The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is unified with a “clear, shared and celebrated” identity, the top United Nations envoy there told the Security Council today, as he briefed on the latest developments in the vast African nation.
“It is no longer at war, neither in transition. It is a proud nation,” said Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUSCO). “When [the original mission in the country] MONUC arrived, some 15 years ago, the country was socially, economically and politically shattered. When MONUC arrived, the country was at civil war.”
Mr. Kobler, who was joined in briefing the Council by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Said Djinnit, described the Government’s efforts to restore security, saying it had succeeded in freeing a large amount of territory from armed groups, which were now limited to the country’s eastern provinces.
“The overall security situation however is still not stable, let alone irreversible,” he said. “Many still live in fear of rape, fear of attack, fear of being robbed of already meagre possessions. This fear affects every aspect of daily life.”
He said more work was needed to reduce the threat from armed groups and violence against civilians to a level that can be effectively managed by Congolese institutions and to achieve stability through the establishment of functional, professional, accountable State institutions and strengthened democratic practices.
“Our combined efforts against the ADF, like the operations against the M23 two years ago, has forged a bond between the FARDC [national army] and MONUSCO soldiers: they are now brothers in arms,” said Mr. Kobler, stressing that the FDLR remained the biggest threat to peace and security in the Great Lakes region and stressing the need for joint efforts to tackle that threat.
Mr. Kobler noted that FARDC officers who had formerly commanded units with a credible history of human rights violations were brought in and the UN was forced to suspend participation in and support for operations under their command.
“The decision to suspend support is upholding indisputable values enshrined in the protection of human rights,” he said. “We want to support the fight against the FDLR and implement our human rights policy. We do not want to choose between fighting the FDLR or upholding human rights.”
He said he knew that the Government and President Kabila had a zero-tolerance policy on human rights violations, adding that he was confident that appropriate action would be taken to remedy the “unfortunate situation” soon.
Tackling the FDLR also required a well-functioning demobilization and repatriation process and effective extension of State authority, he said, underscoring the need for non-military initiatives against the FDLR.
“There is no purely military solution to the problem of the FDLR,” he said. “Surrendered FDLR elements are still in the camps of Kanyabayonga, Walungu and Kisangani where they maintain intact a perfectly well functioning military structure. A few FDLR combatants have disarmed, yes, but their demobilization has not yet started, let alone their repatriation.”
As he stressed the need to build an atmosphere of confidence and trust between the Government and MONUSCO, he said the two were aligned on goals, including the wellbeing of the population, bringing an end to violence in the east and the eventual departure of the Mission.
“With more security in more places, the time will come for MONUSCO to begin its gradual drawdown,” he said. “As I have always said: MONUC entered through the west, MONUSCO will exit through the east. MONUSCO will not stay in the DRC forever. We look forward to the day when MONUSCO can leave Congo, with continuing development support transferred to our colleagues in the UN Country Team.”
To ensure that peace was sustainable and that the persistent cycle of violence was disrupted, it was vital to address the root causes of the conflict. One area of focus was on natural resources crime and a task force was working to help safe guard the natural wealth of DRC for future generations. It would also work to address the underpinnings of conflict.
Citing figures on the value of illegal natural resources exploitation in eastern DRC of $1 billion per year, he added that up to 98 per cent of the net profits from illegal natural resources exploitation – mainly gold, charcoal and timber – go to transnational organized criminal networks, as opposed to funding rebel groups.
“How many hospitals could be built if illegal trade would become legal? How many kilometres of road rehabilitated? How many teachers paid?” he asked. “The objective is clear: Turning gold into taxes; turning taxes into schools; turning schools into a prosperous future.”
He also looked ahead to upcoming elections, welcoming the publication of the global electoral calendar and adding that all parties were responsible for ensuring an atmosphere conducive to achieving peaceful elections. He also expressed concern about the recent arrests of several dozen civil society actors.
“The region remains at a crossroads,” Mr. Djinnit told the Council. “Despite notable progress, significant challenges remain to be addressed to achieve the goals in the framework agreement.”
Armed groups had to be neutralised and relations between the countries in the region had to be improved to remove misunderstandings and suspicions, he said, adding that he was keen to support rapprochement to foster a climate of cooperation. In addition, the region was in a “crucial electoral cycle” that would make a major contribution to strengthening democracy and stability.
Over and above those goals, he said it was essential to deal with the deep-seated instability in the DRC. He promised that his office would contribute to all initiatives already underway, prioritising action to achieve sustainable solutions on citizenship and property.
He underlined the importance of civil society and women in implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework – signed by Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, DRC, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania – which encompasses commitments at the national, regional and international levels to bring peace and stability to the eastern DRC and the region, and he called for the continued engagement of the Security Council on the issue.
“We have seen considerable progress in overcoming the tragedies of the past,” he said. “But we are yet to achieve irreversible progress.”