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Alarming Uptick of Armed Groups’ Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo Threatening Stability, Mission Head Tells Security Council

The alarming resurgence of armed groups, including the 23 March Movement (M23), is threatening the security and stability of the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the entire region, and endangering United Nations Mission personnel on the ground, the top United Nations official in the country warned the Security Council today.

Bintou Keita, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), noted the security situation in the East has unfortunately deteriorated, especially due to intensified attacks by M23 against civilians, national security forces and MONUSCO. Further attacks are being carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces, the Cooperative for Development of the Congo (CODECO) and other armed groups in Ituri and North Kivu Provinces, undermining recent progress the positive dynamic in recent years between Kinshasha and Kigali. She stressed that M23 is now behaving increasingly like a conventional army, with sophisticated firepower and equipment — an obvious threat to civilians and peacekeepers, nine of whom recently lost their lives.

As the Congolese army and MONUSCO have shifted personnel, other armed groups have sought to take advantage of the resulting security vacuum — with more than 150 civilians killed between 28 May and 17 June, and 700,000 people displaced, she said. There was also an increase in hate speech, particularly targeting Congolese Rwandophone population groups. Urging Kinshasha and Kigali to seize the upcoming summit to be hosted by President João Lourenço of Angola in Luanda, she welcomed Kinshasha’s consultations with local armed groups, which expressed their willingness to lay down their weapons. She also quoted Zawede, an 11-year-old girl from Kivua, who wrote a slam for children — an expression of love and hope for her country, but also of acute pain over the abandonment by adults in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the quarter century of “sweat, tears and blood”.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates condemned the escalation of violence, while country representatives from the region traded accusations over the drivers of the instability.

Brief Statements of some Security Council members on the RDC situation:

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), voicing support for regional efforts to stabilize the deteriorating situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, condemned the actions of M23, Allied Democratic Forces, CODECO and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. Attacks on MONUSCO, in which nine peacekeepers lost their lives this quarter, must stop and perpetrators must be held to account. Also expressing support for the Nairobi-based dialogue, he said the recently announced regional force must be complementary to a political process. It should be coordinated with MONUSCO, while respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He welcomed the Mission’s mobilization — and particularly that of its reconfigured Intervention Brigade — to protect camps for displaced persons. He also called for more efforts to prevent the illegal recruitment and use of children. The Security Council’s sanctions regime — which this Council is preparing to renew — is an additional tool that should make it possible to fight against those who use children for armed conflict. Partnerships must also be strengthened to ensure sustainable development, he said, welcoming the continuation of parliamentary work to prepare for the 2023 elections. Protection of the democratic space, transparency and the inclusiveness and participation of women are likely to contribute to the smooth running of these elections.

RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States), voicing concern over violence by M23 and tensions along the Rwanda-Democratic Republic of the Congo border, encouraged all Congolese groups to participate in the disarmament, demobilization, community reinsertion and stabilization programme without conditions, and for foreign armed groups to return to their countries or origin. Expressing support for the Nairobi process, and the high—level engagement of the Presidents of Kenya and Angola, he underscored that all parties must respect their neighbours’ territorial integrity, with any entry of forces in Democratic Republic of the Congo conducted transparently and with its approval. The human consequences of violence in the east are horrific, with armed groups in Ituri killing nearly 800 civilians in this month’s reporting period alone. He also expressed alarm over the Rwanda statement questioning MONUSCO impartiality, adding that any commentary encouraging hostility towards peacekeepers is unacceptable. The Democratic Republic of the Congo bears the primary responsibility to protect its own citizens, he noted, further urging East African Community leaders to prioritize dialogue for crisis. The deployment of any force must be coordinated with MONUSCO, in line with any existing sanctions, and with notification of the Council. Urging all actors to avoid rhetoric that might encourage violence again peacekeepers or people of Rwandan origin in the east, he called on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and other East African actors to deescalate and work together.

HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), also speaking for Gabon and Kenya, welcomed the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s commitment to hold elections in 2023 while noting the challenging security environment in some parts of the country. He also welcomed the outcomes of the Conclaves process, including the participation of some armed groups, in two rounds of the inter-Congolese peace dialogue. Also praising the establishment of a regional force which should contribute to the stabilization of the country and the region, he called on all stakeholders to discourage and cease offensive language, hate speech, threats of genocide and other politically inciting language. He strongly condemned the destabilizing activities of armed groups in the east and called on them to immediately and unconditionally cease hostilities, lay down their arms and to participate in the national and regional disarmament programmes. Further, the three African Council members also remain deeply concerned over the humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the fact that the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan — targeting 8.8 million people — has so far received only 15 per cent of its required funding.

Meanwhile, regional States must remain committed to addressing the root causes of the conflict and promoting sustainable and equitable patterns of human development, he said, also calling for deeper economic integration. In light of the ongoing negotiations on the sanctions regime, he stressed that the current notification requirement remains an “unnecessary bureaucratic impediment” that infringes on the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s sovereignty, and impedes its ability to curb the activities of armed groups and safeguard its internal security. As such, he called on the Council to respond favourably to the Congolese authorities’ request to waive the notification requirement for the acquisition of weapons, as well as its sovereign right to receive military training and technical support for the security and defence of the Congolese people.

MONA JUUL (Norway) expressed concern over the resurgence of hate speech and incitement of violence in the wider Great Lakes region, as well as acts of violence reportedly carried out over the past few weeks against Rwandophone population groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the state of siege has been one tool to address security threats, the intended results do not seem to have materialized, and fighting has increased in the east. Citing additional reports of human rights abuses and a dramatic spike in cases of sexual violence, she stressed that all civilians, including children, must be protected. Countries must also respect the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s sovereignty. Encouraging parties to continue talks through the process launched by the Conclaves of the East African Community Heads of State and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, she also urged further engagement by the United Nations Special Envoy and Special Representative to reduce tensions. A new milestone will be reached when MONUSCO draws down from the Tanganyika province this month. It will be important to safeguard the gains made and draw upon lessons learned, she added.

JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) expressed serious concerns about the activities of armed groups in eastern Congolese provinces and the debilitating effects of armed conflict on civilians who live in and around cities such as Goma, Beni and Uvira and in rural areas of the provinces, especially on women, children and internally displaced persons. In particular, the re-emergence of M23 and their recent ground offensive are extremely worrying. Both the level of threat posed by armed groups and their cross-border activities can point towards regional solutions, he said, commending the endeavours that have combined leadership both from the African Union and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. Highlighting the importance of institution-building, he noted that hate speech, ethnic stereotyping, and attacks against civilians, peacekeepers or humanitarian personnel are all crimes that claim the lives of thousands of individuals and undermine durable peace in the country. He called on the Congolese authorities at the local and national levels to investigate the incidents and hold the perpetrators accountable. He also commended the concerted action of stakeholders to pave the way for the 2023 elections, in particular the Electoral Commission, the National Assembly and the Government.

JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom), echoing expressions of concern over the security situation in the east of the country, said the current spike in violence jeopardizes efforts to pursue peace and prosperity, and exacerbates the already severe humanitarian situation. “The risk of regional war is the highest it has been for many years,” he said, calling for immediate de-escalation on all sides and a mutual respect for sovereignty. Those efforts must include an absolute rejection of hate speech and the manipulation of regional public opinion by self‑interested actors. He welcomed ongoing diplomatic efforts, including through the African Union-endorsed Nairobi process, stressing the primacy of political and diplomatic efforts over military solutions to deliver long-term stability and prosperity. The United Kingdom is awaiting plans for the proposed East African Community regional force, he said, urging East African Community partner States to engage closely and effectively with MONUSCO to manage the potential risks of parallel military deployments, while learning lessons from the latter’s deployment.

RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India), strongly condemning the attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid the resurgence of violence, welcomed recent endeavours to advance the political dialogue with the involvement of all stakeholders. He called on the regional Heads of State for an immediate ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, as well as an intensification of the political process. The community-centric disarmament, demobilization, community reintegration and stabilization programme, is a step in the right direction; it gives provincial and local Congolese the flexibility to adapt the programme to the community’s needs. Equally important in tackling the persistent insecurity is the swift conclusion of a fair and inclusive electoral process. Calling attention to another outbreak of the Ebola virus in April, he noted that the humanitarian response plan targeting assistance for 8.8 million people has only received 15 per cent of the $1.88 billion required. Noting the progress made towards realizing the 18 benchmarks and indicators of the Joint Transition Plan, he called for the implementation of resolution 2612 (2021) concerning prevention of and accountability for crimes against peacekeepers.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) expressed extreme concern about the deteriorating security situation in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as the rise in regional tensions, in particular between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. The increase in levels of hate speech, as well as attacks by armed groups targeting civilians, displaced persons, health and humanitarian personnel, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and MONUSCO positions are alarming, she said. The resurgence of the M23 group and the continued activities of the Allied Democratic Forces and CODECO are also of great concern. Regional cooperation is essential for reconciliation and lasting peace, she noted, emphasizing the importance of the Framework Agreement for peace, security and cooperation. The disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme is also fundamental to a lasting peace in the country. The conflict is resulting in forced migration and displacement, hunger and malnutrition and food insecurity, she said, expressing concern regarding the persistent human rights violations and sexual and gender‑based violence. She looked forward to possible electoral assistance from the United Nations, she said, stressing the need for the protection of democratic space.

JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico), stressing that there is no military solution to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, called on armed groups to participate in dialogues and refrain from recruiting children. Noting tensions between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, he said regional cooperation is key to address their differences. As use of hate speech — which is increasing between Congolese or towards foreigners — can be a precursor to hate crimes, the situation must be monitored carefully. Likewise, it is necessary to redirect the dialogue between main political actors following the dispute sparked by the review of the electoral legislation, he said, expressing support for the effort of the United Nations in that regard. Turning to the MONUSCO transition process, he said the withdrawal of the Mission from Tanganyika represents progress in line with the exit strategy outlined by Security Council resolutions. It is essential to continue combating illicit arms trafficking, which fuels cycles of violence that have increased in recent months, and which allow armed groups to challenge State authority and MONUSCO’s efforts, he said.

DAI BING (China) said the resurgence of conflict by the M23 group has caused a dramatic increase in civilian casualties and displacement. The countries in the region are part of the same shared security community and need to work together and learn lessons from the past to maintain peace in the region. The Democratic Republic of the Congo should be turned into an engine for regional development and cooperation rather than a catalyst for conflict. China is a good friend to countries in the region, he said, adding he sincerely hoped that the parties will respect each other’s concerns and interests and properly settle their differences through dialogue. He added his support for the efforts of the Presidents of Angola and Kenya to create peace in the area and commended the work of Huang Xia, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, to alleviate tensions in the area. The African Union-endorsed Nairobi solution offers a two-track solution that is political and military. He urged all armed groups to heed the call of the Nairobi process, cease all armed activities and participate in the political dialogue. Voicing support for MONUSCO’s work in helping to stabilize the area, he paid tribute to the peacekeepers who have made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.

ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) condemned the attacks by illegal armed groups against civilians, Congolese units and MONUSCO, noting that the M23 has qualitatively stepped up its capacity to effectively seize territories, including on the border with Uganda. Other illegal groups, and internecine clashes over resource deposits, have led to hundreds of civilian casualties and have driven up numbers of internally displaced persons. She expressed hoped that Congolese armed forces alongside peacekeepers and international partners can gain control and prevent further violence, with a priority on ceasing hostilities and beginning dialogue. Welcoming the Nairobi process and the growing presence of armed group representatives, she called for negotiations to produce improvements - the key to advancing long-term resolution and reconciliation. Regional stakeholders must refrain from hostile rhetoric, she stressed, noting important mediation efforts by the African Union and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. The international community cannot allow a recurrence of violence or backsliding into large-scale hostilities. Kinshasa, with the support of the international community, can stamp out heightened threats and meet State-building objectives, with elections in 2023 representing an important step, she said.

MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) noted that a de-escalation of the conflict is crucial in light of the rising tensions in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Reiterating the urgent need to make progress on the implementation of the disarmament, demobilization, community recovery and stabilization programme, he expressed particular concerns over the situation of women and girls facing the most heightened risks of the deteriorating security situation. Condemning all forms of sexual violence, he affirmed the need to hold perpetrators accountable. To improve the security situation, the principles outlined in the peace, security, and cooperation framework remain essential. Long-term stability also requires tackling the root causes of the conflict, he added, pointing to recent reports by the United Nations which indicate that almost one third of its population is in need of humanitarian relief. Further, the number of forcibly displaced people is increasing. It is imperative to ensure the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers, as well as the safety and security of United Nations personnel and facilities, he said.

ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania), Council President for June, speaking in her national capacity, referred to the new East African Community Force and stressed that any new actor deployed on the ground to fight armed militant groups should operate in close cooperation with MONUSCO. “A solely military solution would be ineffective in eliminating the root causes of conflict,” she warned, calling instead for a dual-track approach as set out in Nairobi. The new community‑driven, decentralized and civilian-led approach should also be geared towards successfully reintegrating former combatants. Noting that relations between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda may affect the enhanced diplomatic outreach between countries of the region, she encouraged both countries to prevent any actions which could provoke further tensions and urged them to engage in sincere dialogue to de‑escalate tensions. She also voiced concern over the numerous foreign groups operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — “and the allegations that several States and actors are, in some way, behind this” — as well as over the actions of armed groups and their devastating impact on civilians.

GEORGES NZONGOLA-NTALAJA (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said that, to date, MONUSCO remains an important partner of his country in its pursuit for peace and stability in the east. As for its mandates, he noted that the most important in a situation of war under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations is the protection of civilians. However, Congolese citizens are not convinced that civilian protection is MONUSCO’s highest priority. Therefore, it is crucial for MONUSCO to work in that regard. If the Mission is not able to be a deterrent on the ground, it will struggle to carry out its mandate, he stressed, calling on the Council to allocate sufficient resources to MONUSCO in order to update its weaponry, provide helicopters, and improve its equipment in general.

Turning to the 2023 elections, he said it appears possible to prepare for a well-organized election process, in light of the authorities’ commitment to improve the electoral system and process, the pre-financing from the central Government and the promise of United Nations support. As for the security situation, he referred to the Nairobi process under the leadership of President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and the African Union initiative to resolve the conflict between President Felix-Antoine Tshisekeditshilombo of his country and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, mediated by President João Lourenço of Angola. He stressed that any outcome depends on the willingness of all sides, as well as pressure from the African Union and the international community to advance the peace and security process ahead.

Pointing to one of the most important actors in the conflict, he said the resurgence of M23 clearly looms large over the security situation. Although it had been defeated by FARDC and the United Nations Intervention Brigade in 2013, M23 resurfaced eight years later in 2021. Today, it has a better arsenal of weapons than MONUSCO and FARDC, and can shoot down military helicopters, terrorizing the North Kivu Province and committing other crimes in the east of the country. He asked: “What explains the reappearance of this group after this long period of absence and who is behind this group?” Moreover, he asked why the international community and the United Nations do not want to associate that group with Rwanda, stressing that its origins are well known.

He went on to say that, for more than 26 years, his countrymen have been massacred and raped in the name of the illicit and mafia-like exploitation of his country’s resources. He called for the respect of the integrity and the intangibility of the borders of his country; condemnation of the criminal aggression of M23 against his country and all its supporters, starting with Rwanda and its President. He stressed that M23 must leave immediately and unconditionally the Congolese territory. Citing other requests, he said all armed groups without exception must lay down their arms and join the demobilization, disarmament, community recovery and stabilization programme.

CLAVER GATETE (Rwanda) said the resurgence of M23 has overshadowed the presence of more than 130 armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, which was founded by the former Government forces and militia that committed the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. His country’s commitment to the protection of civilians is informed by the tragic history of the United Nations failure to prevent and stop the 1994 genocide, he said, calling for a swift and lasting solution to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo to ensure that that tragic history never happens again in the Great Lakes region. In that vein, he drew attention to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s false allegations — especially that Rwanda backs M23 — and the resulting consequences, including hate speech targeting a section of the Congolese population. Any such allegations should be reported to the Joint Verification Mechanism for an independent investigation.

He went on to reject the ongoing propaganda narrative that countries of the region want to “Balkanize” the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, statements which are absurd and without basis, and are only intended to divert attention from complex internal issues. He warned that targeting and killing innocent civilians perceived to be Tutsi may have the effect of driving the targeted populations to join local armed groups for protection. If the hate speech and calls for violence continue, it will exacerbate challenges on the ground and deepen hatred and mistrust. “This will in turn lead to deterioration of the security situation which means that MONUSCO may not successfully fulfil its mandate anytime soon,” he cautioned. In light of ongoing cooperation between the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and non-State armed groups, he called on the Council to ensure that MONUSCO performs due diligence and avoids any military cooperation with that country’s military as long as they are allied with negative forces. He also warned against a “double standard approach” to fighting armed groups.

ZÉPHYRIN MANIRATANGA (Burundi) hailed the courage and commitment of the MONUSCO office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a difficult context and called for greater attention from the international community and the Council in particular. His delegation will spare no effort to promote good‑neighbourly relations with all countries in the subregion so that peace reigns and important issues including climate change and poverty can be tackled. Citing the core principle of African solutions to African problems, he urged for a regional approach to peaceful resolution of conflicts — emphasizing the leadership of the Kenyan President, and aligning his delegation with the Nairobi process, as well as the outcomes of the East Africa Community Summit in Nairobi on 20 May.

He went on to say that such measures favour the regional dimension to dispute management in Africa. The fight against armed groups and local and foreign terrorists in the east, as well as proxy wars that have plagued the east, must remain a priority for the States of the region. Particular attention should be focused on the legitimate demands of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in defence of its sovereignty, as well. He welcomed all efforts made by the United Nations, African Union and the East African Community towards a lasting peace in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Author: MANZI


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