Armed Groups, Hate Speech, Lack of Dialogue in Great Lakes Region Cannot Go Ignored, Special Envoy Tells Security Council
Speakers Urge More Regional Efforts to Tackle Root Causes of Conflict
Armed groups’ hostilities in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and any support to them must cease, the Security Council heard today, as members urged strengthened regional cooperation and dialogue to tackle the root causes of the conflict in the country and the wider region and arrive at a political solution.
Xia Huang, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region, briefing the 15-member organ 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 Region (document S/2023/730), said the security and humanitarian situation have not improved since his last briefing to the Council six months ago. Pointing to the risk of direct confrontation between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, he warned: “The military strengthening in both countries, the absence of direct high-level dialogue and the persistence of hate speech are all worrying signs that we cannot ignore.”
“The [Addis Ababa] Framework Agreement remains central for peace and security in the Great Lakes region,” he said, urging armed groups to lay down weapons and involved parties to engage in dialogue for a political solution. Welcoming the efforts of regional actors and the international community, he called for an increase in humanitarian assistance alongside facilitating the return of refugees and ensuring that children get an education.
João Samuel Caholo, Executive Secretary, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), briefing via video-teleconference, pointed out that the Luanda and Nairobi peace processes are at a standstill, while the activities of local armed groups in Masisi and Rutshuru have led to displacement and a critical humanitarian situation. She urged the Council to pay greater attention to developments in Central African Republic and Sudan, as well as to Ansar al-Sunna's activities in northern Mozambique.
Joséphine Kavira Nzaira Malimukono, President of the Concertation of Collectives of Women’s Associations of the Great Lakes Region, underscored the crucial role of civil society organizations. Detailing the human cost of conflict, she called for a special meeting on the situation in the Great Lakes where women can present their peace and security agenda.
In the ensuing debate, Council members once again voiced concern about the deteriorating security situation as well as grave human rights violations against women and children. They echoed calls for armed groups to cease hostilities and for those supporting them to stop doing so. Delegates also underscored the importance of regional cooperation in ongoing initiatives and the need to address the illegal exploitation of natural resources.
“We particularly demand the end of any further advances by the 23 March Movement (M23) and call for its unconditional and immediate withdrawal from all occupied territories, as agreed through the Luanda process,” said Ghana’s representative, speaking also for Gabon and Mozambique. Urging coordination and complementarity between political and military initiatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he said an effective alignment and coordination of all peace initiatives will lead to a unified and strengthened African response that is fit for purpose.
The United States’ representative called directly on Rwanda to end its support to the UN-sanctioned M23 and on the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to cut ties with the UN-sanctioned Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda. Echoing other speakers, she voiced concern about the alarming humanitarian situation, stating: “A man-made political crisis has led to a man-made humanitarian crisis, and it must end.
The United Kingdom’s representative warned that a rushed withdrawal of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) would create a significant security vacuum in east of the country, putting hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk and aggravating the humanitarian situation.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s delegate said that his country’s short-term priority is restoring peace in the east. That requires the withdrawal of all Rwandan troops including elements of its army in the M23, as well as the return of the displaced. Voicing support for the Nairobi and Luanda processes, he called on the Council to maintain maximum pressure on Rwanda to comply with its commitments.
Rwanda’s representative said that the Luanda and Nairobi processes have not been implemented due to a lack of political will. Expressing alarm at growing hate speech and xenophobia, he said that the Council must break its silence and condemn the persecution of Rwandaphones, and especially the Tutsi communities, in the east. Rhetoric surrounding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of Congo that fails to evoke neighbouring countries is completely misplaced, he said, emphasizing that every country’s territorial integrity matters.
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 region (document S/2023/730). The security and humanitarian situation have not improved since his last briefing to the Council six months ago, he said, noting that in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, large-scale hostilities have resumed in Masisi and Rutshuru, in North Kivu. Pointing to the risk of direct confrontation between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, who accuse each other of supporting armed groups including the 23 March Movement (M23) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), he warned: “The military strengthening in both countries, the absence of direct high-level dialogue and the persistence of hate speech are all worrying signs that we cannot ignore.” The expansion of the Allied Democratic Forces also threatens regional integrity with its terrorist implications, he added.
With the humanitarian situation worsening, the international community must give more assistance, facilitate the return of refugees and ensure that children get an education, he said. He welcomed the tireless efforts of regional actors and the international community to promote peace and security, including President Evariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi, President João Lourenço of Angola and the Facilitator of the East African Community (EAC), Uhuru Kenyatta. He urged the Council to support the Quadripartite Summit, convened by the African Union in June to strengthen coordination between the Luanda and Nairobi processes, as well as a meeting of the Chiefs of Staff of the Quadripartite members on 6 October in Addis Ababa that aimed to coordinate the deployment and operational modalities for military forces in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Such initiatives reflect the willingness of regional States and organizations to favour a political solution, while preparing militarily for a possible return to the use of force against armed groups that may refuse to lay down their arms, he said.
Noting his visits to Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, he said that his Office will be organizing a retreat from 31 October to 1 November in Durban, South Africa, in cooperation with the African Union, to assess the Addis Ababa Framework Agreement, a decade after its adoption. “The Framework Agreement remains central for peace and security in the Great Lakes region.” Noting his advocacy for non-military measures, particularly through the operational cell of the Contact and Coordination Group to repatriate foreign armed groups to their countries of origin, he called once again on all armed groups to lay down their weapons and, for Congolese armed groups, to join the disarmament, demobilization, community rehabilitation and stabilization programme.
He went on to call on all partners to fill the funding gap for the United Nations Strategy for the Region, whose effective implementation aims to get to the root causes of instability in the region. All member States of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region should implement the Strategy and the regional traceability mechanism without delay, given the strong correlation between mining and illicit trafficking in artisanal gold and the funding of armed groups. Underscoring the importance of diplomacy and dialogue, he urged a political solution and intensified efforts of those involved to show restraint, keep channels of communication open and implement the decisions taken in the Luanda and Nairobi processes. “Military solutions alone will not suffice to build a strong and lasting peace,” he said, adding that political will, good faith and a genuine desire to put an end to the suffering of the populations are what will make the difference.
João Samuel Caholo, Executive Secretary, International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), speaking via video-teleconference, described the security and humanitarian situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo as tense and unpredictable, following clashes between local armed groups and M23. These clashes were reported in several areas, including eastern Masisi and northwest Rutshuru, in violation of the 23 November 2022 Luanda ceasefire. Targeted assassinations and killings of civilians also occurred in areas under M23 control and were verified by the ICGLR and Eastern Africa Standby Force, including the killing of 11 civilians on 6 August in Maranga, Ituri. He noted, however, that verification requested by the East African Community Regional Force was impeded by an M23 roadblock.
The Luanda roadmap and Nairobi process are at a standstill following M23’s refusal to withdraw from the areas it occupies and its reoccupation of certain areas it had previously left, he said, noting that this has led to tensions between M23 and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The activities of local armed groups in Masisi and Rutshuru have led to displacement and a critical humanitarian situation, with supply routes threatened with closure. Elsewhere in the region, the Council must pay greater attention to developments in Central African Republic and Sudan. Attention also needs to be paid to the activities of Ansar al-Sunna in northern Mozambique, which is negatively impacting neighboring provinces in Tanzania. He went on to call on the Council to support the Luanda roadmap and the Nairobi process.
JOSÉPHINE KAVIRA NZAIRA MALIMUKONO, President of the Concertation of Collectives of Women’s Associations of the Great Lakes Region, said the “impacts of repeated crises on women and girls are manifold”. Population movements interrupt the education of children, while girls are twice as susceptible as boys to dropping out of school in conflict zones, thus amplifying inequalities between women and men. In August 2023, her organization in Goma counted 27,441 displaced children, including 15,000 girls and 12,283 boys; 350 children with disabilities, including 148 girls and 102 boys; and 210 child heads of households, including 150 girls and 60 boys, and 71 adolescent mothers. Precarious security in the region leads to the low cohesion of cross-border communities, weak protection of women and girls against sexual and gender-based violence, and political and dialogue spaces restricted vis-à-vis women's voices. The role of civil society organizations is therefore crucial and should be strengthened to build real bridges between communities and Governments and create spaces for accountability and dialogue, she said.
While acknowledging the efforts of regional States, she said that women's groups want to be more involved in high-level consultations and exchanges to help establish lasting peace and security. In that regard, she called for a special meeting on the situation in the Great Lakes where women can present their peace and security agenda. Equal, direct and influential participation of civil society in all peace processes, supported by the United Nations and international partners, is necessary, as is support for local and community peacebuilding initiatives on gender-sensitive needs. There is also a need to support emergency humanitarian response initiatives for displaced women, particularly in North Kivu, as well as a regional mechanism for women’s involvement in mining and entrepreneurship and better protection for displaced women and children who have experienced abuse and violence.
ALEXANDRE OLMEDO (France) said the Addis Ababa Framework Agreement more than ever remains central for peace in the region. Voicing concern about violence between armed groups and the civilian population, as well as the fragile ceasefire between M23 and FARDC, he called on all actors to preserve the Agreement to ensure security in the region. In line with the principles of the Agreement, he said all parties must not support armed groups. They must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighbouring States and not shelter or protect those accused of crimes and violations of international law. He condemned the looting and trafficking of natural resources in the region, which funds armed groups’ activities. The States of the Great Lakes and their partners must come together to develop responsible and sustainable value chains that will benefit the populations, and mechanisms for regional certification must be applied by all parties, he added.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) said that despite the joint military operation, the security situation — and humanitarian crisis — is worsening in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Armed groups are taking advantage of tensions between Kigali and Kinshasa and continuing to exploit natural resources while also attacking civilians, she said, noting that such groups included RED Tabara, CODECO and Maï-Maï, among others. Illegal armed groups must stop acts of violence, hand over their weapons and take part in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes, she said, adding that UN peacekeepers are a stabilizing factor. On MONUSCO’s withdrawal, she said it is important to consider the evolving situation on the ground as well as the host country’s views. Military methods will not contribute to a lasting normalization of the situation in Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region if everyone’s security interests are not taken into account, she added.
FERGUS JOHN ECKERSLEY (United Kingdom) warned that a rushed withdrawal of MONUSCO would create a significant security vacuum in the east of the country, putting hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk and aggravating the humanitarian situation. Noting the Government’s request to bring forward MONUSCO’s withdrawal, he said that it should engage constructively with the Mission to ensure a responsible, conditions-based withdrawal. He welcomed a reduction in cross-border violence between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda and urged the two Governments to conduct a dialogue and build trust. He also welcomed regional leadership in trying to find solutions. “The United Kingdom firmly believes that dialogue, not violence, is the only way to achieve lasting peace in the Great Lakes region,” he said.
MITSUKO SHINO (Japan) said that violence by armed groups is aggravating human security crises in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, alongside growing tensions between that country and Rwanda. Signatory countries and guarantors must fully implement the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework at all levels, as it remains the guide for the way forward. Noting the central role of the Nairobi and Luanda processes in ongoing regional peace initiatives, she said that all armed groups must immediately cease hostilities and fully engage in those processes. All support to those groups must immediately stop. She urged a comprehensive, cross-border approach based on the humanitarian-development-peace nexus to tackle the illegal exploitation of natural resources. In addition, all stakeholders must engage in more transparent management, enhanced border-control and judicial cooperation for the promotion of legitimate trade and development, she said.
DARREN CAMILLERI (Malta) said that, despite the cessation of hostilities between M23 and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the former’s engagements with other armed groups have not spared local communities in South Kivu, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis and constituting a severe threat to the future of the country and its neighbors. He welcomed initial indications from missions of the Contact and Coordination Group’s operational cell, which suggest that some foreign armed group members are open to disarming, demobilizing, and repatriation to their countries of origin without conditions. On tackling the root causes of the conflict, the illegal exploitation of natural resources, he supported initiatives cited in the Secretary-General’s report, including a more responsible management of the gold supply chain. He voiced concern over the humanitarian situation in the Great Lakes region, due to the large-scale forced displacements of millions, and underscored the efforts by Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Office of the Special Envoy in revitalizing the tripartite mechanism for the return of refugees between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.
DAI BING (China) said that the need to maintain security in the Great Lakes region is the one challenge in Africa that stands out the most. Acknowledging efforts to bolster security and peacekeeping, he said that the Council should continue to support the Special Envoy in the regional peace process. In advancing MONUSCO’s transition, the Council should think deeply about ways to improve the work of UN agencies and better respond to the need of countries in the region, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There is also a need to support the common development of the region, which is rich in natural resources and has great potential, he said.
ARIAN SPASSE (Albania), voicing concern about the continued confrontational rhetoric and accusations between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, said regional peace efforts, mainly through the Luanda and Nairobi processes, remain critical for regional stability. He voiced alarm by the worsening humanitarian situation, heinous attacks against civilians, rising conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence against women and child recruitment, and urged accountability. Noting the illegal exploitation and illicit trade of natural resources, he said regional cooperation must be extended and reinforced in support of a more sustainable and transparent management of those resources. Expressing hope for the implementation, without delay, of the recommendations of the Regional Forum in September in Kinshasa regarding the regional mineral tracking system for certification, he said that a fair distribution of wealth could act to encourage armed groups to disarm and participate in demobilization and reintegration programmes, which should be adequately supported.
RICCARDA CHRISTIANA CHANDA (Switzerland), underscoring that regional diplomatic and political initiatives must remain the main means of resolving conflict, reaffirmed support for the Nairobi and Luanda processes. The root causes of conflict must be addressed if lasting peace is to be achieved, she said, underlining the need to strengthen the rule of law and good governance and to manage natural resources responsibly. On the Disarmament, Demobilization, Community Recovery and Stabilization Programme, she noted the adoption by the Congolese Senate of a law to establish a reserve military force and encouraged the authorities to ensure that this does not lead to the de facto integration of members of armed groups into the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She voiced alarm over the number of verified cases of sexual violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, including the high levels of systematic sexual exploitation in and around camps for displaced persons, particularly in Goma. States in the region must take all necessary measures to protect the civilian population and combat impunity, she said.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), speaking also on behalf of Gabon and Mozambique, was deeply concerned by the unpredictable and tense security situation in the region. “We reiterate, in the strongest terms, our condemnation of all acts of violence, human rights violations and abuses perpetrated primarily against civilians by armed and terrorist groups.” He called for the immediate cessation of all support to armed groups, saying the violence causes instability in the wider region. “We particularly demand the end of any further advances by the M23 and call for its unconditional and immediate withdrawal from all occupied territories, as agreed through the Luanda process.” He looked forward to the convening of the next phase of the inter-Congolese dialogue as an opportunity for armed groups to recommit themselves to peace.
He urged coordination and complementarity between political and military initiatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, adding that an effective alignment and coordination of all peace initiatives will lead to a unified and strengthened African response that is fit for purpose. “This will be reflective of not merely African solutions to African problems but quality African solutions to African problems.” He commended regional leaders’ dynamism in ensuring the full implementation of existing peace agreements and welcomed regional efforts to strengthen bilateral and diplomatic relations. The growing number of trade agreements in the region is also encouraging, as enhanced economic development and regional cooperation plays a significant role in promoting peace. He went on to support an independent and frank assessment of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework’s implementation to date and encouraged addressing the illicit exploitation and trade of natural resources.
NASRA ARIF NASSER SALEH ALRAHMA (United Arab Emirates), urging a renewed commitment to a political solution and strengthened coordination between regional initiatives, including the Luanda and Nairobi processes, said that the quadripartite summit in June was an effective example of how strengthening coordination between all parties concerned can help pave the way towards regional peace in the region. “Finding a lasting solution in the long term requires addressing the root causes of insecurity in the region,” she added, urging regional actors to continue their efforts to encourage dialogue and to take preventive measures to enhance trust and tolerance within and between communities. Civilians must be protected from attacks by armed groups,” she stressed, calling on the M23 and all other armed groups to lay down their arms permanently and unconditionally. Turning to the serious and dire humanitarian situation, she stressed the importance of reducing food insecurity, which is a serious challenge in the region.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said that, despite the Nairobi and Luanda processes, the security situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo remains dire and deteriorates as tensions grow between that country and Rwanda. She recalled that during the last briefing on the topic six months ago, she had called on all parties to act expeditiously to meet their commitments under the Luanda communiqué in full. However, while regional States have stepped up their efforts to this end, the M23 has blocked access to pre-cantonment sites. Therefore, she repeated her call on Rwanda to end its support to the UN-sanctioned M23 and on Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to cut ties with the UN-sanctioned Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda. As well, regional troops in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo should coordinate with each other and MONUSCO and avoid human rights abuses and illicit activities, including illicit mineral extraction. On the humanitarian situation, she voiced concern about its deterioration to alarming levels, with instability leading to the displacement of half a million people and widespread food shortages. “A man-made political crisis has led to a man-made humanitarian crisis and it must end,” she said.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) said that the advance of armed groups, specifically M23, on the borders and east of the Democratic Republic of Congo must stop. He encouraged regional and subregional efforts to create confidence measures, saying: “These are key to overcome the stalemate.” Efforts to harmonize and coordinate existing peace initiatives must be strengthened, he added. The worsening humanitarian situation requires immediate attention from the international community, he said, encouraging the consolidation of regional policies to ban the recruitment and use of minors by armed groups. The root causes of the conflict also need to be addressed, including illegal exploitation of natural resources. He went on to say that strengthened participation of women in national and local structures is indispensable for genuine peacebuilding.
SÉRGIO FRANÇA DANESE (Brazil), Council President for October, speaking in his national capacity, expressed concern over the security situation, stating that “clashes among armed groups imposes a heavy price on the population”. He called for all armed groups to lay down their arms and for all external support to illegal armed groups to cease. Hopefully, the coordination of regional efforts will advance the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process and that deployed regional forces will continue their engagement with MONUSCO. Emphasizing the paramount importance of the political dimension of regional cooperation, he said that the participation of youth and women in regional dialogue is essential to ensure the sustainability of the political processes. Local people’s aspirations for peace, stability and sustainable development should guide diplomatic efforts, he added.
ROBERT KAYINAMURA (Rwanda) said that this year marks the tenth anniversary of the Peace and Security Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Region, “yet we see gaps in the implementation of the framework and the commitments contained therein”. Rwanda still believes in the Framework and while it fully supported the Luanda and Nairobi processes, they have not been implemented in word and spirt due to a lack of political will. The conflict remains a breeding ground for armed groups, he said, adding that the recruitment of thousands of mercenaries into the national army, and a refusal to implement signed agreements, demonstrates a lack of political will to find peace. He expressed alarm at growing hate speech and xenophobia, including calls for the expulsion of Congolese Rwandan speakers or Tutsi communities. The Council is not condemning such acts, including in the presidential statement that it adopted on 16 October. “This attitude and silence by the members of the Council is loud and clear to the international community.”
The Council must break its silence and condemn in the strongest terms the persecution of a people, the Rwandaphones, and especially the Tutsi communities, in the east, he said. He deplored some external powers that re-ignite the conflict and encourage impunity to satisfy their economic interests. The rhetoric around the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Democratic Republic of Congo, without evoking that of neighbouring countries affected by this conflict, is completely misplaced and aims at fuelling conflict, he added, emphasizing that every country’s territorial integrity matters.
ZÉNON MUKONGO NGAY (Democratic Republic of the Congo) noted that the Rwanda Defence Force and its terrorist satellites M23 continue to occupy territories of his country in flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter. A good 10 years after the signing of the Addis Ababa framework agreement, whose provisions his country has scrupulously applied, some signatory parties have not even begun to implement it. This “unfortunate fact” raises the need to revisit it, he said, highlighting consultations later this month of the National Follow-up Mechanism of the Addis Ababa Framework Agreement, which will serve as a roadmap for the retreat of the Agreement’s signatory countries in Durban on 31 October. In the short term, in the context of upcoming elections, he said that his country’s priority is restoring peace in the east, which calls for the withdrawal of all Rwandan troops, including elements of its army in the M23, as well as the return of the displaced so they can exercise their civic rights.
Voicing support for the Nairobi and Luanda processes, he called on the Council to support them by maintaining maximum pressure on Rwanda to comply with its commitments. On the FDLR, mentioned in the report, he called them aggressors waging a shameless economic war by exploiting his country’s natural resources and renewed the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s call on the Council for their eradication. On that, he called for strengthened sanctions from the Council throughout the chain of exploitation of natural resources, adding that his country would be interested in learning how it could develop something on the lines of the Kimberley Process to manage gold from conflict zones. On Rwanda’s delegate’s mention of the “Wazalendo”, he said that they are young Congolese patriots who are outraged by M23’s massacres and not an armed group.