Aware of the worsening situation involving multiple armed groups clashing with Government forces, and each other, a Security Council delegation visited the DRC earlier this month in solidarity with the people of DRC, and to mobilize the United Nations peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in the face of security, electoral and structural challenges.
Abuses by militia
“The intensification of the conflict with the M23 and the persistent activism of other armed groups, including the ADF, Zaire and CODECO, to name a few, continue to inflict intolerable suffering on the civilian population,” the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the DRC, Bintou Keita, told the 15-member Council.
Ms. Keita, who is also the head of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), pointed out that in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri, hundreds of thousands of people have fled abuses by armed groups and clashes between the M23 and the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) but also between CODECO and militants from the Zaire group – which have clashed often over the control of gold mines in the region.
In North Kivu in particular, fighting between M23 rebels and the FARDC have displaced 900,000 people. Humanitarian needs, already immense, “continue to increase.”
“This humanitarian crisis remains one of the most neglected in the world. The displaced populations, which I visited, live in extremely precarious conditions,” she said.
In this context, she called for the mobilization of more resources to properly implement the 2023 humanitarian response plan, which now requires some $2.25 billion.
Ms. Keita also condemned persistent impediments to humanitarian access, including the attack on a United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) helicopter in February, which forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to temporarily suspend flights in conflict zones.
She called on all parties to the conflict “to respect international humanitarian law and facilitate humanitarian access to vulnerable people wherever are.”
Among the displaced, the Special Representative stressed “the particularly precarious situation of women” and considered it imperative to fund the 2023 National Action Plan to Prevent Sexual Exploitation and Abuse to ensure adequate protection for them.
“More than $2 million is needed to support its activities, particularly in areas affected by the M23 crisis. Among the ongoing initiatives, I welcome the creation of a victim support fund and psychological assistance to women set up by the World Health Organization (WHO),” she said.
Deadly year for peacekeepers
Ms. Keita told Council members that in response to these immense security and humanitarian challenges, MONUSCO “works tirelessly in hostile environments to fulfill its mandate,” in particular supporting the Congolese Government for the protection of civilians, as well as the disarmament and demobilization of armed groups and the implementation of security sector reform.
She noted that 2022 was one of the deadliest years on record for MONUSCO peacekeepers, which operates in an “increasingly complex, volatile and dangerous” environment.
The Special Representative recalled that military operations alone will not be sufficient to ensure stability in eastern DRC and she welcomed ongoing regional efforts to find lasting solutions to end the fighting.
She called on the Security Council “to give full weight to these efforts by encouraging the parties to respect their commitments and ensuring that recalcitrant actors are held accountable”.
She noted that tensions between the DRC and Rwanda have continued to rise – over whether M23 rebels are being supported by Rwanda, a charge that Kigali vehemently denies – leading to several cross-border incidents, with these clashes presenting “serious risks of regional escalation”.
Elections in December
Regarding national elections scheduled for December 20 this year, the UN envoy praised the Congolese authorities and the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) “for their determination to meet the deadlines in the face of logistical challenges, but especially in the face of insecurity”.
She noted that in eastern DRC, violence, clashes, and population displacement in areas under M23 control, “constitute serious obstacles to voter registration work,” and in the west, intercommunal violence in Mai-Ndombe province, which has yet to stop, is also hampering the process.
MONUSCO, in partnership with UN agencies, is supporting the electoral process and has responded by already transporting 126 tons of electoral materials for the CENI to North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri.
Ms. Keita praised the efforts of the CENI “which is trying to address the operational challenges of registration through the extension of registration periods”, responding to wrongdoing by any election officials, while also denouncing hate speech.
However, she said the electoral process remains marked by “a worrying lack of trust between the main stakeholders of civil society and the opposition“. She reiterated her call for all Congolese with a stake in the democratic process to work together to ensure peaceful, transparent, credible and inclusive elections in strict compliance with the Constitution and electoral law.
Watch Ms. Keita briefing reporters outside the Security Council following the meeting, below: