Situation in Democratic Republic of the Congo - Security Council Open VTC

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25-Jun-2020 02:11:13
COVID-19 exacerbating tensions in Democratic Republic of the Congo’s coalition government, compounding humanitarian woes, Stabilization Mission head warns Security Council.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced an additional layer of complexity and concern to the existing issues facing the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including serious tensions within the governing coalition, ongoing humanitarian crises and more violence in the east of the country, the Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) told the Security Council during a 25 June video conference meeting.

Leila Zerrougui, introducing the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (document S/2020/554), asked Council members for their continued support for MONUSCO and the wider United Nations presence in the country, as they consider a possible phased withdrawal of the Mission after its current mandate expires on 20 December.

She said that the coalition Government — comprising President Félix Tshisekedi’s Cap pour le Changement and former President Joseph Kabila’s Front commun pour le Congo — is understandably focused on the novel coronavirus outbreak. With help from MONUSCO, the authorities have taken several measures to limit the spread of the virus and ease its socioeconomic impact. “This necessary work has nonetheless slowed the pace of the Government’s programme and reform agenda,” she said, speaking just hours after Kinshasa announced the end of a 23‑month Ebola outbreak in the east that claimed 2,287 lives. She believed that the political leadership understands that keeping the coalition intact is fundamental for overcoming a wide array of governance, security and socioeconomic challenges. She emphasized that she will spare no effort, through her good offices, to remind interlocutors that progress depends on the readiness of all actions to put aside partisanship to avoid a political crisis that could have major consequences on the country’s stability.

Meanwhile, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to be torn by violence caused by armed groups and intercommunity conflict as political turmoil and the pandemic impact the Government’s ability to respond, she said. In parts of Ituri Province, which borders on South Sudan and Uganda, attacks by assailants associated with the Walendu community have led Hema and Alur youth to form self‑defence groups, sparking fears of a further ethnicization of tensions. Reports of incursions by elements of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces are also raising concerns. In North Kivu, presumed members of the Allied Democratic Forces ambushed a MONUSCO convoy on 22 June, leaving an Indonesian peacekeeper dead and another wounded. In the hauts plateaux of South Kivu, intercommunity conflicts have degenerated, she said, condemning attacks on displaced populations and the use of hate speech. Meanwhile, in Tanganyika Province, more than 100 civilians have been killed in clashes between Twa and Bantu in recent months, she added.

In response, MONUSCO is taking a comprehensive approach that includes troop deployments in hotspot areas to protect civilians and large-scale logistical support to Government forces, known as the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC). The security forces need the international community’s full support to improve their logistical, training and operational capacities, she said, adding that security sector reform must remain a Government priority. She went on to explain that MONUSCO and the United Nations country team are supporting the Government’s reconciliation work in post-conflict areas. For example, the Mission is looking to enhance cooperation with the World Bank and others to assist economic development and social cohesion in the southern Kasai provinces. Implementation of such transition programming is crucial for ensuring an environment that would enable a responsible, sustainable exit for MONUSCO, she said, underscoring the role that the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are playing, as well.

“The good collaboration with the Presidency, Government and other authorities greatly facilitates MONUSCO’s work to accompany the country on its path towards long‑term stabilization,” she said, emphasizing that the opportunity for long-term progress can pave the way for the Mission’s withdrawal in the coming years. While COVID-19 restrictions and increased violence in the east have hampered efforts to hold a structured dialogue with the Government as requested by the Council, the Mission is pursuing its internal planning and hopes to build on its constructive relationship with Kinshasa to develop a joint strategy “as soon as the context becomes more conducive”. In that sense, she asked the Council to continue to support for the Mission and the full range of United Nations activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including help to curb the spread of the coronavirus and to respond to the many humanitarian emergencies still facing the population.

Jamal Usseni Jamael, Managing Director of the non-governmental organization Save Act Mine, described the context in which the illicit mining of natural resources takes place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the eastern part of the country, which is rich in gold deposits, important — and largely informal — artisanal mining activities have gone on for decades. There is also significant illicit cross-border gold trafficking between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbours, including Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, United Republic of Tanzania and Kenya.

Since 1996, he said, that eastern zone has experienced several wars, including the so-called "liberation" wars led by the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo and other groups, and with support from Rwanda and Uganda. A semblance of peace emerged before being disrupted once again between 2004 and 2013, when groups including the 23 March Movement (M23) became active. Other ruthless militias in the area, including the Mai Mai and the Raia Mutomboki, have also raped and beheaded women and children, justifying their actions with identity-based claims and seeking to gain territorial control over mine-rich areas. Their strategy has also included using local and foreign economic actors to conduct business between the occupied areas and the armed group's sponsor countries, as well as collecting taxes from local mine operators.

He recalled that, in an effort to end those armed conflicts, the Council adopted resolution 1952 (2010) and the United States reinforced it through laws requiring companies listed on the stock exchange to exercise due diligence on their mineral supply chains. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region launched the Regional Initiative for Natural Resources to combat the illicit trade in minerals in the region. At the national level, the Democratic Republic of the Congo launched a process of qualifying and validating mining sites, focused on the traceability of minerals. Meanwhile, the European Union drafted a regulation on minerals from conflict or high-risk zones, which is expected to come into force in 2021.

He said that, while those synergistic actions have had a largely positive impact on the trade in stanniferous minerals — coltan, tin and tungsten — they have not reduced the trade in gold, which remains a secure source of funding for armed groups. Approximately 29 per cent of gold mines in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo are under the direct control of local and foreign armed groups, and even mines that are not under such control feed illicit trafficking networks to East African countries. He outlined several important illicit trade routes, noting that, in the country’s extreme north-east, gold produced in the Bafwasende, Buta and Ituri Provinces flows to Kampala and Nairobi. Gold produced in the Baraka corridor finds its way to Dar‑es‑Salaam.

Against that backdrop, he said the solution lies in implementing responsible supply chains that respect due diligence and the traceability of gold. Among other things, that will require political will, an improvement in the context of the gold trade and a change in the volume-to-value ratio of gold which facilitates smuggling. Noting that the export of large quantities of gold from Uganda, Rwanda and other regional countries violates resolution 1952 (2010), Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD) rules and the region’s mineral certification scheme, he said peace in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will remain elusive as long as armed groups continue to exploit the region’s gold.

He called for a holistic approach including lowering taxes for artisanal gold at the national level; activating justice mechanisms against national and foreign gold traffickers; engaging the Central Bank of the Congo in the purchase of artisanal gold; and establishing responsible supply chains. Mine geophysical footprint analysis can be integrated into the region’s origin certification scheme. Meanwhile, at the international level, he called for a sanctions mechanism against illicit gold traffickers in the eastern part of the country. “Gold can be traded in other ways, without shedding innocent blood,” he concluded.

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