Usseni of the non-governmental organisation Save Act Mine will brief Council members. Save Act Mine, based in Goma, specializes in the fight against illegal mining.

Sanctions Resolution

The resolution maintains the current sanctions regime until 1 July 2021 and renews the panel of experts for 13 months. New language this year has been incorporated on the exploitation of natural resources and the support of regional diplomatic engagement in implementing the sanctions measures. The added text on natural resources is consistent with the particular interest that Council members have taken recently in what more could be done to protect the country’s natural resources from illicit and conflict-fuelling exploitation. In keeping with this concern, the Group of Experts’ final report, published on 2 June, mentions types of natural resources, such as gold, that remain vulnerable to exploitation and smuggling, and notes how illegal exploitation of natural resources is funding some armed groups.  Belgium has also expressed interest in co-hosting an Arria-formula meeting in July that would delve deeper into the negative impact on the DRC of the illegal exploitation of natural resources.

Initial drafts of the resolution included more language in the preambular section that would have expressed concern about the continued presence of armed groups and their damaging actions to civilians while noting that “the continued diversion of arms and ammunition from the national stockpile remains the main source of supply for armed groups in the DRC”.  Concerns about the impact of armed groups are consistent with the findings in the Group of Experts’ report. The language was resisted by some members and ultimately omitted, however. Members opposing the language wanted to give the region a chance to address these problems and thought such detail in the resolution would not be productive.

Discussion of MONUSCO

The latest Secretary-General’s report on MONUSCO was published on 18 June. It details the efforts made to meet the October deadline, set out in resolution 2502 (2019), for the Secretary-General and the government of the DRC to put forward benchmarks for the withdrawal of the mission. These benchmarks are expected to be used to adjust MONUSCO’s mandate, which expires on 20 December.

Some Council members are worried that not enough progress has been made to meet the October deadline.  MONUSCO is expected to participate with the DRC government in planning for a MONUSCO drawdown and exit that is carefully sequenced, conditions-based and undertaken in accordance with agreed benchmarks. Many Council members have voiced support for this approach, although some members appear to have already started thinking about an exit strategy ahead of seeing what the Secretary-General and the DRC government may propose.

Zerrougui has expressed optimism about the road ahead. During the last meeting on MONUSCO on 24 March, Zerrougui said that there have been enough improvements and work done toward stabilisation of the DRC that she believes conditions could exist for the phased withdrawal of MONUSCO, despite lingering challenges. But several members have expressed the need for caution so that the gains are not lost in a rush for the mission to leave. The Secretary-General, in his 18 June report, noted that ongoing discussions with Congolese authorities on plans for the transition had been hampered due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Additionally, there are also concerns about the pace of MONUSCO’s response to criticism of how it has implemented its protection of civilians’ mandate. An independent assessment report on the protection of civilians and the neutralisation of armed groups in Beni and Mambasa territories by Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz was released on 16 January. 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 the 24 March briefing, Lacroix described several steps his office had taken in response to the report’s recommendations; the Secretary-General’s latest report says that efforts to advance the protection of civilians mandate are ongoing. But these, too, have been hampered due to COVID-19.

Some Council members are worried about an overly-rapid Mission drawdown, as the security environment remains very difficult. On 5 June, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet announced that around 1,300 civilians have been killed in a number of separate clashes involving armed groups and government forces in the DRC over the past eight months, with some incidents possibly involving violations that could amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes. An Indonesian peacekeeper was killed and another Indonesian peacekeeper wounded in a late-night attack on 22 June. Council members adopted a press statement on 23 June condemning the attacks. The peacekeepers had been on patrol in the town of Makisabo near the city of Beni in the North Kivu province. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group is suspected of conducting the attack. Since late 2019, the FARDC has been engaged in significant operations in eastern DRC against the ADF, which has led to reprisal attacks from the ADF against civilians. According to the 2 June Group of Experts’ report, hundreds of civilians have been killed and thousands displaced in such attacks since October 2019.

In South Kivu, there has been renewed ethnic violence during 2020, and over 30 civilians have been killed since the beginning of the year, according to the Secretary-General’s report. The same report also reports a significant deterioration in the situation in Djugu and Mahagi territories along ethnic lines: “from March to May, at least 333 civilians, including 70 women and 61 children, were killed, and an estimated 300,000 people have been displaced since the beginning of the year”. The Nyunzu territory has seen violent clashes between Twa and Bantu militias that have led to over 100 civilians deaths in 2020.

The health situation in the DRC also remains challenging, and this is likely to be addressed in the meeting as well. There have been around 6,000 reported cases of COVID-19 in the DRC as of 24 June, with approximately 134 deaths. Most of the reported COVID-19 cases have occurred in the capital, Kinshasa. MONUSCO has been actively cooperating with the government and other stakeholders to develop procedures to counteract the spread of the virus and to spread knowledge of prevention measures amongst the Congolese population.

Ebola has also reappeared. Although Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported in March that the “last patient with a confirmed case of Ebola” was discharged from one of its facilities in North Kivu province, new cases subsequently appeared.  The Ebola epidemic has not yet been declared over in the east, while a different Ebola outbreak has now been recorded in Mbandaka and the surrounding area, in western DRC. The World Health Organisation and the DRC’s Ministry of Health are coordinating a response.

Other diseases are also having a troubling impact on the population. An ongoing measles epidemic has led to nearly 320,000 cases and more than 6,000 deaths, mostly of children, since January 2019. Malaria and cholera are also continuing threats to the population.

Members are likely to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on MONUSCO’s work. Indonesia and South Africa, both large troop contributors to MONUSCO, will be interested in hearing more about troop rotations. Since the pandemic began, fourteen planned troop rotations have been delayed until 30 June. The two countries remain concerned about the effect on their troops’ capacities and the need for rotation as soon as possible.

Additionally, several Council members may raise issues about the performance of MONUSCO peacekeepers and whether improvements are being made. The US in particular remains highly critical of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB).  This could also be a significant aspect of discussions when it comes to MONUSCO’s next mandate renewal in December.