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9165th Meeting (AM)
SC/15078

Speakers Stress Combating Illicit Trade in Natural Resources That Fuels Conflict, at Security Council Briefing on Democratic Republic of Congo, Great Lakes

The deteriorating security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to stymie favourable developments in the wider Great Lakes region, the Security Council heard today, as members stressed the need to strengthen regional cooperation and dialogue on countering common threats and working towards shared goals, including combating the illicit trade of natural resources that fuels conflict.

Xia Huang, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes region, briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of the peace, security and cooperation framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the wider region (document S/2022/735), said that the resumption of hostilities by the 23 March Movement (M23) a few days ago had claimed victims and displaced thousands.  Their activities, as well as those of other armed groups such as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and Résistance pour un État de droit au Burundi (RED Tabara), have amplified insecurities in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and given rise to tension between countries of the region, in particular the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, threatening accomplishments in cooperation over recent years, he said.

Such instability, as well as climate-related events, have given rise to a concerning humanitarian situation, with 4.9 million refugees and asylum-seekers, and 12 million internally displaced in the region, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), he continued.

Against this backdrop, he called for greater mobilization among regional actors, welcoming in this regard the work of Kenya in the East African Community peace process, noting that talks within the framework will resume in Nairobi in the coming weeks.  Reiterating his Office’s commitment to providing technical support to such efforts, he recalled the remarks made a month ago in the Council by his colleague Bintou Keita, Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), stressing the vital importance of coordination between all forces deployed on Congolese territory on security.  Such coordination should also extend to mediation efforts, he added.

Despite such challenges, he welcomed progress enabled by the work of Angola in building a road map for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while stressing the need to forge progress through tangible actions, including confidence-building measures.  He went on to outline efforts he will prioritize in the coming months, including strengthened bilateral coordination, including in matters of security, tackling the illicit extraction of natural resources, and promoting the participation of women in election processes and bodies.

In the ensuing debate, Council members expressed concern about the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the country and called for a strengthened focus on non-military as well as military solutions to tackle the root causes of the conflict.  Many members stressed the need to counter the illicit trade in natural resources that fuels tensions and funds armed groups, while also taking note of encouraging progress in diplomatic relations between regional States following the accession of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the East African Community.

The representative of Kenya, also speaking for Gabon and Ghana, called for the swift implementation of the Action Plan for the 2021-2023 United Nations Strategy for Peace, Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes as well as the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the region.  Condemning the illegal and inhumane activities of groups such as M23 and ADF, he pointed out that some of them have links to terrorist networks including Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).  Also concerning, he said, was the heightened levels of mistrust between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, and the use of hate speech as well as disinformation and misinformation by some leaders.

The representative of the United States expressed concern about the “deeply troubling” humanitarian and security situation in the Great Lakes and called on armed groups to discontinue their assaults in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and for States to stop supporting such groups.  Expressing concern over the calls for MONUSCO’s immediate withdrawal, he urged Kinshasa to work with the Mission towards a gradual, responsible conditions-based withdrawal guided by benchmarks in the joint transition plan.

China’s delegate was among several delegates calling for a multi-pronged approach to address security threats, including through strengthened support to be lent to disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation efforts.  The root causes of regional instability, including the unlawful exploitation of natural resources, must be addressed, he said, calling for the implementation of the recommendations of the workshop held in Khartoum to help advance the lawful trade in such resources.

Meanwhile, the representative of Norway called for violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to be investigated and those responsible held accountable.  She welcomed steps taken to promote the involvement of women in peacebuilding efforts.  She went on to express concern over rising tensions between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda and welcomed the region’s political and diplomatic efforts to address security challenges.

The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo stated that the town of Bunagana has been occupied for M23 for more than four months and asked the Council to demand that “Rwanda and its M23 immediately withdraw”.  He went on to dismiss the assertion by Rwanda’s delegate about the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) being a main cause of the conflict in the eastern part of his country, stating that the group is used as a pretext to plunder his country’s natural resources.  Outlining progress made in the implementation of the Addis Ababa Framework Agreement, he highlighted the decision to deploy the operational unit of the Contact and Coordination Group in Goma from November, following the meeting of the heads of security and intelligence services in the region in September.  The aim was to garner the support and involvement of all stakeholders in the non-military efforts to achieve the surrender of armed groups, he said.  To this end, he urged the Special Envoy and the Council to assist his country in securing financing for the Demobilization, Disarmament, Community Recovery and Stabilization Programme.

Also speaking were representatives of France, India, Russian Federation, United Arab Emirates, Brazil, United Kingdom, Albania, Mexico, Ireland, South Africa, Rwanda and Burundi.

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 11:59 a.m.

Briefing

XIA HUANG, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes region, briefed the Security Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of the peace, security and cooperation framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the wider region (document S/2022/735).  Recalling concerns he shared seven months ago about the deteriorating security situation and the growing tensions around the resurgence of military activities by the 23 March Movement (M23) in Rutshuru Territory, he pointed out that such concerns remain relevant, with the resumption of hostilities several days ago claiming victims and displacing thousands.

Armed groups are broadly responsible for instabilities in the Great Lakes region, he continued, pointing to the activities of groups such as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), Résistance pour un État de droit au Burundi (RED Tabara), among others, which feed insecurities in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere, and give rise to tension between countries of the region, in particular the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, and threatening accomplishments in cooperation over recent years.  He noted that the illegal exploitation of natural resources by cross-border criminal networks and similar groups feeds instability and sparks intercommunity clashes, calling for rigorous prosecution of those responsible for such activities and for human rights violations.  On the humanitarian situation, he cited figures from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which note that such instability has led to as many as 4.9 million refugees and asylum-seekers who fled the region due to violence and climate-related factors, with another 12 million internally displaced, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, South Sudan and Uganda.

Against this backdrop, he called for greater mobilization among regional actors, welcoming in this regard the military and non-military work of Kenya in the East African Community peace process, noting that talks within the framework will resume in Nairobi in the upcoming weeks.  Reiterating his Office’s commitment to providing technical support to such efforts, he recalled the remarks made a month ago in the Council of his colleague Bintou Keita, Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), stressing the vital importance of coordination between all forces deployed on Congolese territory.  Operational coordination is also indispensable with regard to mediation efforts, he said, pointing out that this view is also shared by others, including the head of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and Kenyan authorities.  While welcoming progress enabled by the work of Angola in building a road map for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he stressed the need to ensure tangible actions, including confidence-building measures to further progress on the Luanda road map.

He then detailed activities undertaken by his Office, including facilitating the first reconnaissance mission of the East African Community Joint Regional Force in South Kivu, with the goal of engaging local actors with a view of identifying opportunities of contact, following the request of States to directly engage with them in order to effectuate their repatriation without political preconditions.  Further, his Office will multiply its bilateral coordination efforts, he said, adding that the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s recent accession into the East African Community has also strengthened cooperation on matters of security and aided a rapprochement with Uganda and Rwanda.  On enhancing judicial cooperation in the region, he welcomed the ministerial meeting held to this end by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region in June, which culminated in the adoption of clear guidelines in this regard.  In addition, he outlined efforts along other “vectors for peace”, including through tackling issues related to resource extraction and promoting greater participation of women in election processes and bodies.

Statements

NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France), stating that it is imperative that peace initiatives for the region yield tangible results, called on all Congolese armed groups to participate without conditions in the Disarmament, Demobilization, Community Recovery and Stabilization Programme, while emphasizing that foreign armed groups must immediately lay down their weapons and returned to their countries.  Noting that sustainable peace will require disarming former combatants and protecting the most vulnerable, she stressed that robust mechanisms must be created for the surrender and repatriation of former members of armed groups, further highlighting the urgency for the Contact and Coordination Group’s operation.  Underscoring that combating the trafficking of natural resources must go hand in hand with sustainable development to benefit the people, she asserted that the resources should not finance the activities of armed groups but rather serve as a factor for development.  Touching on the need to increase development initiatives, she shared that her country will commit some €200 million in 2022 to invest in human capital, digitalization and green financing in Rwanda.

MADHU SUDAN RAVINDRAN (India) condemned the violence perpetrated by armed groups, particularly the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), M23, the Coalition of Congolese Democrats (CODECO), the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), Red Tabara and others, and welcomed the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s focus on strengthening its armed forces’ logistical and operational capabilities.  The illegal exploitation, trafficking and trade of natural resources has contributed to armed conflict in many parts of the resource-rich Great Lakes region.  Institution-building and regulatory compliance need to be emphasized and pursued from the local to regional level, he stressed.  His country is also concerned over the expanding footprint of terrorism on the African continent, and growing linkages between terrorist outfits and armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Those concerns have been shared by the African Union Peace and Security Council.  The rise in the use of improvised explosive device in the region is also worrying, he said.

MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), also speaking for Gabon and Ghana, and condemning the illegal and inhumane activities of groups in the region including M23 and ADF, voiced concern that some of these groups have links to terrorist networks including Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).  In this regard he called for the swift implementation of the Action Plan for the 2021-2023 United Nations Strategy for Peace, Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes as well as the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the region.  Further urging for enhanced support to strengthen the capacity of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) to consolidate State authority in conflict areas, he encouraged Kinshasa to initiate a strategy for the ambitious reform of FARDC and its security sector to take up its responsibility of the protection of civilians after the withdrawal of MONUSCO.

Expressing concern over the heightened levels of mistrust between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, he condemned the use of hate speech as well as disinformation and misinformation by some leaders.  Stressing the need to address illegal exploitation and trade of natural resources, he encouraged regional States to implement regional regulatory frameworks and strengthen accountability measures to manage the sustainable use of resources.  He further urged all entities globally importing and exporting natural resources to put in place conflict minerals awareness and monitoring systems.

ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) said that a resumption of armed hostilities between M23 and Government forces only further deteriorates the security situation in the country and beyond.  The violence has diverted the attention of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s army and has allowed armed groups to continue their illegal activities, attack civilians with impunity, and exploit natural resources.  Close coordination between Government forces and MONUSCO’s contingent is more important than ever before.  However, using exclusively military force will make it impossible to obtain long-term normalization in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she added.  What is needed now is dialogue and effective confidence-building measures.  Further, she endorsed various regional instruments aimed at securing peace in the Great Lakes region, including the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region, and expressed appreciation to the peacebuilding efforts of regional leaders.

ROBERT A. WOOD (United States), stating that the humanitarian and security situation in the Great Lakes region remains deeply troubling, called on armed groups to discontinue their assaults in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while also calling on States to stop their support for the groups, including the Rwandan Defence Forces’ assistance to M23.  Expressing concern over the calls for MONUSCO’s immediate withdrawal, he urged Kinshasa to work with the Mission towards a gradual, responsible conditions-based withdrawal guided by benchmarks in the joint transition plan.  Noting that the regional States’ deployment of troops in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo should not aggravate existing tensions, he called on regional leaders to ensure that such forces respect human rights, prioritize the safety of civilians and refrain from illicit activities such as extraction of natural resources.  Recalling that “peace is contingent upon a political process, political will and political solutions”, he shared that his Government announced in September an additional $13 million in funding to support a transparent electoral process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

GHASAQ YOUSIF ABDALLA SHAHEEN (United Arab Emirates) expressed concern about the alarming security developments in the region due to the situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and called for strengthened efforts to address such challenges.  The United Arab Emirates takes note of positive efforts by regional States, including confidence-building measures and steps taken to improve coordination and cooperation among regional States, resulting in agreements in several areas, including political consultations, natural resources, investment, and energy.  She called for the root causes of the conflict to be addressed through implementing the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, through support for enhanced regional efforts, dialogue, and support for confidence-building measures among the region’s countries and leaders.  Intensified regional cooperation will help address cross-border threats posed by armed and terrorist groups to the security of the region, in particular the recruitment of foreign fighters in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Further, capacity-building among regional States must be strengthened so they can sustainably manage their natural resources and to protect those resources from illegal exploitation, and the active participation of women must be facilitated, building on work by the United Nations, African Union and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, among others.

TRINE SKARBOEVIK HEIMERBACK (Norway) said that violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must be investigated and those responsible held accountable.  Expressing concern over rising tensions between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, she welcomed the region’s political and diplomatic efforts to address security challenges.  The deployment of the East African Community regional force must be closely coordinated with MONUSCO.  Her country urges all armed groups to lay down their weapons.  The involvement of women is essential for promoting sustainable peace in the region, she said, welcoming efforts to strengthen their involvement in peacebuilding.  It is critical to address the root causes of conflict in the region, she also stressed, underscoring how the illicit trafficking of natural resources serves as a significant revenue source for armed groups.

JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) stated that the recent increase in activities by armed groups not only poses a threat to the lives of peacekeepers, but also has a destabilizing effect on local communities as well as millions of refugees and internally displaced persons.  To retain the achievements of the peace process made so far, he added, it is imperative to expedite the implementation of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes and to ensure that former combatants, women and youth have access to economic opportunities in the post-pandemic period.  Emphasizing the importance of local ownership to attaining lasting peace and prosperity in the region, he welcomed the Peacebuilding Commission’s advice encouraging the countries of the Great Lakes “to create a political and social environment conducive for the promotion of sustainable economic development, that will bring prosperity to the entire region and is necessary for building peace”.  Calling on all States in the region to persevere in the path of an inclusive political dialogue, he stressed that no durable solution can be found without the meaningful participation of all stakeholders, including women.

JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) expressed deep concern for the security situation in the Great Lakes region, in particular the resurgence of violence by M23 in the last week.  The United Kingdom calls for the immediate cessation of violence and the withdrawal of M23 from their current positions.  The United Kingdom further calls on countries in the region to closely coordinate with MONUSCO and the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to bring lasting peace.  He also called for the resumption of the Nairobi and Luanda processes.  The East African Community Force and Democratic Republic of the Congo Armed Forces must engage with MONUSCO on de-confliction to ensure the protection of civilians.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been suffering from the world’s largest food security emergency, with 26 million people in crisis levels of food insecurity, and recent violence has only added to the despair, he said.

DAI BING (China) called for greater coordination among regional countries, pointing out that the achievement of peace might be a long way off, given the formidable challenges faced in the region, including terrorism, ethnic tensions and difficulties related to livelihood, might be hard to address in the short run.  The Security Council must provide constructive support to such efforts, permitting countries to make progress along the right track towards the goal of addressing common security threats, he said.  In this regard, he welcomed positive efforts to resolve differences through dialogue, including through the launch of the Nairobi process and the Luanda road map and hoped for a successful outcome from the upcoming eleventh regional meeting on peace and security cooperation to be held in Burundi in February 2023.  Emphasizing the need for a multi-pronged approach to address security threats, he called for support to be lent to disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation efforts.  The root causes of regional instability, including the unlawful exploitation of natural resources, must be addressed, he said, calling for the implementation of the recommendations of the workshop held in Khartoum to help advance the lawful trade in such resources.

ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania) said her country remains extremely concerned by the fragile security situation in the Great Lakes region, despite the continuation of diplomatic outreach and dialogue.  Human rights violations and conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated by armed groups and State agents continue to be a source of great concern.  “Countries of the region should not underestimate the need for regional integration, especially to maximize profits from the increased demand for critical minerals, while also pursuing economic diversification,” she stressed.  While Albania is encouraged by efforts to counter the illegal exploitation of natural resources, she said more needs to be done to implement the recommendations of the 2021 Khartoum workshop on natural resources.  Further, she added that the military track of the Nairobi process cannot be the only solution to tackle the root causes of conflict.  A much more comprehensive political track is necessary.  In that regard, she also emphasized the essential role of women and young people in peacebuilding efforts.

NATALIA JIMÉNEZ ALEGRÍA (Mexico), recognizing regional efforts to respond to escalating violence, such as the Nairobi process and the status-of-forces agreement between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Secretary-General of the East African Community, reiterated that such efforts should coordinate with MONUSCO and national security forces.  Stressing that military cooperation must be accompanied by strategies which foster economic development, she pointed out that the implementation of the Demobilization, Disarmament, Community Recovery and Stabilization Programme is also fundamental.  The countries in the Great Lakes region must also bolster their cooperation to combat illicit trafficking of weapons and financing networks of the armed groups, she added.  Welcoming the adoption of the Kinshasa Declaration as a step in the right direction in combating these criminal networks, she urged all signatories to work in a coordinated manner towards its implementation.

DONAL KENNEALLY (Ireland), noting that conflict and hunger continue to exist in a vicious cycle with several countries in the region facing high levels of food insecurity, stressed that all parties must ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance.  Voicing concern over continuing human rights violations and abuses, he called on all countries in the Great Lakes region to pursue accountability for the perpetrators of such acts.  Recalling that the region is home to a significant number of armed groups that benefit from the illegal exploitation and trade of some of the world’s most valuable resources, he emphasized that natural resources should be a driver for sustainable development and called on all States to hold to account all who are complicit in this illicit trade.  Underscoring that there can be no military solution to the region’s challenges, he welcomed the commitment of the East African Community to coordinate its regional force closely with MONUSCO and encouraged it to ensure that it complies fully with obligations under international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law.

XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa) encouraged the region to strengthen its efforts amid challenges posed by the pandemic, violence against marginalized groups and forced displacement.  He noted ongoing mediation efforts as well as trust-building efforts led by Angola to strengthen political and diplomatic cooperation.  Steps to advance political processes in the region must be inclusive of all stakeholders, including women and youth peacebuilding organizations.  Community and traditional leaders have a critical role in supporting peace and fostering social cohesion at all levels, including with the reintegration of former combatants.  He stressed that the deployment of troops to the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo must be done in close coordination with MONUSCO to ensure coherence.

ROBERT KAYINAMURA (Rwanda) said his country “knows first-hand what it takes to build a nation from the ashes”, which is why it is committed to carrying out all tasks required by the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement.  Stressing the need to address the root causes of conflict, he expressed concern about the “dangerous attitude” that characterizes certain communities in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo as “foreigners” who should “go back where they came from”.  That attitude is “a seed of unending conflict” and undermines efforts to find a lasting solution.  Also concerning is FDLR, which settled in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after committing the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in his country.  That armed group continues to recruit and train combatants and commit grave human rights violations, despite several Council resolutions and presidential statements calling for its disarmament and disbanding.  The international community should build on regional initiatives to achieve sustainable peace by addressing the root causes of crises in the Great Lakes region, including the two-decades-long active presence of FDLR in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

ZÉPHYRIN MANIRATANGA (Burundi) said it is important to ensure that Council members went beyond the presentation of reports in New York to a visit to the region so as to be able draw its own conclusions.  Burundi underscored the need for cooperation and coordination of military efforts between the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO and the forces of the East African Community.  “When the house of your neighbour is on fire, you must move to contain the fire before it spreads to your own house,” he said.  He expressed support for the Nairobi process and said that his country deployed a military contingent of the Burundi National Defence Force.  That deployment is not only in need of political support, but also of technical and financial aid to ensure its effective discharge of its mandate.  The Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region is an essential platform to bring together the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the regional countries to arrive at a lasting solution.

GEORGES NZONGOLA-NTALAJA (Democratic Republic of Congo), recalling that the town of Bunagana has been occupied by M23 for more than four months, asked the Council to demand that Rwanda and its M23 immediately withdraw.  He dismissed the assertion made by Rwanda’s delegate about FDLR being a main cause of the conflict in the eastern part of his country, saying that Rwanda is maintaining FDLR as a pretext for plundering the country’s natural resources.  His Government is making efforts individually and along with its partners to reduce the threat level posed by the armed groups.  He highlighted the Nairobi process, which will be relaunched with the aim of eliminating all armed groups.  He described his region’s humanitarian situation as “very disquieting” and recalled that the 70 per cent financing gap still has not been met.

On the implementation of the Addis Ababa Framework Agreement, he shared that the fifth meeting of the heads of security and intelligence services in the region held in September decided to deploy the operational unit of the Contact and Coordination Group in Goma from November.  The avowed aim is to raise awareness as well as garner support and the effective involvement of all stakeholders in the non-military efforts to achieve the surrender of the armed groups.  The success of that non-military track spotlights the importance of the Demobilization, Disarmament, Community Recovery and Stabilization Programme.  He urged the Special Envoy and the Council to participate with his country in securing financing.

He also asked the Council to respect the integrity and intangibility of his country’s borders, demand an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Rwandan troops and M23 from Bunagana and other areas and adopt a resolution condemning Rwanda for supporting M23 with appropriate sanctions.  Furthermore, he called on the 15-member organ to support the Nairobi process, require all armed groups to lay down their weapons, impose sanctions against internal and external mafia networks which illegally exploited the country’s natural resources, and ensure that each country in the Great Lakes region settles its disputes with the combatants and rebels.

For information media. Not an official record.