Expected Council Action
In March, the Security Council is due to renew the mandate of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), known as MONUSCO, which expires on 31 March.
The newly appointed Special Representative and head of MONUSCO, Leila Zerrougui, is expected to brief the Council beforehand.
In addition, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock is expected to brief the Council on the humanitarian situation in the DRC in a separate meeting.
Key Recent Developments
The deplorable security situation in the east has taken another turn for the worse. In response to the increased activities of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) Islamist rebel group in North Kivu—including a deadly attack on Tanzanian peacekeepers on 7 December 2017 that resulted in 15 peacekeepers killed, 53 wounded and one who remains missing—Uganda and the DRC have launched a large military campaign against rebel groups in the region. The DRC said that the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) succeeded in “annihilating” rebel forces loyal to William Amuri Yakutumba in South Kivu since 21 January. Uganda claims that its military has had success in attacking the ADF in North Kivu. One Pakistani peacekeeper was killed and another injured in a rebel group attack on South Kivu on 27 January. Council members issued a press statement condemning the attack.
One effect of the offensive has been the increased movement and activity of rebel groups, resulting in increased violence and massive displacement of civilians. According to UNHCR, 34,000 DRC refugees have arrived in Uganda since the beginning of the year, bringing the total number of refugees from the DRC to about 630,000. UNHCR also warned on 6 February of rising violence in Ituri, where at least 30 people are reported to have been killed amid conflict between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups over the four previous days.
There continues to be serious concerns on the political front in the DRC. President Joseph Kabila, whose second and last 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 initiate amendments to the constitution and run for a third term. Kabila, however, has refrained from stating his intentions over the last year, and the opposition fears that Kabila has purposely stalled the elections to remain in power further beyond his constitutional term. DRC Information Minister Lambert Mende directly addressed the issue for the first time on 5 February, saying that Kabila will not run for re-election.
Citing logistical difficulties preventing the elections from being held on time on 5 November 2017, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) announced the publication of a new electoral calendar, including technical benchmarks, for combined presidential, legislative and provincial elections to take place on 23 December 2018. Opposition figures denounced the new calendar and called for protests, but the authorities in major cities have banned protests and have reportedly arrested opposition leaders as part of a wider trend of curbing the political freedom of the opposition and freedom of the press.
Council members issued a press statement on 28 November 2017, taking note of the new electoral calendar and emphasising the critical importance of ensuring that elections are not postponed beyond 23 December 2018. They also called for transparent, credible and inclusive elections.
On 31 December 2017, demonstrations against Kabila in Kinshasa and other cities, organised by Catholic and opposition groups, were met with violence by security forces. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the death toll totalled nine people and 98 others were injured.
Council members issued a press statement on 16 January, noting with serious concern the continued political impasse and the violent incidents against protesters. They recalled the importance of taking urgent measures to restore confidence between the actors involved and to defuse the political tension, within the spirit of the 31 December 2016 Agreement, including the release of political prisoners and the full implementation of all other confidence-building measures, several of which are yet to be implemented.
Another wave of demonstrations occurred on 21 January, leading to the death of six persons, as well as 68 injured and 121 arrested, according to OHCHR. Tear gas was fired into churches in various parts of the country, and military police also fired tear gas towards at least three UN patrols.
On the initiative of the US, Council members held an Arria-formula meeting on 12 February focused on the DRC elections, co-hosted with Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK. In a joint statement, the co-hosts observed that fulfilling the agreement, releasing political prisoners, ending politically motivated prosecutions, and respecting freedom of assembly and expression are essential to creating the political space necessary for credible elections. Noting the CENI’s plan to use an electronic voting system, Ambassador Nikki Haley (US) said that using “an unfamiliar technology for the first time during a crucial election is an enormous risk”. Panellist Ida Sawyer of Human Rights Watch noted that concerns have already been raised about potential fraud during the voter registration process.
The DRC Sanctions Committee held an open briefing on 26 January. The Coordinator of the Group of Experts assisting the Committee, Zobel Behalal, highlighted the group’s findings regarding the involvement of DRC army officials in the illicit trade of natural resources and the diversion of arms to armed groups. He also cited ongoing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law as well as the rise of political and security tensions related to the holding of elections. Representatives of regional countries spoke, including a representative from the DRC, who said that private companies from certain states on the Council have been profiting from the illicit exploitation of natural resources.
The committee added four individuals to the sanctions list on 1 February. The listings include Muhindo Akili Mundos, a general in the FARDC, for committing acts that constitute human rights violations or abuses or violations of international humanitarian law.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In January, the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC (UNJHRO)—composed of the Human Rights Division of MONUSCO and the OHCHR—released a report on the human rights situation in 2017. From January to December 2017, UNJHRO documented 6,497 human rights violations and abuses throughout the DRC, which represents an increase of over 25 percent compared to 2016. Over 20 percent of the violations documented were linked to the restriction of democratic space and fundamental freedoms, with a rise in the number of human rights abuses committed by armed groups and militias. The report documents violations of the right to liberty and security of person; the right to physical integrity, including 759 incidents of sexual violence; the right to property; the right to life, including 1,176 victims of extrajudicial killings by state agents; and an increase in violations related to forced labour.
Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric announced on 12 February that UN and South African investigators would conduct a joint probe into allegations that South African peacekeepers in the DRC beat a 17-year-old and committed sexual exploitation. The probe is said to take up to 90 days. According to MONUSCO, 18 alleged cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by its peacekeepers and civilian personnel were opened in 2017.
Key Issues and Options
The primary political issue for the Council in the upcoming period is ensuring that elections take place as scheduled. The Council may expand on MONUSCO’s role in providing logistical assistance to the DRC elections in its new mandate and act to ensure it has sufficient resources to do so. In this context, the Council could consider asking the Secretary-General to appoint a High Representative for the elections in the DRC, similarly to the action it took in resolution 1603 of 3 June 2005, with respect to Côte d’Ivoire.
Additionally, timely elections should be free and fair and should take place in an inclusive environment conducive to participation in the political process. While renewing MONUSCO’s mandate, the Council may, in coordination with regional actors, reiterate its call on all stakeholders to remain committed to the electoral calendar as the only way forward and to refrain from violence. It may also threaten or move to sanction actors that undermine the electoral process.
The ongoing violence in different parts of the country, and the military operations in the Kivus in particular, are of continuing concern, and the protection of civilians remains a top priority for MONUSCO. The Council may review the changes made in the mandate last year—which included a troop reduction and changes in MONUSCO’s posture—in light of recent events and reconsider the adequacy of MONUSCO’s mandate and posture to address these threats.
The Council could choose to visit the DRC to reinforce the importance of free, fair and timely elections and to assess the security situation and MONUSCO’s response to it.
Looking ahead, an option for the Council could be to consider seeking an African member as co-penholder on the DRC to share the pen with France, to enrich the approach with experience from the region.
Council and Wider Dynamics
All Council members remain concerned about the ongoing political crisis and the security situation. There is a consensus about the imperative of holding the elections on 23 December without further delays, in alignment with the position of regional actors. During the 9 January consultations, several Council members took the position that the Council should remain focused on the DRC throughout the year, including through a possible Council mission.
At the same time, divisions persist as to how to define the political crisis—as a constitutional issue or one with wider national and regional implications—and the appropriate response. The 16 January press statement took almost two weeks to negotiate. Initially, it was supposed to be a short statement condemning excessive force used by the government to crack down on protests. However, some Council members felt that the draft circulated by France was overly critical of the government and should be expanded to address the wider issues. Thus, it took two weeks to negotiate a comprehensive text that was critical of the government (but less so than the original draft) and also called on the opposition to respect the rule of law.
With respect to the mandate renewal, much emphasis is expected to be put on preparations for the elections, with some Council members wanting to ensure that MONUSCO is given appropriate resources to assist in this respect. The efficiency of the mission—and the performance of MONUSCO contingents in particular, which was a main focus for the US during the negotiations over the previous mandate—may lead to further negotiations over possible adjustments to the mandate and review of its contingents, including the Force Intervention Brigade.
France is the penholder on the DRC, and Kuwait chairs the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE DRC
|Security Council Resolutions|
|31 March 2017 S/RES/2348||The Council renewed MONUSCO’s mandate until 31 March 2018.|
|2 October 2017 S/2017/824||This was the report on MONUSCO.|
|29 September 2017 S/2017/826||This was a special report on the strategic review of MONUSCO.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|9 January 2018 S/PV.8153||This was a briefing on recent developments in the DRC by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|29 January 2018 SC/13186||This was a press release condemning the killing of one Pakistani peacekeeper and the injury of another in South Kivu on 27 January.|
|16 January 2018 SC/13163||This was a press statement calling on all stakeholders to remain committed to the 31 December 2016 Agreement, which remains the only viable path out of the current political situation.|
|28 November 2017 SC/13095||This was a statement on the electoral process in the DRC in which the Council noted that presidential, legislative and provincial elections are now scheduled for 23 December 2018.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|6 February 2018 SC/13198||This was a press release about the DRC Sanctions Committee open briefing of 26 January.|
|1 February 2018 SC/13194||This was a press release about the addition of four individuals to the DRC sanctions list.|