Comprehensive Political Strategy Needed to Tackle Structural Causes behind Conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo, Mission Head Tells Security Council
Delegate Says Country ‘Victim of the Richness of its Mineral Resources’
The activities of armed groups in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo present a grave threat to efforts to improve national security and regional stability, the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today, stressing the need for a comprehensive political strategy to address the conflict’s structural causes.
Presenting an overview of the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2022/252), Bintou Keita, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), said that the security situation in the east had degraded despite the military efforts of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF).
Ms. Keita stressed that both the causes and the symptoms for the country’s instability must be addressed due to the “inherent limits of only having security operations to resolve conflicts”. An exhaustive political strategy is the only way forward, she said, noting that it must include reforms and measures to tackle the root causes of the conflict. She welcomed the 15 March opening of the new parliamentary session and the inclusion of draft bills on its agenda of proposals, including a text on the electoral process and another on combating racism.
Outlining the precarious security situation in the east, she delineated tenacious challenges in several areas. She described a spiral of violent retaliations by groups in South Kivu in the upper and middle plateaus of the Fizi and d’Uvira territories. Both civilian losses and population displacement are on the rise due to “bloody reprisals” by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) against the people of North Kivu and Ituri. There has also been an uptick in attacks carried out by the M23 rebel movement in North Kivu, targeting communities near Rutshuru. As a result, the Mission, alongside FARDC/UPDF operations, has scaled up its work to protect civilians in Ituri, while in North Kivu, it has deployed support units for FARDC to deter the activities of M23.
In the ensuing discussion, several delegates highlighted the continued illegal plundering of natural resources to fund armed group activities, with Norway’s representative underscoring that such theft is a major driver of conflict. This not only detracts from the country’s revenue streams, but also increases the damage that armed groups are able to enact on civilian populations.
Gabon’s representative, also speaking for Ghana and Kenya, said that the country was a “victim of the richness of its mineral resources” and named the exploitation of these resources by armed groups as one of the main sources of the country’s continued destabilization. Against that backdrop, he welcomed the Government’s National Strategic Plan for the Exploitation and Certification of Mineral Resources and highlighted the importance of enacting sanctions against those involved with the illicit trafficking of such resources.
France’s delegate spoke of the vital importance of the upcoming elections, welcoming the progress made in preparing for the presidential and legislative polls slated to take place in 2023. Work in that regard should continue in accordance with the road map of the Independent National Electoral Commission, he stressed.
Delegates also spoke of the importance of regional cooperation, with Brazil’s delegate highlighting the joint military operation of FARDC and UPDF, as well as increased cross-border collaboration with Rwanda. These initiatives may help create more conducive conditions to help stabilize the region, he said.
In a similar vein, the representative of the United Arab Emirates said that common security challenges can best be addressed with an integrated, regional approach key to addressing common security challenges and strengthening diplomatic relations and economic cooperation. Existing cooperation between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbours and regional partners is also important.
India’s representative said that as a major troop-contributing country, his Government is especially interested in the Mission’s operations. He noted with alarm that armed groups continue to kill civilians and attack peacekeepers in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He stressed that it is the Government that has the primary responsibility to protect its citizens, with the Mission playing a supporting role.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s delegate said that the security situation in his country was “calm”, except for the movements of armed groups in the east. The success the joint operations of FARDC and UPDF have had in targeting terrorists has resulted in the destruction of some of their strongholds, leading them to become smaller, mobile groups that utilize such methods as kamikazes and parcel bombs to attack civilians. These deadly attacks have created the current humanitarian situation in the country, he said. A humanitarian response plan has been created by his Government and the United Nations to address the matter.
On the elections, he said that Democratic Republic of the Congo President Felix Tshisekedi is committed to his country becoming a “genuinely democratic State”. He added that the Electoral Commission has been created successfully, alongside a road map for the ongoing electoral process.
Also speaking were representatives of the Russian Federation, United States, China, United Kingdom, Mexico, Ireland and Albania.
Lea Babite, a project coordinator at civil society organization Jeunes Ennemis de la Faim, submitted a written text as she was unable to join due to technical difficulties.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 11:57 a.m.
BINTOU KEITA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), presented the latest report of the Secretary-General (document S/2022/252). The security situation in the east of the country has deteriorated, she said, despite military operations by the defence forces under the state of siege that were carried out jointly by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF). Civilian losses and displacement of populations have increased because of bloody reprisals by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) against the civilians living in North Kivu and Ituri, where they are displaced. In this traumatized province, the dramatic consequences of repeated attacks by primarily Lendu armed groups — known as the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo — against camps for displaced persons in the Hema community in the territory of Djugu, as well as against villages in the Alur community in the territory of Mahagi, have been increased by the reprisals from a majority-Hema armed group, the Zaire militia and its spread into the Mambasa territory in order to control gold sources to finance its activities. In the past three months, there has been an alarming increase in activities by the M23 rebel movement in North Kivu, carrying out major attacks with FARDC that have led to displacements. On 28 March, elements from M23 also carried out horrific attacks, targeting civilians in communities near Rutshuru, while new fighting took place in the three-border region near the border town of Bunagana.
In South Kivu in the upper and middle plateaus of the Fizi and d’Uvira territories, new violence against the civilian population is regrettable and follows attacks carried out by the Mai-Mai group against villages of the Banyamulenge community following reprisals by the Banyamulenge militia, followed by attacks against FARDC positions, she said. In total, the Mission has documented an average of 250 civilian deaths every month. In North Kivu, the situation has worsened because of the use of improvised explosive devices by ADF. On 11 March, its leadership renewed its allegiance to Da’esh. The Mission has also documented a 10 per cent increase in human rights violations and attacks since December 2021. Attacks by armed groups against civilians, restrictions on democratic space and an increase in hate speech are the primary causes. The need for humanitarian assistance has increased in the east of the country and limited access, as well as incidents against humanitarian workers, continue to undermine response. In the last three months, four humanitarian workers were killed, one wounded and six kidnapped.
She sounded the alarm over the considerable erosion of the protection of sites for displaced persons, as well as frequent attacks against medical services and other civilian infrastructure. In the face of these security changes, the Mission has redoubled its efforts to better protect civilians in Ituri, working jointly with FARDC/UPDF operations, deploying support units for FARDC to increase the deterrent effect against M23 in North Kivu, and perusing mobile deployments to protect displaced persons in South Kivu. Civilian teams are working with the communities concerned in an attempt to calm tensions and document those responsible for crimes in order to combat impunity. However, without a combined approach addressing both the causes and the symptoms, the efforts of both the United Nations and FARDC will remain insufficient, given the deteriorating security situation. “This is proof of the inherent limits of only having security operations to resolve conflicts,” she said.
She stressed the need for a comprehensive political strategy that includes reforms and measures to address the structural causes of the conflicts. She welcomed the 15 March opening of the new parliamentary session and the inclusion of draft bills on its agenda including one involving the electoral process and another on combating racism. To reduce some of the existing vulnerabilities in areas from which MONUSCO is progressively disengaging, efforts are also under way to advance the humanitarian, development and peace nexus approach. In Tanganyika province, the Mission is closely monitoring the evolution of the security dynamics, particularly in Nyunzu territory and Bendera area to maintain a nimble planning for the scheduled withdrawal of the Mission in June.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) welcomed progress made in preparing for presidential and legislative elections in 2023 and stated that work should continue according to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s road map. On the security situation, he said that cooperation to counter armed and criminal groups should continue to be reinforced, while noting concerted actions by the Ugandan and Congolese armed forces against the Allied Democratic Forces and agreements reached between the Rwandan and Congolese police. As progress is achieved in arms control, the Council could ease controls over military assistance. Stressing that “spoilers must be stripped of their means to do harm”, he condemned attacks on camps for internally displaced persons and called on MONUSCO and the Congolese armed forces to protect the same. He also said that it is up to the Council to sanction those who plunder the natural resources of the Congolese people. On MONUSCO, he noted that benchmarks under the Mission’s transition plan are subject to regular follow-up, which will make it possible to regulate its gradual withdrawal.
TRINE HEIMERBACK (Norway) pointed out that the illicit exploitation of natural resources remains a driver of conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, generating significant revenues for armed groups, representing a lost opportunity for the State and inflicting additional suffering on the civilian population. Expressing concern over the use of children in mines and the exploitation of women in the mining sector, she stressed that regional cooperation is key to curbing this trade and urged relevant States to implement the recommendations from the Workshop on Natural Resources in the Great Lakes Region held in Khartoum in 2021. Turning to MONUSCO, she said that the Mission’s ultimate success hinges on a well-executed transition that includes a clear focus on protecting civilians. The joint transition plan illustrates that stabilization cannot be achieved by military means alone, and she encouraged the Mission and national authorities to continue to include civil society, local community leaders, women and youth in identifying concrete steps towards further stabilization efforts and dialogue. She added that this process cannot be rushed and must be based on the situation on the ground rather than fixed deadlines.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation), noting escalating security problems in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu, welcomed efforts to counter militias operating in those areas. However, the Congolese armed forces and their regional partners have not yet managed to fundamentally curb such militia’s capacity to do harm. Activity by the Allied Democratic Forces and the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo has increased, including the use of improvised explosives and the targeting of civilians and camps for internally displaced persons. In response, coordination must be strengthened between peacekeepers and the Congolese security forces and, further, capacity-building must be facilitated for the latter. Turning to MONUSCO’s joint transition plan for its drawdown and withdrawal in 2024, she said that the same must account for the situation and developments on the ground and operate in a phased, responsible way. Also noting the persistent, acute problem of fighters illicitly exploiting the country’s natural resources to fund operations and build military capacity, she expressed hope that the Government — alongside its partners and the United Nations — will restore control over this situation.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) expressed grave concern about the security situation in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu. Dozens of incidents have affected United Nations programmes and personnel. Not all of them directly caused by non-State armed groups, he said, noting that Congolese authorities and the Mission are engaged to address an incident where FARDC fired at a MONUSCO patrol. Brazil has had the honour of contributing to MONUSCO by appointing some of its most distinguished officers to the position of Force Commander. Turning to the recent steps of increased cross-border cooperation between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, as well as the joint military operation involving FARDC and UPDF, he said these initiatives, provided they are fully respectful of the host country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, may create conditions for more effective actions in the stabilization of the region.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), also speaking for Ghana and Kenya, welcomed the adoption of an electoral road map by the Independent National Electoral Commission. By appointing Marie-Josée Kapinga as Deputy National Executive Secretary of the Commission, the first female to hold this position, the Congolese authorities recognize the importance of the inclusion of women and young people, in the electoral process. The Security Council should remain committed to safeguarding the electoral process by supporting the strengthening of institutions to consolidate the country’s recent democratic gains. He also welcomed the holding of a high-level meeting on the regional monitoring mechanism of the peace, security and cooperation framework. This important mechanism was agreed upon by the region’s States and prioritizes diplomacy and dialogue to resolve border challenges and promote the economic development of each State. The signing by the Congolese authorities of a memorandum of understanding with Uganda and Rwanda, respectively, and the concerted military actions under way are strengthening regional security.
He then urged that this approach extend to all the issues that threaten regional security, including the illegal exploitation of mineral resources. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a victim of the richness of its mineral resources. Their illicit exploitation is the main source of destabilization and violence. In this regard, he welcomed the Government’s adoption of a National Strategic Plan for the Exploitation and Certification of Mineral Resources, encouraging neighbouring countries to implement their commitments under the Regional Initiative against the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources. He stressed the value of sanctioning all individuals and entities involved in the illicit trafficking of mineral resources. Undercutting the economic lifelines for armed groups is one of the keys to restoring sustainable peace in the country. It is essential that MONUSCO’s transitional withdrawal plan be implemented based on an assessment of the benchmarks achieved. This withdrawal must be gradual, coordinated and concerted with FARDC to avoid any recurrence of violence.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) condemned continued attacks by armed groups, including ADF — an armed group affiliated with Da’esh. She said she was particularly disturbed by a 1 February attack on the Plaine Savo camp for internally displaced persons in Ituri, in which the Cooperative for Development of the Congo slaughtered more than 60 civilians. Welcoming discussion to strengthen MONUSCO, including the enhanced use of the Mission’s standing combat deployment, she urged Member States to adhere to sanction resolutions in all cross-border operations. Illegal trafficking of natural resources directly fuels and finances activities that threaten the lives of people. These resources must be used to build the country’s future, she said, stressing the importance of unearthing armed groups connected to illegal mining. In this regard, she called for robust use of the 1533 sanctions regime. In 2021 alone, MONUSCO received 23 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel. The Mission is working hard to investigate the cases, and the countries that deployed alleged personnel should do the same.
MIJITO VINITO (India) said that his country’s peacekeeping contributions to the Democratic Republic of the Congo date back to 1960. Since then, 51 soldiers have died keeping the peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As a major troop-contributing country, India takes keen interest in the operations of the Mission. He expressed his concern over the crash of the MONUSCO helicopter and prayed for the safety of the crew and passengers. The primary responsibility to protect civilians rests with the Government, and the role of the Mission is to supplement these efforts. He noted that persistent violence in the eastern provinces is a cause of concern. Armed groups continue to kill scores of civilians and attack United Nations peacekeepers. Regarding the operations on the ground, greater clarity on the interpretation of the mandate is important. Progress has been made to the electoral process, he said, while noting challenges in the electoral road map. The peace, security and cooperation framework has allowed countries to work together to eliminate negative forces working in the region.
SUN ZHIQIANG (China) expressed his concern over the missing Mission helicopter and hopes that its whereabouts and the safety of its crew and passengers will be confirmed. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has seen more violence with armed groups getting more active and attacks against civilians becoming more frequent. China supports a Council response through the issuing of a press statement. He hopes that the Government will enhance coordination with the Mission to protect civilians. The safety and property of third-party nationals should also be taken seriously and protected. He called on the Government to investigate incidents of looting and kidnapping. Military means alone cannot solve the situation in the country, he said. It is important to emphasize the role of development in improving security in order to create jobs and break the cycle of violence. Maintaining political stability is essential to the country’s development, he continued, noting political volatility, including challenges to the 2023 elections. Although the world today is not tranquil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other Africa items must not be marginalized.
JAMES PAUL ROSCOE (United Kingdom), while welcoming MONUSCO’s efforts to enhance protection in the Djugu area of Ituri province, noted that insecurity continues around camps for internally displaced persons. Further, several recent kidnappings in North Kivu have made a large portion of that province inaccessible to humanitarian actors. He called on the Government to intensify efforts to address insecurity in the eastern part of the country. Expressing concern that joint Congolese-Ugandan operations in the Beni area of North Kivu have yet to be successful in decisively tackling the threat posed by ADF, he also urged the Government — along with that of Uganda — to increase their coordination with MONUSCO, which could support efforts to hold cleared areas and prevent ADF from spreading into new territory. Turning to MONUSCO’s transition, he said that establishing baselines and tracking progress will be important as the Council looks to assess progress in the implementation of the transition plan and welcomed future updates on the transition as part of the regular reporting cycle.
JUAN GÓMEZ ROBLEDO VERDUZCO (Mexico), noting the importance of the road map for holding elections, expressed hope that the necessary legislative, logistic and budgetary changes will be consolidated leading up to elections in 2023. Turning to the security situation, he expressed concern over violence by armed groups — such as the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo — against civilians and deliberate attacks on camps for internally displaced persons. Humanitarian access has been impacted, and several organizations have had to suspend their work in places such as Beni. Full respect for the work of humanitarian staff must be ensured, and security must be strengthened along distribution routes where humanitarian aid and personnel circulate. It is also essential to restrict the flow of weapons; without this key piece of materiel, armed groups would be unable to carry out campaigns with the relative ease they currently enjoy. On MONUSCO’s transition plan, he said that Mexico will closely monitor progress towards benchmarks and the Mission’s planned withdrawal from the province of Tanganyika in June. The transition must be in line with realities on the ground and be able to react to developments thereon, he added.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) expressed deep concern about violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, including conflict-related sexual violence, committed by armed groups and State agents. All survivors of such violations must be provided with safe and unhindered access to appropriate services and to reparations, she said, urging the Government to accelerate the work of the National Transitional Justice Commission. Turning to MONUSCO, she welcomed the transition plan and its benchmarks. The recent progress report is a starting point, but more regionally disaggregated data and greater clarity are necessary in relation to the measurement of progress against benchmarks. Ireland is pleased to see strengthened planning and coordination between the Government and the United Nations system to ensure MONUSCO’s sustainable withdrawal from Tanganyika province. The drawdown of the Mission’s presence must be conducted in a phased and responsible manner to help preserve hard-won gains.
ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania) said that it is crucial that the positive dynamics among the States of the region be upheld. The tenth High-Level Meeting of the Regional Mechanism Follow-Up to the Addis Ababa Framework Agreement, held on 24 February, provided an opportunity to make headway. The political situation remains tense, she said, underscoring that ahead of the country’s elections in 2023, all parties should avoid actions that produce negative fallout by putting their personal agendas aside. “It is of great importance to maintain the positive momentum of the ongoing preparations and electoral road map, which will ensure the elections’ credibility, also with the participation of women and youth,” she said. The security situation, particularly in the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, is ever more alarming, considering the ongoing state of siege and attacks on civilians. In South Kivu, there has been persistent intercommunal violence fuelled by hate speech at local and social media. She expressed her concern over the conflict-related sexual violence against women and children committed by armed groups and also by State agents. “Instead of bloodshed, the way forward is accountability versus impunity, reconciliation versus mistrust,” she said. It is vital for MONUSCO to step up its efforts to respond effectively to the challenges on the ground and to the mandate given to it.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates), Council President for March, spoke in her national capacity, stressing the importance of building on the existing cooperation among the Democratic Republic of the Congo, its neighbours and regional partners, including the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). Having an integrated regional approach is key to addressing common security challenges, strengthening diplomatic relations and economic cooperation. Her delegation is encouraged by MONUSCO’s continued cooperation with the Government in the implementation of the 2021-2023 transitional plan. She joined others in acknowledging the important role of MONUSCO in supporting the Government’s efforts, including through the promotion of women’s full, meaningful and equal participation in the political process.
GEORGES NZONGOLA-NTALAJA (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said that the political situation in his country has been dominated by preparations for the elections and the pursuit of a regional partnership. On election preparations, Democratic Republic of the Congo President Felix Tshisekedi has reiterated his commitment to ensuring that his country be a “genuinely democratic State” and this can only be achieved through free democratic elections. This has been seen with the conclusion of the creation of the Electoral Commission and a promulgation of a road map for the electoral process. The Government has been working to ensure the success of the electoral process. Any contribution to ensure its success would be welcome. To improve good neighbourly relations, the President has participated in two regional initiatives, namely the Conference of Heads of States of Countries of Central African States and the tenth High-Level Meeting of the Regional Mechanism Follow-Up to Addis Ababa Framework Agreement. Both summits reaffirmed the shared willingness to cooperate more to ensure peace in the east of the country.
Turning to the security situation, it remains calm, beyond the activities carried out by armed groups in the east of the country, he said. The joint operations of FARDC and UPDF have been carried out through a state of siege targeting terrorists. This has resulted in the destruction of a number of these groups’ strongholds. As a result, the groups have now evolved into small mobile groups attacking civilians, including kamikaze methods and parcel bombs. This should prompt the Mission to adapt new methods to neutralize these spoilers. The Government is looking at non-military solutions for national and foreign armed groups to bring peace to the east, in order to prevent the trafficking of arms and the plundering of national resources. There is a need to maintain an efficient well-targeted policy of sanctions to dismantle these criminal networks. On the night of 27 March, M23 invaded and attacked FARDC positions. He questioned the resurgence of M23 and asked what about the source of their supplies, who replenishes them and why.
On violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, he said the issue is at the very heart of the initiatives taken by the Government. At the outset, a commitment was taken to establish the rule of law. There is an agency to prevent trafficking in persons, as well as one to prevent torture, that work to achieve the goal of the establishment of the rule of law. It is also working on an initiative to counter impunity of the police.
On allegations of violations perpetrated by the security forces, the perpetrators of these crimes will be prosecuted, he said. On the humanitarian situation, he said it was attributable to the activities of armed groups and conflicts in neighbouring countries. Armed groups have been carrying out deadly attacks targeting displaced persons camps and civilians. His country continues to address this difficult situation, he said. The Government has partnered with the United Nations to launch a humanitarian response plan. He asked that the Security Council allocate sufficient means for the Mission so that it may carry out its mandate.