New Strategy for Mission Withdrawal from Democratic Republic of Congo Tailored to Provinces’ Security Needs, Special Representative Tells Security Council
Drawdown Should Begin with Non-Essential Troops, Permanent Representative Stresses, Urging Resources for Special Rapid Respond Unit
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has closed nine field offices since the peaceful transfer of power in the 2018 presidential elections, the Organization’s top official in that country told the Security Council today, reporting that a new strategy for the operation’s eventual closure recognizes and is tailored to differing realities on the ground and security needs in each province.
“The drawdown and ultimate withdrawal of MONUSCO has figured prominently in our discussions with the Government in recent months,” said Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in her briefing on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the Mission (document S/2020/1150).
The result of these discussions is the joint strategy, which was shared with this Council by the Secretary-General on 26 October, she said, adding that it represents a common vision for the Mission’s gradual, responsible and sustainable drawdown and exit.
The Mission is currently present in six provinces, in addition to its headquarters in Kinshasa, she continued, explaining that the joint strategy is tailored to province-specific situations and aims to progressively consolidate the Mission’s footprint in North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri, which are most affected by conflict. By June 2021, MONUSCO will withdraw completely from the Kasaïs, and by June 2022, it will also be able to withdraw from Tanganyika, should stabilization persist.
Ultimately, the primary responsibility for the protection of civilians lies with State authorities, she emphasized, adding that the sustainability and tempo of MONUSCO’s transition therefore hinges on the Government’s capacity to assume security responsibilities and strengthen its institutional presence across the country.
Turning to the political situation, she said that the country is unfortunately going through a period of heightened political tensions, marked by persistent differences within the governing coalition. On 6 December, President Félix Antoine Tshilombo Tshisekedi announced the dissolution of the coalition made up of his Cape for Change, and that of former President Joseph Kabila’s Common Front for the Congo. He decided to appoint an official to help form a new majority in support of his reform agenda. If this fails, he would dissolve the National Assembly and ask the Congolese people to give it a majority through the ballot boxes. However, she added, the Front rejected the decisions as unconstitutional.
In view of these tensions, MONUSCO has met over the past month with many representatives of the political forces and civil society concerned, to encourage them to resolve their differences through dialogue, and avoid any provocations likely to incite violence, she said.
Today’s meeting took place ahead of an expected extension of MONUSCO’s mandate, which expires on 20 December.
In the ensuing discussion, Council members exchanged views on MONUSCO’s reconfiguration, including the Intervention Brigade, a military unit within the Mission that is authorized to take offensive action.
France’s representative said MONUSCO must focus now on areas where the situation is most volatile, stressing that the drawdown must be strategic and sequenced, with reforms in the justice and security sectors prioritized, as well as development and the engagement of women. The Mission should be deployed most effectively, with reconfiguration of the Intervention Brigade. A renewed partnership with the Government is also needed, he added.
The representative of the United States welcomed the progress that the Congolese Government has made in governance and gender equity. However, much more progress is needed in disarmament and reintegration, as well as in planning for a responsible drawdown and transition. He urged that the United Nations to move forward with mandated enhancements to the Intervention Brigade.
Estonia’s delegate said that the international community must be aware of MONUSCO’s numerous responsibilities, including protecting civilians, advancing women, peace and security, addressing violations against children and supporting security sector reform. “A refocusing of MONUSCO and a gradual transfer of its responsibilities has to ensure that there are not setbacks in the progress made,” he said.
South Africa’s representative, Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity and also on behalf of Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, urging further coordination of military deployments to avoid gaps in civilian protection, along with continued capacity-building of national forces. MONUSCO should be provided with adequate resources. “A budget-driven, rushed exit of MONUSCO would be disastrous and undermine decades of investment in peacekeeping,” he emphasized. He also underlined his group’s support for extending MONUSCO’s mandate for one year, maintaining current strength and objectives.
The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo described how the Government is implementing a three-fold strategy towards building defence and security capacity through security sector reform, promoting national reconciliation and activating regional diplomacy to defuse tensions. As for the Intervention Brigade, he called for an increase in resources so that the Brigade is equipped with a special unit to rapidly respond to the situation on the ground. MONOSCO’s force drawdown should begin with non-essential troops. In addition, his Government has created a joint working group to discuss the transfer of security responsibilities to State authorities.
He also pointed out that his country’s President decided to end the coalition, after two years of tireless efforts, because he was unable to implement his reform programmes. The President also decided to appoint a rapporteur who is responsible for identifying a new coalition. Yet, despite these political tensions, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is committed to adhering to the principle of rule of law and democracy and delivering on social and economic reforms, the representative informed the Council.
Also speaking were the representatives of Viet Nam, Indonesia, Germany, Dominican Republic, Belgium, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and China.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 12:02 p.m.
LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) briefed the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2020/1150). She said that the country is unfortunately going through a period of heightened political tensions, marked by persistent differences between the members of the governing coalition. On 6 December, President Félix Antoine Tshilombo Tshisekedi announced the dissolution of the coalition between his Cape for Change and that of former President Joseph Kabila’s Common Front for the Congo. He decided to appoint an official to help find a new partner to form a majority in support of his reform programme. If this fails, he would dissolve the National Assembly and ask the Congolese people to give it a majority through the ballot boxes. However, the Front rejected the decisions as unconstitutional. In view of these tensions, MONUSCO has met over the past month with many of the political forces and civil society concerned, encouraging them to resolve their differences through dialogue and avoid any provocations likely to incite violence.
She went on to express concern about the continuing protection crisis in the country’s east, where insecurity, grave violations of human rights and displacements continue to affect civilians, notably women and girls. While armed group activities persist in the Djugu and Irumu territories of Ituri Province, albeit at a reduced level, very serious incidents of intercommunal violence and attacks against civilians have once again been recorded in the past month in Beni, Masisi and Rutshuru territories of North Kivu Province, as well as Uvira, Mwenga and Fizi territories of South Kivu Province. National and foreign armed groups’ deadly activities in those territories highlight the MONUSCO force and the Intervention Brigade’s crucial role in supporting national security forces’ efforts to expand State authority and deter violence against civilians. Protection of civilians remains a central priority for MONUSCO, which it pursues through a whole-of-mission approach involving civilian, military and police components. Protecting civilians also requires closing the space for actors perpetrating atrocities by ensuring accountability for their crimes. The recent trial and conviction of Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka for war crimes, including rape, sexual slavery and the recruitment of children represents an important step forward for the Congolese military justice in combating impunity.
Some of the most serious challenges affecting the Democratic Republic of the Congo — from the presence of foreign armed groups to the illegal exploitation and trafficking of mineral resources — require regional and international efforts to achieve sustainable solutions, she said. The Congolese authorities have been engaging constructively with the country’s neighbours to resolve their differences, foster regional economic cooperation and consolidate regional peace and stability. As President Tshisekedi approaches the beginning of his Chairmanship of the African Union, these efforts will most likely be sustained in 2021. MONUSCO will continue to work closely with the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes to support the Government in this respect, as one of the constituents of the United Nations Great Lakes regional stabilization strategy.
“The drawdown and ultimate withdrawal of MONUSCO has figured prominently in our discussions with the Government in recent months,” she continued. The result of these discussions is the joint strategy, shared with the Council by the Secretary‑General on 26 October, which represents a common vision for the Mission’s gradual, responsible and sustainable drawdown and exit. The Mission is currently present in six provinces, in addition to its headquarters in Kinshasa, she noted, explaining that the joint strategy envisions a tailored approach through province-specific strategies that aim to progressively consolidate the Mission’s footprint in the three provinces most affected by active conflict, namely North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri. By June 2021, MONUSCO will withdraw completely from the Kasaïs, and by June 2022 — should stabilization persist — it will also be able to withdraw from Tanganyika.
Ultimately, the primary responsibility for the protection of civilians lies with State authorities, she emphasized, adding that the sustainability and tempo of MONUSCO’s transition is therefore dependant on the Government’s capacity to assume security responsibilities and strengthen its institutional presence across the country. To this end, MONUSCO is already actively supporting the implementation of the Government’s national police reform plan and the joint justice reform plan recently signed between the Government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). MONUSCO has also stepped up its engagement with relevant stakeholders to advocate for the establishment of the new framework to foster and supervise the disarmament, demobilization and community reintegration of ex-combatants. As well, it stands ready to increase its efforts to coordinate international support for security sector reform. The Deputy Special Representative and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator is leading the transition task force and has been tasked to ensure that all United Nations actors and partners are utilized to enhance complementarities, create positive synergies and avoid possible gaps in programming and support to the Government.
On the COVID-19 pandemic, she said the outbreak has affected MONUSCO’s regular activities, as has been the case in other peacekeeping contexts. As of today, a total of 173 MONUSCO personnel have tested positive for COVID-19, 153 have recovered and 6 MONUSCO personnel have died after contracting the virus. In this difficult context, the Mission has made its utmost efforts to fulfil its mandate while continuing to ensure the safety and security civilian staff and uniformed components.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÉRE (France), condemning attacks by armed groups in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that illicit trade in resources and other drivers of conflict must be stopped. In that regard, the focus must be not only on civilian protection, but also on building national institutions that can ensure lasting security. Regional cooperation towards tangible results should be scaled up, as well. Welcoming efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, he cautioned that violations of human rights in that context cannot be tolerated and that related humanitarian needs must be met. MONUSCO must focus now on areas where the situation is most volatile. The transition from the Mission must be strategic and sequenced, with reforms in the justice and security sectors prioritized, as well as development and the engagement of women. Paying tribute to MONUSCO personnel, he stressed that the Mission should be deployed most effectively, with reconfiguration of the Intervention Brigade. A renewed partnership with the Government is also needed. “It is now our duty to support them on a path to a lasting peace,” he stated.
PHAM HAI ANH (Viet Nam), acknowledging that the Government is trying to engage all relevant stakeholders, especially women, in the country’s political life, voiced concern regarding the persistent insecurity and violence and in North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri. The continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation, aggravated by the economic downturn and the pandemic, is alarming; international partners’ valuable assistance is needed. The country has the largest number of internally displaced persons in Africa — 5.2 million people — and between July and December, 21.8 million people were facing acute food insecurity. Reiterating the need to intensify regional cooperation, he noted the summit between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Rwanda and Uganda to discuss solutions to insecurity in the Great Lakes subregion, improve economic cooperation and combat COVID-19, as well as the bilateral engagement with Burundi. He also recognized the support of MONUSCO, especially in protecting civilians and strengthening State institutions.
KARTIKA HANDARUNINGRUM (Indonesia), urging that all efforts to maintain peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must include listening to the Congolese people, stressed that peacebuilding efforts should never be set aside. The wide variety of challenges faced by the country require close cooperation by all stakeholders. She commended the Government for taking swift action to end the eleventh Ebola outbreak and limited the spread of COVID-19. She joined the Secretary-General’s calls to extend the Mission’s mandate for another year to protect civilians and strengthen institutions. The safety and security of peacekeepers, including from armed groups such as the Allied Democratic Forces, must be ensured. Indonesia contributes more than 1,000 personnel to MONUSCO, including 49 women peacekeepers, she said, adding that women play an indispensable role in peacekeeping. To that end, her country will continue to advance their greater participation in peacekeeping operations, as envisioned in Security Council resolution 2538 (2020). As host of the 1955 Asia Africa Conference, Indonesia is bound by the Bandung Declaration to remain committed to peace and promote cooperation with African nations, she said.
RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) welcomed the progress that the Congolese Government has made in governance and gender equity. However, much more progress is needed in disarmament and reintegration, as well as in planning for a responsible drawdown and transition. Security sector reform is critical. In reintegration efforts, impunity must be addressed and fighters must not be allowed to return to battle. A decrease in human rights violations by all armed forces must also be brought about. He urged that planned enhancements of the Intervention Brigade not be delayed any longer. As well, more progress must be made regarding the objectives towards MONUSCO’s drawdown detailed in last year’s resolution, as well as on agreements on more specific benchmarks and timelines that will pave the way to sustainable peace. Towards that effort, he welcomed focus on political solutions through the Great Lakes Framework, including measures to address the illicit trade in natural resources as part of a holistic strategy for preventing violence.
GUENTER SAUTTER (Germany), commending MONUSCO on its work, called on all Congolese political actors to resolve differences through dialogue and compromise. Critical security reform, reintegration and institution‑building cannot be accomplished without national ownership. Protection of civilians must remain the priority. The international community must support the humanitarian support plan, he emphasized, noting his country’s increased contributions. Welcoming the improved security situation in certain provinces, he said that focus can now be on three to six provinces in the east of the country. In addition, peacebuilding activities must be pursued in all post-conflict zones along with the fight against impunity. MONUSCO’s main tasks in protection and institution-building remain key. The next steps towards reconfiguration and transition of the Mission must now be taken, as well, based on conditions on the ground. Clear and binding benchmarks are needed for that purpose, with a certain amount of flexibility allowed. He called on the Government to strongly engage in provincial and local transition tasks, including in reintegration, the fight against impunity and ending conflict‑related sexual violence. The Mission must also make its forces as effective as possible during the drawdown, taking advantage of lessons learned in other peacekeeping situations.
JOSÉ ALFONSO BLANCO CONDE (Dominican Republic) expressed concern regarding the breakdown of the Government coalition and its related effects on stability in the country and called on political actors to avoid confrontation. Spotlighting the continued suffering of women and children in the eastern part of the country, he supported MONUSCO’s deployment in conflict areas and stressed the importance of providing the Mission with logistical and intelligence equipment appropriate for the terrain. He also noted the precarious humanitarian situation on the ground and called on the international community to support the Government by contributing to response plans to assist the most vulnerable. While Ebola has been suppressed in the Province of Équateur, reports of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by members of Ebola response teams must be duly investigated and those responsible must be brought to justice. He added that the exit strategy and mandate renewal for MONUSCO must be based on realistic priorities.
PHILIPPE KRIDELKA (Belgium) said that the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s vision must be integrated into MONUSCO’s mandate. This requires a comprehensive approach beyond military operations, he said, stressing the need for the participation of civil society and reporting on human rights violations, among others. The Mission should also focus on helping the Government in its security sector reform, as well as disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex‑combatants. Turning to the joint strategy for the Mission’s phased withdrawal, he said such transition should take place on meeting benchmarks, not by the artificial deadline. He also stressed the importance of the nexus across peace and security, peacebuilding, human rights and development, urging stakeholders to address the root causes of conflict within this framework while calling for greater involvement of international financial institutions. Belgium supports these efforts through the European Union and bilaterally, he said, welcoming the joint strategy by MONUSCO and the United Nations office for the Great Lakes region to address problems of regional nature, such as the presence of foreign proxies and illegal exploitation of natural resources.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) welcomed African efforts to encourage peaceful solutions to the political tensions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as regional political engagement through the Great Lakes framework. Also welcoming the community-based approach to disarmament and demobilization, he stressed that it is important that related strategies are devised through engagement with local authorities. He urged increased cooperation between Congolese and MONUSCO forces, including the Intervention Brigade. Turning to the draft for the renewal of MONUSCO, he said he trusted that its sponsors will manage to put together a document focused on concrete benchmarks for the Mission’s drawdown that take into account the situation on the ground, as well as the priorities of the Government and the troop‑contributing countries. He affirmed the readiness of the Russian Federation to support the countries of the Great Lakes region in their efforts to bring about stability in the subregion.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), welcoming MONUSCO’s success in the city of Pinga, said that the Mission’s effective intervention in a volatile situation protected those displaced by violence and ensured the delivery of humanitarian assistance. However, he stressed the need for vigilance in the Mission’s operation, recalling the prison break in Beni and calling for the implementation of mandated reforms within MONUSCO and the Force Intervention Brigade. He also urged Government participation in planning for the Mission’s eventual exit, as national ownership is crucial to ensuring that such an exit allows for sustainability and development. As the second-largest donor of international aid to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his Government is committed to that country’s long-term stability and security, which includes addressing the threat posed by armed groups. Nevertheless, he condemned the fact that security forces continue to commit almost half of all human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, remaining a significant impediment to security sector reform.
DAI BING (China) said the humanitarian conditions in the eastern region, particularly North Kivu and South Kivu, were of concern. The country’s political stability must be maintained, he stressed, adding his support for the work of the country’s internal coalitions. All parties must respect the constitutional spirt and engage in thoughtful dialogue. The international community must respect the country’s sovereignty. Recognizing the indispensable role MONUSCO has played in the country’s stability, he voiced his supports for the renewal of the Mission’s mandate by one year. Any reform of MONUSCO should be communicated to the troop‑contributing countries. An integrated approach is necessary to resolve the conflict. Economic opportunities must be developed and job training should be offered. The humanitarian crisis has been compounded by the pandemic and Ebola outbreak. There is also great food insecurity. The international community should increase its help, he said, noting that China has been contributing in many ways, including donating remote‑learning equipment to far-flung areas to help educate children.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) underscored that the number of internally displaced persons has surpassed 5 million people, nearly 10 million people are suffering from food insecurity and 1,300 civilians have been killed in the last six months. Many human rights violations are being perpetrated by State security forces. Accountability for these violations must be established to avoid a culture of impunity and build trust in the country’s security forces. The international community must be aware of MONUSCO’s numerous responsibilities, which include protecting civilians, advancing women, peace and security, addressing violations against children and supporting security sector reform. “A refocusing of MONUSCO and a gradual transfer of its responsibilities has to ensure that there are not setbacks in the progress made,” he said. The drawdown of Mission activities in different regions should be phased and follow related benchmarks. The Government and the United Nations country team must be ready and able to fill the gaps created by the Mission’s refocusing. This endeavour could be strengthened by including the main humanitarian partners and other international and civil society organizations in the development and implementation of the joint strategy.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity and on behalf of the African 3+1 members of the Council — his country, Niger and Tunisia, plus Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Noting his concern regarding the current political tensions, he expressed hope that the African Union engagement could help foster the dialogue that is needed among all stakeholders. He also said he hoped that the country’s engagement with others in the Great Lakes framework could address the threat of armed groups. Condemning attacks against civilians by such groups, he called for perpetrators to be brought to justice. On MONUSCO’s work, he welcomed increased outreach to local communities and support for community-based reintegration of ex-combatants and the military interventions of the Intervention Brigade. He urged further coordination of military deployments in order to avoid gaps in civilian protection, along with continued capacity‑building of national forces.
All peacebuilding priorities must be addressed by the Government with international support, he said. In addition, women’s representation must be increased at all levels of security reform and youth must be engaged in the country’s recovery. He also for called intensified efforts by all stakeholders to tackle illicit trade in resources. Expressing deep concern over the humanitarian situation in the country, with the impact of conflict and displacement exacerbated by the pandemic, he called for sustained international support. He also commended MONUSCO for its support to the Ebola response and conveyed condolences for the loss of life in the contingents due to COVID-19.
Highlighting MONUSCO’s efforts on the inclusion of women, he said that the Mission should be provided with adequate resources. “A budget-driven, rushed exit of MONUSCO would be disastrous and undermine decades of investment in peacekeeping,” he emphasized. Welcoming coordination of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in the drawdown, he urged maximization of MONUSCO security capacity and cooperation with national armed forces. He also underlined his group’s support for extending MONUSCO’s mandate for one year, maintaining current strength and objectives.
PAUL LOSOKO EFAMBE EMPOLE (Democratic Republic of the Congo), welcoming the report of the Secretary-General on MONUSCO, said that his country’s President decided to end the coalition, after two years of tireless efforts, because he was unable to implement his reform programmes. The President also decided to appoint a rapporteur who is responsible for identifying a new coalition. Despite political tensions, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is committed to adhering to the principle of rule of law and democracy and delivering on social and economic reforms. Although the overall security situation remains calm, in the country’s east, there have been attacks both by internal and external armed groups, including Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). These terrorist attacks targeted civilian populations, humanitarian workers and MONUSCO personnel. With logistical support from the Mission, the Congolese national force has weakened many armed groups across its territory and recovered the strongholds from them.
The Government is implementing a three-fold strategy towards building defence and security capacity through the security sector reform, promoting national reconciliation and activating regional diplomacy to defuse tensions, he said. All these initiatives make lasting changes possible, moving the country from the conflict-dominated discourse to the path of regional development. MONUSCO’s mandate should focus on several areas, including the fight against illicit trade of minerals and natural resources, which feed armed groups, as well as support to disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation of ex‑combatants. As for the Intervention Brigade within MONUSCO, he called for an increase in resources so that the Brigade is equipped with a special unit to rapidly respond to the situation on the ground. MONOSCO’s force drawdown should begin with non-essential troops. In addition, his Government has created a joint working group to discuss the transfer of security responsibilities to State authorities.
The Government is also stepping up the fight against impunity, strengthening the capacity of legal personnel through training and harmonizing national legislation with the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court, he continued. It also signed a road map on addressing crimes against children with commanders of more than 10 armed groups, resulting in the release of hundreds of child soldiers. To alleviate the humanitarian situation compounded by COVID-19, the Government set up a multisectoral committee to respond to the pandemic in June. Due to collaborative efforts, the fatality rate has decreased from 10 per cent in the first months of outbreak to 2.6 per cent today. The return of displaced people would contribute to stability and development, in particular the agriculture sector.