Political Will Can Drive Concerted Action to Overcome Even Most Protracted Challenges, Special Envoy for Great Lakes Region Tells Security Council
Allied Democratic Forces Allegiance to Islamic State Poses Major Threat, Democratic Republic of Congo’s Permanent Representative Warns
Progress can be made on even the most protracted issues when national leaders of Africa’s Great Lakes demonstrate political will, the United Nations Special Envoy for that region told the Security Council today as it discussed the presence of armed groups, the refugee crisis and the illicit exploitation of and trafficking in natural resources, among other persistent challenges.
“Indeed, since the 1990s and early 2000s, the region has made important steps towards durable peace and stability,” Said Djinnit, Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, told members in his final briefing in that capacity. Despite persisting insecurity in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, “the region today is largely peaceful”, he said.
“Where cross-border clashes frequently occurred, differences between member States are now mostly addressed through dialogue, albeit not always conclusively,” he continued, while sounding the alarm over the continued presence of negative forces in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, which perpetuates insecurity and mistrust between some countries.
Allegations of support for such groups by regional Governments or their proxies, and claims of cross-border interference, continue to threaten cordial relations and stability, he pointed out. They are compounded by the continuing illegal trade in natural resources, he added, urging sustained regional and global attention to these issues.
The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo highlighted regional efforts to eradicate armed groups, citing the ferocity of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which threatens the United Nations peacekeeping mission in that country and recruits from countries in the region. ADF also has an international recruitment network and demonstrates a tendency towards fundamentalism, he said, urging the Council to focus more closely on that issue since ADF has sworn allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) since October 2017, and receives financing for its activities in his country.
He went on to point out that the Secretary-General’s report also mentions the P5 armed group, which is active in South Kivu Province and associated with Rwandan opposition groups. It receives ammunition and weapons from a neighbouring country, he said, urging the Council’s Panel of Experts to shine a light on the supply circuit and on those violating the arms embargo, and for regional efforts to implement the Framework Agreement.
Council members expressed mixed views on the progress made and the remaining challenges. The Russian Federation’s representative said that full implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, adopted in 2013, will have a favourable impact on an otherwise tense situation in the region.
Belgium’s representative said that, despite the Special Envoy’s excellent efforts, the overall situation remains complex, characterized by a growing number of cross-border incidents, particularly on the borders of Burundi, but also between Rwanda and Uganda. Eliminating the threat posed by certain negative forces will require strong political engagement by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and others, he stressed.
China’s representative cited the positive political and security developments, notably the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement in South Sudan, the elections held in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the continuing stabilization of the situation in Burundi — all of which demonstrate that regional cooperation among countries can lead to African solutions to African problems. It is also imperative to address poverty and underdevelopment as causes of conflict, he emphasized, calling for increased official development assistance (ODA) and the scaling up of investment in health.
Equatorial Guinea’s representative said that the responsibility of building an Africa free of conflict falls on the continent’s States, as well as civil society and the institutions of the African Union. However, the destabilizing activities of armed groups, as well as intercommunal conflict expose civilians to malnutrition and disease, she noted, calling upon the African Union, the International Organization of La Francophonie and other entities to build synergies with the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to implement the Framework Agreement and foster regional good-neighbourliness while bolstering the fight against armed groups and the illegal exploitation of natural resources.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, Poland, Peru, Germany, Côte d'Ivoire, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, Kuwait and France.
The meeting began at 3:28 p.m. and ended at 5:23 p.m.
SAID DJINNIT, Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, said that his office facilitated the voluntary repatriation of 98 former combatants of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and their dependents from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Rwanda. Also, former elements of the 23 March Movement (M23) and their dependents, as well as one former M23 fighter from Rwanda were returned from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Uganda. In November 2018, all FDLR camps in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo were closed by the Congolese authorities with 1,634 disarmed FDLR combatants and dependents were repatriated to Rwanda through bilateral agreements, he said. “This shows that progress can be made even on the most protracted issue when political will is displayed by the leaders of the region,” he said, urging the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda to conclude the repatriation of remaining ex‑M23 members living in camps within their respective territories.
Noting the need to strengthen existing security and confidence‑building mechanisms, he said that his office is working closely with the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to help operationalize the Joint Follow-up Mechanism on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism as important platforms for exchanging information and enhancing regional cooperation to neutralize negative forces. There is also urgent need to address the protracted refugee crisis in the region, since more than 4 million of the 6.3 million refugees in Africa originate in the Great Lakes region, he pointed out. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region was asked to develop a regional strategy and action plan to find durable solutions, he said, pointing out that today’s briefing is his last as Special Envoy. He went on to outline progress and challenges, recalling that the region has made important steps towards durable peace and stability since the 1990s and early 2000s.
Despite persisting insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan, the region is largely peaceful today, he continued. “Where cross‑border clashes frequently occurred, differences between member States are now mostly addressed through dialogue, albeit not always conclusively,” he added. However, the continued presence of negative forces in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo perpetuates insecurity and mistrust between some countries, he said, noting that allegations of support for such groups by Governments in the region or their proxies, and claims of cross‑border interference continue to threaten cordial relations and stability. They are compounded by the continuing illegal exploitation of and trade in natural resources, he said, underlining that such issues require sustained attention.
He went on to recall that he focused on several key priority areas during his tenure, including the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework signed on 24 February 2013, which sought to strengthen regional ownership of the implementation process. He also sought to maintain regional and international focus on the need to strengthen cooperation against negative forces. He helped to maintain regional cohesion and to focus international attention on the situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi, while situating women’s participation in peace and political processes at the centre of his advocacy efforts. He said that he also encouraged a political conversation on ways to transform natural resources into a vehicle of shared prosperity while promoting the rule of law and ensuring respect for human rights.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), noting the progress made in implementing the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, called upon its signatories to uphold all their obligations. Full implementation will have a favourable impact on an otherwise tense situation in the region, he said, expressing hope that the new Special Envoy will be able to accelerate efforts in that regard. Concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he noted that the successful elections have yet to yield tangible improvement in the country’s security and socioeconomic situation. He went on to emphasize the need for cross‑border cooperation to prevent the spread of Ebola while saying he shares the Secretary‑General’s concern about the complex humanitarian situation, despite positive developments regarding refugees. He concluded by expressing hope that ongoing differences between regional leaders will not erode their commitment to the Framework.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said the Framework is every bit as relevant today as it was when introduced in 2013. Indeed, it may even have new importance. Welcoming announcements by the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on security sector reform, consolidation of State authority and economic development, he said now is the time for regional leaders to live up to their commitments, adhere to the principles of non‑interference and deny safe harbour to armed groups. Recalling rising tensions described by Council members during past meetings, he emphasized that the people of the Great Lakes region have a remarkable opportunity for peace that must be seized and supported.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said that, despite the Special Envoy’s excellent efforts, the overall situation remains complex, with a growing number of cross‑border incidents, particularly on the borders of Burundi, but also between Rwanda and Uganda. Eliminating the threat of certain negative forces will require strong political engagement by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and others, he noted. Welcoming the peace agreement signed in the Central African Republic, he expressed hope that upcoming elections in Burundi will be credible, transparent and inclusive. Turning to the humanitarian situation, he said the overall picture is sombre, with more than 11 million people forcibly displaced, and called for vigilance in relation to the Ebola outbreak. He also expressed regret that the Secretary‑General’s report does not sufficiently address the human rights situation, suggesting that more thought be given to how the Framework can improve cross‑border investment.
STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom), welcoming the Special Envoy’s efforts for the voluntary repatriation of fighters from Rwanda, and of M23 fighters from Uganda, agreed that there is need to tackle the exploitation of natural resources, particularly by armed groups. Commending the Congolese people’s exercise of their democratic right to vote, he called upon all stakeholders to remain focused on creating a more inclusive political process. He also welcomed efforts to implement the peace and reconciliation agreement in the Central African Republic, while noting that an inclusive dialogue in Burundi will be a precursor to credible elections in that country. All stakeholders should continue to support efforts by the East African Community to end the political crisis in Burundi, he emphasized, outlining his delegation’s wish to see that country engage further with regional Heads of State and Government.
Ms. MCBRIDE (South Africa) encouraged Governments to complete the repatriation of former M23 combatants, in accordance with international refugee law, pointing out that armed groups threaten regional stability and integration. Expressing support for the extension of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (MONUSCO) mandate as part of efforts to deliver greater stability to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the wider region, she emphasized that the Government must assert its authority throughout the national territory, while focusing on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. The international community should help the newly inaugurated Government and embolden its institutions, she said. More broadly, she expressed support for the inter‑Burundi dialogue, notably the East African Community’s facilitation process, commending the efforts of the mediator and the former facilitator. She said the global ceasefire agreement and the Arusha Accords should be read together in the quest for a lasting solution to the impasse, and pressed the Council to reaffirm calls for all signatories to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework to ensure long‑term peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the wider region.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) emphasized that reform of the justice and penitentiary systems is vital, welcoming the announcement that a justice and good governance event will be held in Nairobi in May. Stressing that the peace and security Framework is essential to regional peace, she called upon all signatories to fulfil their commitments promptly. Poland welcomes efforts by the African Union and other organizations to strengthen the peace and security Framework, she said, stressing that the regional dimension of the Great Lakes crisis must not be overlooked.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), voicing concern over ongoing violence in the region, stressed the importance of the Framework Agreement in achieving sustainable peace. Emphasizing the value of a regional approach, he pointed to the importance of shared spaces for dialogue leading to confidence‑building, greater economic integration and stronger institutions. The humanitarian situation remains a cause for concern, however, with an alarming number of people in need of food assistance. Hopefully, the international community and those countries committed to regional peace and stability will continue to provide adequate and sustainable financing, he said.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) said many threats to peace and stability remain, rooted in unresolved political crises, a volatile security situation and regional tensions. It is critical that the new President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo implement the political and economic reforms that he has announced. Condemning attacks on Ebola treatment centres, he said the politicization of the Ebola crisis must be prevented. Emphasizing the need for political will among the region’s leaders, he expressed concern over the activities of armed groups and cross‑border incidents as well as the deterioration in relations between Uganda and Rwanda and called on all sides to refrain from violence and proxy conflict. On human rights, he voiced concern over shrinking political space and the violation of political freedoms. Protection of children in conflict must be a priority, he added.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea), emphasizing the principle of “African solutions to African problems”, said building an Africa that is free of conflict is a responsibility that falls on its States, civil society and the institutions of the African Union. Respect for sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity is the basis for stability and development and must be considered. She welcomed support from the international community and called on all parties directly involved to put confidence‑building measures into place. She hailed the measures taken by Governments in the region to respond to the humanitarian situation, warning however that the destabilizing activities of armed groups and intercommunal conflict expose civilians to malnutrition and disease. International efforts should focus on providing funds to updated humanitarian response plans. She called on the African Union, International Organization of la Francophonie and others to build synergies with the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to implement the Framework Agreement and foster regional good neighbourliness while bolstering the fight against armed groups and the illegal exploitation of natural resources.
WU HAITAO (China) cited positive political and security developments in the Great Lakes region, notably the signing of a revitalized peace agreement in South Sudan by major political parties, elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a situation in Burundi that continues to stabilize — all of which demonstrate that countries can find African solutions to African problems through regional cooperation. The international community should help safeguard regional peace and stability, by demonstrating respect for sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and country ownership of issues affecting them without interference. Regional and subregional organizations, meanwhile, should continue to take on a mediation role, while the United Nations should provide support for conflict prevention, mediation peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Further, the international community should strengthen communication with regional countries, provide assistance according to their requirements and help them in such areas as natural resource management and border control. It is also imperative to address poverty and underdevelopment as causes of conflict, he said, calling for increased official development assistance (ODA) and scaled up investment in health.
TIEMOKO MORIKO (Côte d’Ivoire) welcomed that the electoral process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo led to the peaceful holding of elections in December 2018 and called for building on those gains. Welcoming the 5 February signing of the peace accord in Sudan, he went on to urge stakeholders in the Central African Republic to meet the aspirations of the country’s people. In Burundi, he welcomed the President’s decision to not run in the 2020 elections, calling on the Government, opposition and people to end the political crisis there. More broadly, he said challenges in the Great Lakes region include illegal armed groups operating in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the latter also challenged by intercommunal violence and a resurgence of Ebola. Greater bilateral and regional cooperation will help alleviate those threats, he said, endorsing the recommendation by the ninth high‑level meeting of the Regional Oversight Mechanism to end the destabilizing activities of armed groups. Noting that the Addis Ababa framework allows for addressing the structural causes of instability, he called for greater support to States in the Great Lakes region for implementing it.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) said that the Great Lakes region has been marred with conflict, distrust and humanitarian difficulties for years, stressing the need to tackle the root causes of such sufferings, including illicit exploitation and trade of natural resources and the lack of development. At the end of 2018, about 11.2 million people in the region remained forcibly displaced. More than 22.7 million people needed food assistance, but the funding for humanitarian responses in 2018 was less than 50 per cent. The work of regional organizations and United Nations missions should be supported by the Council as they play a crucial role. Addressing the complex peace and security challenges in the region is not easy, he said, urging greater efforts to reach peace and stability.
JOSÉ MANUEL TRULLOLS (Dominican Republic) stressed the role of the African Union and other regional or subregional organizations in the quest for peaceful and stable coexistence in the region. Noting with concern the delicate security situation, especially in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, he called upon affected countries to work jointly to dismantle armed groups and invest in development. He also called for more funding of the humanitarian response to the Ebola outbreak, and for international, regional and national bodies to redouble their efforts to bring the perpetrators of human rights violations to justice.
BADER ABDULLAH N. M. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait) called upon States in the region to strengthen cooperation in responding to security challenges and to the illicit exploitation of and trafficking in natural resources. Describing the deteriorating security and humanitarian situations, including the Ebola outbreak, as a growing burden for the region, he stressed that the challenges faced by the Great Lakes region must be considered in a comprehensive fashion covering security, political, humanitarian and development aspects.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), Council President for March, spoke in his national capacity, saying the time is ripe, at the end of the Special Envoy’s mandate, to take stock of what has been accomplished and what remains to be done. Six years after the adoption of the Addis Ababa framework, strong political will can be seen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which should set an example for others to follow since that country’s destiny and those of its neighbours are interlinked, he noted. While the Framework Agreement is key for building trust, working together requires high‑quality dialogue among all stakeholders, he added. Expressing hope that the new Special Envoy will ensure that dialogue continues, he said France shares the Secretary‑General’s concern about tensions between some signatories to the Framework Agreement, which are exacerbated by the threat posed by armed groups and the harm created by the illegal exploitation of and trafficking in natural resources.
IGNACE GATA MAVITA WA LUFUTA (Democratic Republic of the Congo), calling attention to regional efforts to eradicate armed groups, uphold agreements and work towards harmony, noted that the Secretary‑General’s report describes the ferocity of ADF in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it threatens MONUSCO while recruiting from other countries in the region. Also, the midterm report of the Panel of Experts (document S/2018/1133) notes ADF’s international recruitment network and tendency towards fundamentalism. He urged the Council to focus more keenly on that issue, since ADF has sworn allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) since October 2017 and receives financing for its activities in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The group’s blocking of the response to Ebola further undermines stability in the region, he said.
Calling for a review of the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) and MONUSCO strategies for securing the eastern part of the country, he noted that the Secretary‑General’s report also mentions the “P5” armed group, which is active in South Kivu Province and associated with Rwandan opposition groups. It receives ammunition and weapons from a neighbouring country, he added, cautioning that the group could potentially pull his country into another armed conflict. He urged the Panel of Experts to shed light on the supply circuit and on those violating the arms embargo. Emphasizing the intention of his country’s Government to prioritize the consolidation of regional peace, with a focus on good neighbourliness, he said that its humanitarian efforts in responding to people’s needs should be supported.
He underscored the President’s commitment to the rule of law and determination to humanize the security services, fight abuse and foster media access. He also cited the release of political prisoners and the steps taken to fight both corruption and human trafficking. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has always upheld its commitments under the Framework Agreement and will do its part to foster peace, he said, adding that it respects all resolutions adopted during the ninth high‑level meeting of the Regional Oversight Mechanism aimed at neutralizing destabilizing forces. It also deplores the lack of involvement by other regional States in the harmonious functioning of the Joint Follow‑up Mechanism on ADF, he said, asking the guarantors of the Framework Agreement to make the most of the Mechanism’s tenth high‑level meeting, to be held in October 2019.