Briefing Security Council, Special Representative Urges More Support to Protect Civilians in Democratic Republic of Congo, as Humanitarian Crisis Escalates
Armed groups’ activities in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to pose security challenges and exacerbate a humanitarian situation, with 6 million people displaced, the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today as she called on regional stakeholders to support the Nairobi and Luanda processes and ensure the protection of civilians.
Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2023/691), Bintou Keita, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), said insecurity has continued to plague the country’s eastern part and requires ongoing efforts to protect civilians. The 23 March Movement (M23) crisis continues to stoke anger among the population and to increase tensions between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.
Pointing to M23 control of strategic communication points and blocking of MONUSCO missions to Rumangabo, she said various security challenges continue to fuel a dramatic humanitarian situation in the east. “MONUSCO is committed to supporting regional political processes, which offer the only credible solution to the current conflicts,” she stressed, adding that all regional stakeholders must be encouraged to actively support the Nairobi and Luanda processes and ensure that their deployments enhance the protection of civilians.
Michel Xavier Biang (Gabon), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1533 (2004) concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that its two consultations in 2022 and five in 2023, held since 30 September 2022, included presentations by the Coordinator of the Group of Experts on the Group’s mid-term and final reports. In late 2022, Committee members met an official of the country’s monitoring mechanism, reaffirming their support for that tool, which is aiding Government authorities’ investigation of the March 2017 murders of two former members of the Group of Experts and the four Congolese citizens accompanying them, he said.
Anny Tenga Modi, Executive Director and Co-Founder of AFIA MAMA, a non-profit youth-led organization on women’s health, noting that 35,000 cases of sexual violence were reported between January and June 2023, said UN agencies, among other actors, must provide support to awareness-raising programmes on “positive masculinity” for former combatants and strengthen participation of women’s initiatives in the Nairobi and Luanda processes. She also called on donors to finance prevention programmes and urged the Government to ensure the effectiveness of the national reparations fund for victims of sexual violence in conflict.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers underscored the importance of responding to the host country’s expectations around the accelerated withdrawal of MONUSCO, stressing the need for well-coordinated cooperation among all stakeholders. Several delegates called on M23 and other armed groups to withdraw and parties to implement the Luanda and Nairobi processes, while others stressed the Congolese Government’s responsibility to protect civilians and ensure its readiness in preparation for the country’s general elections and the Mission’s departure.
Ghana’s representative, speaking also for Gabon and Mozambique, said close cooperation between the Congolese authorities, MONUSCO and relevant stakeholders will help ensure a smooth, orderly, progressive and coordinated withdrawal that protects civilians and the safety and security of Mission personnel. He invited all partners to provide financial, material and technical support to the country as it implements the Demobilization, Disarmament, Community Recovery and Stabilization Programme for ex-combatants, security sector reform and the training and capacity-building of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC).
Japan’s representative, on that note, voiced support for the Government’s efforts to develop community policing. The Mission’s responsible withdrawal must also be accompanied by the concomitant establishment of an effective presence of State authorities ensuring the rule of law, she added.
Several speakers expressed alarm about growing tensions in the east of the country and armed groups’ continued presence, with France’s representative calling on M23 to withdraw and take part in the cantonment process. Echoing other delegates, he stressed that Rwanda’s military support for M23 and the persistent presence of Rwandan soldiers in Congolese territory must end. To enable the Mission to carry out its mandate until its withdrawal, he proposed that the Council adopt a presidential statement in that regard.
The representative of the United States, meanwhile, voiced concern that the Democratic Republic of the Congo and regional security forces are not prepared to meet the Congolese people’s security requirements. The Secretary-General’s transition plan relied heavily on the East African Community (EAC) Regional Force to backfill the Mission, she pointed out, stressing the need for appropriate safeguards to be put in place with respect to human rights and accountability.
Among speakers who underscored the importance of regional cooperation, as well as the holding of peaceful, transparent and inclusive elections, was China’s representative, who stressed that the stability of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo bears on the overall security of the Great Lakes region. The general elections at the end of 2023 will be a milestone in the country’s political and peace processes, he said, voicing support for the Mission’s assistance in election preparations, as well as protection of civilians.
Christophe Lutundula Apala Pen’apala, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, attributing the security crisis in the eastern part of his country to criminal acts, notably by M23 supported by Rwanda, called once again for the withdrawal of Rwanda and M23 troops. His Government moved up the start of the Mission’s withdrawal from the end of 2024 to the end of 2023, he added, noting that its proposal was a tactical reorganization aimed at diffusing tensions between MONUSCO and civilians; preventing the recurrence of violent incidents; and ensuring the dignified exit of MONUSCO, among others.
On the contrary, Rwanda’s representative said Kinshasa must address the root causes of the conflict rather than “scapegoating Rwanda”. The disruptive behaviour of these armed forces, in alliance with Kinshasa’s army, threatens to undermine any positive regional initiatives, he emphasized, stating: “Rwanda gains no benefit from an insecure [Democratic Republic of the Congo].” Actions by certain external Powers to please Kinshasa, in pursuit of their economic interest and at Rwanda’s expense, are aggravating the situation, he added, stressing: “This is the paramount issue that demands the Council’s attention.”
BINTOU KEITA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2023/691), said insecurity has continued to plague the country’s eastern part and requires ongoing efforts to protect civilians. The 23 March Movement (M23) crisis continues to stoke frustration and anger among the population and to increase tensions between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. In North Kivu, MONUSCO continued to deter Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) attacks between Beni, Eringeti and Bwana-Sura. In the southern zone of the province, the ceasefire between the Congolese armed forces and M23 has been respected, but clashes between M23 and armed groups aligned with the Government intensified. “The M23 still controls strategic communication points in the territories of Masisi, Rutshuru and Nyiragongo, and has even reoccupied zones that had been previously liberated and is not meeting any of the obligations agreed to in the Luanda roadmap,” she underscored.
In particular, M23 has blocked MONUSCO missions to Rumangabo, in Rutshuru territory, she continued, appealing once again to M23 to lay down its arms and withdraw immediately from the occupied territories, and to the signatory States of the Luanda roadmap to fully support that process. In Ituri, where insecurity remains at dramatic levels, stoked mainly by the Coalition of Congolese Democrats (CODECO) and Zaïre militias and the ADF group, MONUSCO has tackled multiple attacks against civilians. The entry into service in July of the new MONUSCO-Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) Joint Operations and Coordination Centre in Bunia has bolstered the coordination of operations against armed groups. In South Kivu, pockets of insecurity persist, requiring MONUSCO’s continued presence and physical protection for over 2,000 displaced people in Mikenge in the Mwenga territory. Such security challenges, particularly in Ituri and North Kivu, continue to fuel a dramatic humanitarian situation in the east; over 6 million people remain displaced in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu.
She called on donors to continue to support the still underfunded humanitarian response plan. Nonetheless, in collaboration with the Congolese authorities and security forces, MONUSCO has helped ensure the safe passage of displaced people and establish several humanitarian corridors; over 10,000 survivors of gender-based violence sought assistance in North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri in June and July alone. The Mission increased its joint patrols with the Congolese armed forces, while the Congolese authorities have closed numerous brothels in North Kivu, she said, stressing that those efforts must be sustained and intensified to protect women and girls from conflict-fueled abuse. “MONUSCO is committed to supporting regional political processes, which offer the only credible solution to the current conflicts,” she stressed, adding that the confidence-building measures recommended by the Nairobi Process Facilitator former President Kenyatta to move the Luanda roadmap forward should be operationalized and the recommendations of the Nairobi III political consultations implemented.
Pointing to other regional efforts, she said all regional stakeholders must be encouraged to actively support the Nairobi and Luanda processes and ensure that their deployments enhance the protection of civilians. Further, essential reforms of the Congolese security sector must be adopted, financed and implemented. The Government’s decision to recruit 13,000 police officers in the run-up to the elections should enable strengthening of the rule of law. On the December general elections, she said the Government must ensure that democratic spaces are protected, freedoms of expression and of the press guaranteed, and human rights respected, detailing MONUSCO support to increase women's participation in political processes and to the Congolese national police to secure the elections. Recalling President Felix Tshisekedi’s call for expediting the Mission’s progressive departure, she called on the Council to express itself clearly on the recommendations set out in the Secretary-General’s 2 August report on the future of MONUSCO, noting that the Mission will work with the Congolese authorities towards implementation of the revised transition plan.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1533 (2004) concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo, then briefed the Council on the Committee’s work since 30 September 2022. He said it held two consultations in 2022 and five in 2023. On 9 December 2022, the Committee heard a presentation by the Coordinator of the Group of Experts on the Group’s mid-term report and considered the conclusions and recommendations contained therein. On 22 December 2022, it considered the report of its Chairman on his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda from 7 to 18 November. In addition, the Committee held three informal consultations at the Permanent Mission of Gabon at the end of 2022. On 2 November 2022, delegations were briefed by the Secretariat ahead of the President’s visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
On November 4 and 7 December 2022, Committee members met a senior official of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s monitoring mechanism, Robert Petit, he said, reaffirming support for the mechanism aiding Government authorities in investigating the March 2017 murders of two former members of the Group of Experts, Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp, and the four Congolese citizens accompanying them. On 16 February, at a meeting attended by regional States, they were briefed by the Coordinator of the Group of Experts on the conclusions and recommendations in the mid-term report. On 9 May, the Committee heard a presentation by representatives of the MONUSCO Joint Mission Analysis Centre, Arms Embargo Cell, Mine Action Service and the Senior Natural Resources Adviser.
He went on to state that, on 19 May, the Committee heard a presentation by the Coordinator of the Group of Experts on their final report, as well as considered its conclusions and recommendations. On 19 July, the Coordinator presented the conclusions and recommendations of the final report, and on 8 September, he presented the Group’s work programme, in line with Council resolution 2688 (2023). Committee members also met with Mr. Petit during three informal consultations at the Permanent Mission of Gabon, on 17 April, 27 June and 14 September 2023. As well, he noted seven press releases issued by the Committee on the consultations held on 9 and 22 December 2022; 16 February; 9 and 19 May; 19 July; and 8 September 2023.
ANNY TENGA MODI, Executive Director and Co-Founder of AFIA MAMA, a non-profit youth-led organization on women’s health, noted that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is exceptionally rich in human potential and natural resources, essential for global climate change objectives and energy transition. However, internal armed conflicts, attacks by armed groups supported by neighbouring countries and natural disasters over the last three decades have led to one of the most serious humanitarian crises in Africa. Three provinces in the east — Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu — are facing extreme need due to displacement of persons, she said, also citing cases of sexual violence against women. These acts are not only committed in the rebel-occupied zones, but also in Tongo, in the Rutshuru territory and the camps around Goma.
With a weak humanitarian response mechanism in these zones, she said that displaced women and girls are exposed to exploitation, violence and sexual abuse; 35,000 cases of sexual violence were reported between January and June 2023. She pointed to early and undesired pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the resurgence of gender-based and domestic violence. Kinshasa has taken legal provisions to ensure access to justice, including by adopting a respective law; creating a national victim reparations fund; and recruiting new magistrates. The absolute priority for women and girls must be peace, security and sustainable solutions, she emphasized, calling for those present to bolster women-led initiatives and tackle root causes. “Congolese women need a peaceful country and deserve peace,” she stressed.
Against this backdrop, she said that UN agencies must provide support to awareness-raising programmes on “positive masculinity” for former combatants; facilitate access to water, hygiene and sanitation; support the construction of more multifunctional integration centres; and strengthen participation of women’s initiatives in the Nairobi and Luanda processes. Further, she called on donors to finance prevention programmes involving men and boys to combat gender-based violence in emergency situations; ensure financing for female-led organizations; and increase support for humanitarian response. Urging the Government to ensure the effectiveness of the national reparations fund for victims of sexual violence in conflict, she also called for urgent reinforcement and management of camps for displaced people; promotion of women’s participation and leadership in community-recovery and stabilization initiatives; and the continuation of the Disarmament, Demobilization, Community Rehabilitation and Stabilization Programme. Once MONUSCO departs, the Government should strengthen national security efforts in order to protect civilians, she emphasized.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said: “The orderly withdrawal we are calling for must be the result of close collaboration between the authorities and MONUSCO, with the backing of the Security Council.” To enable the Mission to carry out its mandate until its withdrawal, he proposed that the Council adopt a presidential statement to that end. Voicing concern about growing tensions in the east of the country, he called on the M23 to withdraw and take part in the cantonment process, stressing that Rwanda's military support for the M23 and the persistent presence of Rwandan soldiers on Congolese territory must end. Commitments have been made as part of the Luanda and Nairobi regional processes and must be implemented without delay. France, together with the United States and the United Kingdom, yesterday proposed the designation of two military leaders of the M23 and the FDLR under the Democratic Republic of the Congo sanctions regime, he said, calling for the perpetrators of those crimes to be brought to justice.
SÉRGIO FRANÇA DANESE (Brazil) said the Mission’s transition and future withdrawal must consider the country’s complex background, including ongoing fighting between armed groups, notably in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces. Protection of civilians, a central aspect of the MONUSCO mandate, must be ensured, primarily by the Congolese Government as the Mission leaves, he stressed. This task must also be a priority for regional forces now active, such as the East African Community (EAC) Regional Forces, or future forces such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Force. While recognizing that a Mission cannot and should not last forever, he said the departure of MONUSCO should be carried out responsibly and avoid risking the creation of security vacuums and power struggles that will create violence and human rights abuses against the population. The transition must be well-coordinated with national and local authorities, neighbouring countries and regional and other external forces. The United Nations country team’s role must be enhanced and its security ensured, he added.
AMEIRAH OBAID MOHAMED OBAID ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates) said her delegation values the Government’s reaffirmed commitment to hold elections, as planned, by year’s end. This includes the National Independent Electoral Commission’s recent publication of the list of candidates and invitations extended to regional and international electoral observers and relevant United Nations bodies. MONUSCO must enable inclusive political participation, including of women, in the electoral process. She noted how recent workshops, organized by MONUSCO in Bunia and South Kivu, have produced more women candidates. Considering the regional ramifications of the eastern region’s conflict, she stressed the need for an inclusive, African-led peace process with constructive engagement among local, regional and international partners. Regarding the Government’s request to accelerate the Mission’s withdrawal, she stressed that the host State’s views should be accounted for as the Government and MONUSCO place the Congolese people’s expectations at the centre of discussions on the Mission’s future.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) condemned the criminal activity of the Allied Democratic Forces and other illegal armed groups operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, urging them to renounce violent methods and take part in the disarmament, demilitarization and reintegration programme. Expressing concern over the rising numbers of displaced people, he underscored the importance of the Nairobi and Luanda processes. He welcomed SADC readiness to join the peace settlement process, emphasizing the importance of implementing the 2013 framework agreement on peace and security in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes Region. He also commended the African Union’s efforts to revitalize this agreement by establishing an intergovernmental dialogue. Noting that the Mission’s presence in the conflict zone contributes to stabilization, he called for increased coordination between MONUSCO and the national and regional armed forces. It is necessary to take Kinshasa’s views into account during the Council’s negotiations on the Mission’s mandate in December, he underscored.
LINDA THOMAS–GREENFIELD (United States) voiced support for the Democratic Republic of the Congo Government’s commitment to the Mission’s orderly, progressive withdrawal. However, she voiced concern that the Democratic Republic of the Congo and regional security forces are not prepared to meet the Congolese people’s security requirements. As well, she voiced concern that the Secretary-General’s transition plan relied heavily on the EAC Regional Force to backfill the Mission, stressing the need for appropriate safeguards to be put in place with respect to human rights and accountability. She called on the FARDC to cut ties with FDLR and called on Rwanda to end support to M23 and withdraw from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, citing her country’s recent sanctioning of six Rwandan individuals involved in violence in eastern provinces and its 15 September listing of Rwanda under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act in connection with its support to M23.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), speaking also on behalf of Gabon and Mozambique, noted the implementation of the electoral calendar, the convening of the electoral college, the opening of candidacies on 9 September and other progress towards general elections. He encouraged the Congolese authorities to keep taking all necessary measures to guarantee security, transparency, inclusiveness, respect for human rights and freedom of expression throughout the electoral process. He welcomed the last session’s start of both chambers of Parliament on 15 September, which will examine the 2024 budget and laws of urgent reforms. On the security front, he invited all partners to provide financial, material and technical support to the country as it implements the Demobilization, Disarmament, Community Recovery and Stabilization Programme for ex-combatants, security sector reform and the training and capacity-building of FARDC.
Noting the Congolese authorities’ request for the Council to accelerate the Mission’s withdrawal by 31 December, he stressed the need for close cooperation between the Congolese authorities, MONUSCO and relevant stakeholders. This will help ensure a smooth, orderly, progressive and coordinated withdrawal that protects civilians and the safety and security of Mission personnel. “For 25 years now, the Democratic Republic of [the] Congo has been going through a security crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 10 million people,” he said. Despite constant Council meetings and calls for peace, the security and humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. “The country must be freed from its limitations to resolve the contradiction between the extreme wealth of the Congolese soil and subsoil and the extreme poverty of the populations,” he said, calling on the international community to continue supporting current efforts for peace and stability.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) voiced concern over the fragile situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, calling for regional peace processes to be respected and for all support to armed groups to stop. Acknowledging the Congolese Government’s request to bring forward the withdrawal of MONUSCO, he noted significant progress being made over the past years in this regard in Kasai and Tanganyika. The United Kingdom is ready to consider a reduction of the troop ceiling during the MONUSCO mandate renewal in December, in line with the Government’s request. However, the implications the Mission’s drawdown will have on the civilian population must be considered, as the consequences of a rushed departure would be severe, he warned, noting the Mission’s role in protecting thousands of civilians in the eastern part of the country. The Government must be willing and able to assume its responsibilities on civilian protection. Therefore, he encouraged the Congolese Government to agree on responsibilities for a responsible, conditions-based drawdown with MONUSCO.
DAI BING (China) urged M23 and other armed groups to implement the Nairobi and Luanda processes, cease violence as soon as possible and withdraw from the occupied areas. The maintenance of stability is dependent on the country’s own security capacity-building, he stressed, calling on the international community to continue to provide the necessary financial and technical support to that end. Noting that the stability of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo bears on the overall security of the Great Lakes region, he voiced support for the country’s peacekeeping and security operations with the East African Community, SADC and Angola, among others, and encouraged the international community to provide support. The general elections at the end of 2023 will be a milestone in the country’s political and peace processes, he said, voicing support for the Mission’s assistance in election preparations, as well as protection of civilians.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland) said that guaranteeing a successful transition, deepening regional peace initiatives and ensuring credible elections are priority areas for Kinshasa. Recognizing the Government’s call for the gradual withdrawal of MONUSCO, he stressed: “We take this seriously.” The withdrawal must be a part of a partnership based on trust between that country and the United Nations, he said, noting that a hasty departure can be harmful for internally displaced people. The security sector must be bolstered to ensure the transfer of the Mission’s principal responsibilities to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he noted, calling on that country to strengthen cooperation to increase the capacity of the national armed forces and the police. Highlighting the EAC support in deterring armed operations of M23, he underscored that all regional military efforts must be aligned with the political process. He also reiterated support for all regional political and diplomatic initiatives.
MITSUKO SHINO (Japan) underscored that ensuring protection of civilians is fundamental to any future reconfiguration of MONUSCO. Voicing concern about reports of a significant increase in human rights violations, she said building upon the recent extension of the mandate of the East African Community’s regional forces and ongoing regional initiatives, including the Nairobi and Luanda processes, should gain renewed momentum. Stressing that support to armed groups must be stopped immediately, she underscored the urgency of Government-led security sector reform to avoid creating a security vacuum, and voiced support for the Government’s efforts to develop community policing. The Mission’s responsible withdrawal must also be accompanied by the concomitant establishment of an effective presence of State authorities ensuring the rule of law. Noting the vulnerability of women and children to abuses in overflowing internally displaced persons camps, she said that Japan, in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), has been providing mobile clinics in the North Kivu region to help with gender-based violence prevention and aftercare and reproductive health.
ANDRÉS EFREN MONTALVO SOSA (Ecuador) called for the international community’s support to meet the needs of 26.4 million people facing acute food insecurity and of the 350,000 displaced persons in Nyiragongo and Goma. He deplored the kidnapping of nine humanitarian workers in Kabasha, Kibirizi and Gatega, who were later freed through the intervention of security forces. Ecuador respects the Congolese Government’s decision on the early withdrawal of MONUSCO. However, close cooperation must be maintained between the Government and the United Nations to allow for a gradual transition that leaves no security vacuum and respects human rights before, during and after the transition. In this context, the Luanda and Nairobi processes are indispensable, he said, also underscoring that regional and bilateral initiatives must be coordinated, spotlighting the Mission’s role to this end. Ahead of the Government’s preparations for elections in December, he called for enhanced efforts to guarantee a free, inclusive and transparent process and emphasized the need for human rights defenders, journalists and civil society to be protected.
FRANCESCA MARIA GATT (Malta) said that Kinshasa stands in the final trimester preceding presidential elections. Emphasizing that civil space should remain unimpeded to shape public discourse, she noted that beyond the electoral outcome, progress can shape that country’s destiny and foster trust in institutions. She commended the invitation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s President to non-governmental organizations to observe the electoral process, adding: “Malta places its trust in the Congolese Government to guarantee their safe and unimpeded participation.” Further, she welcomed the convergence towards MONUSCO’s withdrawal that envisions a transition of responsibilities to the Congolese authorities and expressed support for withdrawing units from South Kivu. This will reduce the Mission’s deployed force to 10,500 military personnel. Underscoring the importance of a well-defined timeline for this process, she encouraged coordination between MONUSCO and the East African Community’s Regional Force. As well, she welcomed the prosecutorial investigation mission to Lala and the Government’s commitment to hold those accountable for the violence on 30 August.
ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania) welcomed preparations for the 20 December elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and encouraged the Government to shed light on electoral incidents, including the shrinking of civic space. Sounding the alarm over the increased clashes between M23 and armed groups and the unstable relations between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, which could disrupt the region’s geopolitical architecture, she called on all parties to commit themselves to the regional peace processes by implementing the Nairobi and Luanda processes. Noting that Kigali and Kinshasa have the responsibility of giving peace a chance by ceasing cooperation with local armed groups, she stressed the need to mobilize adequate support for the implementation of the disarmament, demobilization, community rehabilitation and stabilization programme and warned against fast-tracking integration of ex-combatants into the armed forces. Turning to MONUSCO’s transition, she expressed support to the UN’s efforts to finalize, in cooperation with Kinshasa, the joint transition plan. On the 30 August events in Goma, while noting the right of people to gather peacefully, she welcomed Government efforts to investigate the incident which turned deadly.
CHRISTOPHE LUTUNDULA APALA PEN’APALA, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, began his address by attributing the security crisis that has raged for a quarter century in the eastern part of his country, in Ituri and North Kivu provinces, to criminal acts by armed terrorist groups, notably M23, supported by Rwanda. He voiced hope for a constructive response to his Government’s proposal for a United Nations partnership that restored peace and trust with the Congolese people, contained in his 1 September letter to the Council. Last December’s civilian massacres, an uptick in atrocities, sexual violence, the recruitment of child soldiers and the exploitation of natural resources by armed groups in eastern provinces all occurred despite the presence of 16,000 United Nations troops, he said, adding that tensions had also increased between the Congolese population and MONUSCO, due to the latter’s perceived passivity and inability to protect the former.
To give the Nairobi and Luanda processes a chance to succeed, his country suggested in December that MONUSCO be better equipped, he said, pointing to the Secretary-General’s comments to the press on 22 December that recognized the Mission’s inability to confront M23 and its sophisticated weaponry. The Council resolution 2666 (2022) did not take such concerns into account, he said, adding that its “rigid attitude” did not help change present dynamics. It could instead have paved the way for increased hostilities in North Kivu, leading to the incidents on 30 August in Goma, in which 42 Congolese people were killed, among others.
Voicing concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation, with 6 million people displaced in the country, he reiterated his call for the withdrawal of Rwanda and M23 troops, pointing out that the landing of a helicopter in Rumangabo signalled that the crisis was at a stalemate. The perceived lull only helped M23 consolidate its occupation and its continued attempted partition of the country, he stressed, echoing the words of President Felix Tshisekedi: “The Government will never accept being victimized in this abominable and unjustified manner.” To avoid going in circles, his Government moved up the start of the Mission’s withdrawal from the end of 2024 to the end of 2023, he added, noting that its proposal was a tactical reorganization aimed at diffusing tensions between MONUSCO and civilians; preventing the recurrence of violent incidents such as the one in Goma; ensuring the dignified exit of MONUSCO; and experimenting with other partnership mechanisms that responded to his country’s current needs and priorities.
CLAVER GATETE (Rwanda) said that in the wake of the Luanda and Nairobi mechanisms, the concurrent withdrawal of M23 and the deployment of the EAC Regional Force ignited optimism in ending the conflict. The SADC deployment and the establishment of a ceasefire underscored the political determination to that end. The ceasefire is only one step towards a peaceful solution; Kinshasa must address the root causes of the conflict, rather than “scapegoating Rwanda”. He expressed concern about ongoing collaboration and arming of the “genocidal militias” and Indigenous armed groups by the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Government, pointing to the denial of that country’s Foreign Minister in 2022 that “there is no single FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] in [the Democratic Republic of the Congo]”. This group committed genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and has been working with the Congolese Government for over 20 years. “Now it is not only collaboration, but they are also fighting along the [Democratic Republic of the Congo’s] army, supported by the Government in terms of arming them,” he underscored. Observing that a group that has committed a genocide in Rwanda is being supported by another country, he stated: “And, again, you turn around and blame Rwanda. What is Rwanda supposed to do?”
The disruptive behaviour of these armed forces, in alliance with Kinshasa’s army, threaten to undermine any positive regional initiatives, he emphasized, urging the Council to ask that country’s Government to disassociate itself from the FDLR and ensure their immediate repatriation. The proliferation of hate speech targeting Rwanda, along with the killings and the confiscation of property of its communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — that has continued for several years with impunity — poses a threat to the Great Lakes region. “Rwanda gains no benefit from an insecure [Democratic Republic of the Congo],” he stressed, adding that actions by certain external powers to please Kinshasa, in pursuit of their economic interest and at Rwanda’s expense, are aggravating the situation. “This is the paramount issue that demands the Council’s attention,” he underscored.
Mr. PEN'APALA (Democratic Republic of the Congo), taking the floor a second time, said the Permanent Representative of Rwanda is not following the situation on the ground. The question of Rwandan refugees and Congolese refugees in Rwanda was the subject of a meeting in May with the Rwandan and Congolese delegations, which he chaired and was held at the request of President Tshisekedi. The meeting continued in Nairobi two weeks ago, as agreed in Geneva, and further continued in Goma last week to continue discussions, notably on identification, he said, pointing out that the Rwandan delegation refused to come. “We are at a stalemate,” he said, adding that he had asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for a compromise to be proposed — either a return to Nairobi or Addis Ababa.
Regarding the FDLR, he stressed that the Council and the UN must be respected, adding that what Rwanda has been saying is “an old-fashioned chorus” and there is nothing in international law or the Charter of the United Nations “which obliges a country to behave in that way”. He recalled that, in the context of the Nairobi process, all Heads of State and Government, which have armed groups in his country, must start discussions with those armed groups so that they return to their countries of origin. If they refuse, the EAC forces would use coercive measures to ensure their return home, he added. “This is what we call the Nairobi process,” he stressed, noting that his country has been in discussions with its compatriots, including M23, who were at the meeting. However, under Rwanda’s instigation, they did not want to continue, he said.
He wondered if the Rwandan Ambassador could address that matter and state whether the Rwandan Government has implemented the Nairobi recommendation. Referring to his country’s proposal, he said there should be a mechanism implemented either by the African Union, the EAC or the Council. “We are waiting for something to happen following this proposal,” he said, adding: “This cannot justify the landing of a Rwandan army helicopter yesterday with soldiers in it on Congolese authority.”