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Great Lakes Region (DRC)

Mugunga I and II (in the foreground) and Bulengo (in the background) camps on the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), as seen by the members of a task force comprised of the representatives of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), Disarmament Demobilisation, Repatriation, Resettlement and Reintegration (DDRRR) division, Public Information Officers, the World Bank and the government, during a flight to visit the combatants of the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), to encourage them to disarm and repatriate to Rwanda.

Expected Council Action 

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Huang Xia, is expected to provide the biannual briefing to the Council in October on the implementation of the 2013 Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework (PSC-F) for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes region.

Key Recent Developments

Several regional meetings have taken place since April when Xia last briefed the Council. The Regional Oversight Mechanism (ROM) of the PSC-F held its 11th high-level meeting in Bujumbura, Burundi on 6 May, attended by regional leaders and guarantor institutions of the PSC-F. Participants discussed developments in the Great Lakes region and assessed the progress and challenges in the implementation of the PSC-F ten years after its signing on 24 February 2013 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. According to the meeting’s communiqué, the regional leaders requested the Technical Support Committee (TSC), composed of senior officials of the signatories of the PSC-F, to conduct an independent, frank, and sincere assessment of its implementation. The conclusions and recommendations of this assessment are expected to form part of a roadmap for the revitalisation of the PSC-F, to be submitted to the next high-level meeting of the oversight mechanism in Uganda next year.

On 31 May, regional leaders of the East African Community (EAC) agreed to extend the EAC Regional Force’s (EACRF) mandate for an additional six months, from 8 March to 8 September. (The status of forces agreement (SOFA) was signed between the DRC government and the EAC in September 2022 to enable the deployment of the EACRF for an initial period of six months and negotiations were underway to renew the agreement after it expired in March.) The EACRF was deployed in November 2022 in areas vacated by the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23), an armed group operating in the DRC’s North Kivu province that was dormant in the past decade and became active again in 2022. The force was part of the ongoing regional diplomatic efforts spearheaded by the EAC to address the situation in eastern DRC, known as the Nairobi process. Nevertheless, the Congolese government did not want the EACRF to stay after the end of its initial mandate and had turned its attention towards the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which on 8 May decided to deploy its regional standby force to restore peace and stability in the eastern DRC.

In August, the EAC defence ministers met in Nairobi to assess the progress by the EACRF in restoring stability in its area of deployment and recommended extending its mandate pending the consent of the Congolese government to renew the status of forces agreement. Following the visit to Kinshasa in August by Burundian President Evariste Ndiyishimiye, the current chair of the EAC, the Congolese government softened its stance on the EACRF and signalled its consent to allow the force to stay after the expiry of its mandate on 8 September. Therefore, the EAC leaders met in an extraordinary summit in Nairobi on 5 September on the sidelines of the Africa climate summit hosted by Kenya and decided to extend the EACRF mandate for another three months until 8 December.

Meanwhile, the SADC Troika—consisting of the chairperson (Namibia), the incoming chairperson (Zambia), and the previous chairperson (South Africa) of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence, and Security—held its extraordinary summit virtually on 11 July and approved the mandate for deploying the SADC Mission in DRC (SADCIDRC). According to the Chairperson of the SADC Troika, SADCIDRC was expected to be deployed by 30 September.

Aside from the EAC and SADC, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) has also been involved in regional efforts to address the situation in eastern DRC, known as the Luanda process. On 3 June, the ICGLR held an extraordinary summit in Luanda, Republic of Angola to review the situation in the Great Lakes region, including the eastern DRC. The meeting welcomed the outcome of the 31 May EAC extraordinary summit, recognised the reduction of violence in North Kivu, reiterated the need for local and foreign armed groups to disarm unconditionally, and called on the Congolese government to accelerate the implementation of its Disarmament, Demobilization, Community Reintegration and Stabilization Programme (P-DDRCS).

On 27 June, a Quadripartite Summit of the EAC, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the ICGLR, and the SADC was held in Luanda under the AU’s auspices. Other participants included the DRC, Rwanda, and the UN. The meeting agreed on a joint framework that will seek to promote coherence among the existing initiatives of the four regional mechanisms engaged in the DRC with a clear division of responsibilities and agreed timelines.

On 2 August, the Secretary-General presented his options for reconfiguring the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) pursuant to resolution 2666 of 20 December 2022, which renewed the mission’s mandate. These options were expected to take into account the mission’s role in light of other existing international, regional, and bilateral initiatives in support of the DRC. The Secretary-General proposed an enhanced role for the Office of the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes and the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) to reinforce ongoing regional initiatives. He also proposed a division of labour between MONUSCO and the regional forces to optimise their respective contributions to creating a secure environment. The report (S/2023/574) further indicated the need to adjust MONUSCO’s mandate to enable the mission to leverage its operational and logistical capabilities in support of the EACRF and possibly the SADCIDRC when it is deployed.

Women, Peace and Security

On 14 July, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten briefed the Security Council at its annual open debate on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). She said that, with 701 CRSV violations, the DRC presented the highest number of UN-verified cases of CRSV in 2022. Patten added, however, that thousands more cases of sexual and gender-based violence were reported by UN humanitarian service providers, “including alarming levels of sexual exploitation of children at more than 1,000 sites in and around displacement camps”. Addressing the prevalence of sexual violence perpetrated against women carrying out livelihood activities around the camps, such as searching for food and collecting wood or water, Patten said that “women and girls face an unacceptable choice between economic subsistence and sexual violence and between their livelihoods and their lives”. “How food insecurity increases the risk of exposure to sexual violence” should not be underestimated, she said.

Peacebuilding Commission Developments 

At the Council’s 19 April briefing on the Great Lakes region, the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), Ambassador Ivan Šimonović (Croatia), briefed. He encouraged the Council to emphasise the importance of inclusivity for long-term sustainable peace in the region, including through the participation of women and youth in political and peace processes. Šimonović suggested that the Council support efforts for sustainable and transparent management of natural resources and request international and regional financial institutions to enhance their support for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs. Among other points, he called for the Council to continue to reiterate the importance of a strategic and coherent approach by the UN and stakeholders in the region, “in particular in the context of MONUSCO’s transition”.

Key Issues and Options   

A key issue for Council members is how to revitalise the PSC-F framework to address the root causes of instability in the DRC and the Great Lakes region. They will be keen to follow up on the outcome of the 11th Regional Oversight Mechanism meeting in Bujumbura.

The other related issue is the status of the ongoing regional initiatives—notably the Nairobi and Luanda processes. Council members might be interested in hearing of their progress and challenges in finding a solution to the security situation in eastern DRC. Preparations were ongoing to convene the fourth round of inter-Congolese dialogue under the Nairobi process, but it has not yet happened.

While Council members remain supportive of regional initiatives, they continue to stress that they should be complementary and mutually reinforcing. The outcome of the quadripartite summit may draw their attention in this regard.

The Secretary-General’s report on options for reconfiguring MONUSCO and its relevant recommendations on the enhanced role of the Office of the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes may be of particular interest. In light of the upcoming mandate renewal of MONUSCO in December, Council members might be keen to know what more the Special Envoy’s office can do in support of regional initiatives.

A possible option for Council members is to adopt a presidential statement to react to several developments in the Great Lakes region. The Council last adopted a presidential statement on the region on 20 October 2021.

Council Dynamics  

Council members are broadly supportive of addressing the root causes and drivers of conflict in the Great Lakes region through a comprehensive regional approach. They believe the principles and commitments enshrined in the PSC-F remain relevant and may welcome the outcome of the 11th meeting of the regional oversight mechanism, including the decision to reinvigorate PSC-F. Council members continue to emphasise the need to respect international humanitarian law and human rights law and promote accountability and justice.

Council members also highlight the need to address the illegal exploitation of natural resources, which is fuelling the conflict in eastern DRC. They support the implementation of the UN Strategy for Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention, and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region, which was developed by the Office of the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes. One of the key priorities of the strategy is promoting sustainable and transparent management of natural resources as well as trade and investment.

Source: Security Council Report