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Democratic Republic of the Congo

Expected Council Action

In August, the Council will receive the latest Secretary-General’s report on the political and technical progress towards the holding of elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC’s (MONUSCO) mandate expires on 31 March 2019.

Key Recent Developments

The political uncertainty in the DRC continues to be a major concern for the Council. President Joseph Kabila, whose second and final term (under the country’s constitution) ended in December 2016, remains in office. According to an agreement reached between Kabila and the opposition on 31 December 2016, elections were to be held by the end of 2017, and Kabila was not to run for a third term or initiate amendments to the constitution. Citing logistical difficulties that prevented the elections from being held on 5 November 2017, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) published a new electoral calendar for combined presidential, legislative and provincial elections to take place on 23 December 2018.

The political tensions have been exacerbated by Kabila’s failure to reveal his own intentions. On 7 June, parties from the ruling coalition formed a “grand political electoral coalition” called the Common Front for Congo (FCC) and designed to “provide support for a single candidate for the presidential elections”. Kabila was named as the FCC’s “moral authority”. On 12 June, Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala said that Kabila would respect the constitution and not seek another term. Kabila was expected to address the issue in his state of the nation speech before parliament on 19 July; while voicing commitment to elections on 23 December, he did not clarify his own plans. According to the electoral calendar, presidential candidates must register between 25 July and 8 August.

The DRC was discussed on 19 July during the 12th annual meeting of the members of the Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC). A joint communiqué issued after the meeting reaffirmed that effective and swift implementation of the 31 December 2016 agreement, as well as respect for fundamental rights and the electoral timeline, are essential for a peaceful and credible electoral process. It underscored the need for the elections to be transparent, credible and inclusive, and to lead to a peaceful and democratic transfer of power, in accordance with the constitution, the 31 December 2016 agreement, Security Council resolutions 2348 and 2409, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. Members of the two councils called on the DRC government, CENI and all stakeholders to work together towards the holding of elections on 23 December. They stressed their commitment to “take appropriate measures against all Congolese actors, and any others, whose actions and statements impede the implementation of the Agreement and the organization of the elections”.

The political field in the DRC has seen the return of former Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, who had spent the last ten years in ICC custody. The ICC convicted Bemba in 2016 for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed as the leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo when his forces fought in an attempted coup in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. On 8 June, the ICC overturned the verdict on appeal. Bemba was released from custody while he awaits sentencing on separate charges of bribing witnesses. Following his acquittal, his party, the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), announced that Bemba will be its nominated presidential candidate.

The Eastern DRC continues to be plagued by the activities of rebel groups, attacking civilians, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), and fighting amongst each other. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist armed group, has been particularly active in North Kivu. On 16 July, suspected ADF rebels attacked an FARDC base near Beni, killing three soldiers and three civilians. Meanwhile, tensions have flared between the FARDC and the Ugandan military on the border between the two countries. In clashes between the militaries on Lake Edward, more than 30 people have reportedly been killed since early July, including local fishermen and three Ugandan soldiers, who were attacked by an angry mob along the border. Also in North Kivu, fighting between various rebel groups between 13 and 17 July resulted in 13 civilians killed.

Violence in Ituri, particularly in the Djugu area, which erupted in December 2017 amid conflict between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups, has lessened over the last few months. The fighting has cost the lives of more than 260 people and over 350,000 have fled their homes. As fighting has eased, some 150,000 people have returned to the area. On 13 July, however, a spokesperson for UNHCR said that its team in the area had received numerous reports of “barbaric violence”, including “armed groups attacking civilians with guns, arrows and machetes, [and] entire villages razed”.

On 26 July, Special Representative and head of MONUSCO Leila Zerrougui and Justine Bihanga of the non-governmental organisation Synergy of Women for Victims of Sexual Violence briefed the Council. The chair of the DRC Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi (Kuwait), also briefed. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix attended the consultations that followed.

France circulated a draft presidential statement to Council members on 26 June, mainly focused on the tense political situation in the DRC surrounding the electoral process. The draft statement, largely based on previously agreed language, called on all stakeholders in the DRC, including President Kabila, to implement swiftly the 31 December 2016 Agreement.  It also called on the DRC to put an end to restrictions on political space and to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and to exercise maximum restraint in their response to protests. It called on the ‘opposition forces’, for their part, to show responsibility by ensuring the peaceful character of their demonstrations and respecting national legislation. Failing to reach agreement on the text over the course of a month, on 25 July, France withdrew the draft, explaining that it prefers to focus on the unity of messaging from both the Council and the PSC, as reflected in the joint communiqué of 19 July.

On 24 July, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in the DRC to be over, after 42 days had passed since the last infected patient was released from care. According to the WHO, Ebola was first detected on 4 April and since then there had been 38 confirmed cases, including 29 deaths.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 29 June, the Council adopted resolution 2424, renewing the sanctions regime, which includes a partial arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze, until 1 July 2019 and the mandate of the Group of Experts assisting the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee until 1 August 2019. It requests the group to provide to the Council, after discussion with the committee, a mid-term report no later than 30 December 2018 and a final report no later than 15 June 2019, as well as to submit monthly updates to the committee, except in the months when the mid-term and final reports are due.

The committee held a formal open meeting for member states on 27 July. Addressing those present was Al-Otaibi, the coordinator of the group of experts and the representatives of neighbouring countries. 

Human Rights-Related Developments

In a 26 June statement, a team of international experts appointed by the Human Rights Council (HRC) in June 2017 said it believed that a number of the violations perpetrated by defence and security forces, the Kamuina Nsapu militia, and the Bana Mura militias constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. The statement said that the perpetrators deliberately killed civilians, including children, and committed atrocities such as mutilations, rapes and other forms of sexual violence, torture, and exterminations. The experts submitted a report to the HRC during its 38th session on the situation in the Kasaï regions, which High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein presented to the HRC at an enhanced interactive dialogue on 3 July (A/HRC/38/31).

Also during its 38th session, on 6 July, the HRC adopted without a vote resolution 38/20 on technical assistance to the DRC and accountability concerning events in the Kasaï regions. The resolution requests the team of international experts to continue collecting and preserving information concerning alleged human rights violations and abuses as requested in resolution 35/33 and to submit its conclusions to the HRC at its 39th session in September.

Key Issues and Options

The primary political issue for the Council in the upcoming period is that the elections take place as scheduled and that they are free and fair. The Council may choose to issue a presidential or press statement calling on the DRC to take action to guarantee that elections are held in a safe environment conducive to full public participation in the political process and that there is a peaceful transition of power.

Additionally, the Council may, in coordination with regional actors and particularly the AU, reiterate its call on all stakeholders to refrain from violence and to remain committed to the electoral calendar as the only way forward.

As implied in the 19 July joint communiqué following the meeting with the PSC, the Council can utilise the sanctions regime by amending the listing criteria to include acts that hinder a free and fair electoral process and sanction actors who undermine the electoral process.

Unable to agree on dates for a visiting mission to the DRC in August, Council members are now contemplating conducting the trip later in the year, possibly October, to reinforce the importance of free, fair and timely elections and to assess the security situation and MONUSCO’s response. The Council has visited the DRC 13 times, first in 2000 and most recently in November 2016.

Council and Wider Dynamics

All Council members remain concerned about the ongoing political crisis and the dire security situation. There is consensus about the imperative of holding elections on 23 December without further delays, in alignment with the position of regional actors, as reflected in the recent joint UN-AU communiqué.

Differences between Council members persist, however, regarding their assessment of the nature of the political crisis, with some seeing it as a constitutional issue and others as one with wider national and regional implications. Some of the latter group, such as France and the US, have publicly called on Kabila to step down. They are also concerned that while logistical preparations for the elections are, on the whole, progressing as scheduled, the DRC government has done little to guarantee that elections will be free, fair and inclusive.

On the other hand, earlier in the year it seemed that there was consensus regarding the need for the Council to remain focused on the DRC in 2018, but more recently some Council members, such as Russia, have questioned whether the Council is not overly focused on the DRC political process compared to other situations on its agenda.

France is the penholder on the DRC, and Kuwait chairs the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee.

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DRC

Security Council Resolutions
29 June 2018 S/RES/2424 This was a resolution renewing the DRC sanctions regime until 1 July 2019 and the mandate of the Group of Experts assisting the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee until 1 August 2019.
27 March 2018 S/RES/2409 This was a resolution that renewed MONUSCO’s mandate until 31 March 2019.
Secretary-General's Reports
2 July 2018 S/2018/655 This was the Secretary-General’s latest report on MONUSCO.
Security Council Meeting Records
26 July 2018 S/PV.8318 was a briefing on the Secretary-General’s latest report on MONUSCO by its head, Leila Zerrougui, and on the work of the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee, by its chair, Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi (Kuwait)
Security Council Letters
18 July 2018 S/2018/727 This was a letter from the Secretary-General on contingency planning for a temporary reinforcement of MONUSCO.
Sanctions Committee Documents
20 May 2018 S/2018/531 This was the final report by the Group of Experts on the DRC.
Other
19 July 2018 SC/13430 This was the joint communique issued by Council members and members of the AU Peace and Security Council following their annual meeting.

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