Permanent Representative Defends Law Enforcement as Peacekeeping Chief Cites Government Personnel for Widespread Rights Violations
Several Security Council members insisted today that the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo hold free, fair, and inclusive elections by the end of the year and without further delay, as the head of United Nations peacekeeping briefed them on the situation in that country.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, painted a grim picture of the situation on the ground, saying that overcoming the current political impasse, rising insecurity and worsening humanitarian conditions would require the concerted effort of the Government in Kinshasa as well as regional and international actors.
He was presenting the Secretary-General’s reports on implementation of the political agreement of 31 December 2016 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (document S/2017/435), and on the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (document S/2017/565). He expressed concern that implementation of the 31 December political agreement — which sets out a blueprint for the country’s peaceful transition of power through democratic elections by the end of 2017 — had stalled, and that critical institutions, essential to holding elections, had still not been established. Fighting and violence continued at disturbing levels and the number of displaced people, now well into the millions, continued to rise.
Human rights violations remained widespread, some even perpetrated by Government forces, he continued, emphasizing the vital role of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Through a combination of human rights monitoring and political outreach, the Mission was helping to restore a measure of stability wherever it could. While encouraged by President Joseph Kabila’s assurances of his determination to ensure that crimes would not go unpunished, he emphasized that such statements must be followed by action. The level of cooperation that Kinshasa would provide to the team of international investigators appointed by the Human Rights Council would be a test of its commitment to accountability.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of the United States said the Congolese people deserved to have their voices heard. The United States would take action to sanction anybody who stood in the way of the transition to democracy, she warned, emphasizing: “The election must not be delayed.” Those responsible for undermining peace and security in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must be held accountable, she added, underlining the international community’s narrow window of opportunity to exert pressure on the Congolese Government to stand by its commitments.
Several Council members also stressed the need to move forward with election preparations, with France’s representative calling upon the authorities to publish an electoral schedule, as stipulated in the 31 December political agreement. The United Kingdom’s representative pointed out that political uncertainty in Kinshasa was fuelling violent instability across the country and threatening the wider region.
The recent spate of violence in the Kasaï provinces was particularly worrisome, Council members stressed, with Bolivia’s speaker noting with concern the 1,400 human rights violations that had occurred between March and May. Armed groups had recruited more than 500 children, and 600 cases of sexual violence had been recorded since August 2016. “This type of violence should not go unpunished,” he emphasized. Japan’s representative, noting that the Catholic Church had reported 3,300 killings in Kasaï since last October, urged the Council to monitor whether MONUSCO’s current posture was sufficient to ensure dynamic protection of civilians.
Council members also voiced support for the international investigation mandated by the Human Rights Council, urging the Congolese Government to offer its full cooperation. No stone should be left unturned in efforts to deliver justice in the murder of United Nations experts Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp, Sweden’s representative stressed.
Responding, the representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said the investigation into the killing of the United Nations experts was under way, and the Government would conduct it in a transparent manner. He added that 11 suspects had been arrested, eight of whom had been identified as having played a direct role in the two murders. He also expressed surprise at the virulence of the Council’s criticism of his country’s law-enforcement agencies, insisting they had not committed abuses. The Government condemned abuse and had adopted measures to punish perpetrators, he emphasized.
Turning to the elections, he said efforts were under way to update the voter register and 13 of the country’s 26 provinces had been covered. However, operations had not yet begun in Kasaï and Kasaï-central due to insecurity created by the Kamwina Nsapu militia. However, the Electoral Commission had registered 33 million of an expected 45 million voters, he added, stressing that the polls required the participation of all provinces. “We cannot envisage the conduct of such critical presidential elections while excluding the Kasaï provinces,” he said, stressing that the results must be credible. “We need to avoid unrest.”
As for security, he said some 1,700 militia members had laid down their arms and received reintegration kits from the Government. In response to MONUSCO’s claim of having discovered seven mass graves, he said only one body had been discovered in one alleged grave, while a 12-calibre weapon had been found in the second.
Also speaking today were representatives of Uruguay, Kazakhstan and Italy.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 11:20 a.m.
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said the number of people displaced by violence in Kasaï had now reached 1.3 million, also expressing concern that critical institutions had still not been established six months before elections were due to take place at the end of 2017, and that implementation of the political agreement of 31 December 2016 had stalled. The Government also required strong Council support to address challenges amid persistent instability, particularly in the east and west of the country.
He went on to state that in North Kivu Province, in particular, Mayi-Mayi groups, among others, had recently conducted raids against FARDC positions. Clashes between ethically-based militias in North Kivu continued, while armed groups in South Kivu Province had been increasingly involved in conflicts related to customary succession, and others concerning intercommunal and transhumance-related disputes. Additionally, the conflicts in neighbouring Burundi and South Sudan had been spilling over into the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s eastern Ituri and South Kivu provinces, he noted.
The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), he said, continued to support the FARDC in operations against the Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri (FRPI) in Ituri, and against the Lord’s Resistance Party (LRA) in Haut-Uele. The Mission was also supporting local and community dialogue efforts in North and South Kivu, as well as in Maniema and Tanganyika provinces. That approach was grounded in the conviction that although military efforts might sometimes be necessary, only a political solution could effectively address the root causes of the various conflicts.
Yet, the violence in western Democratic Republic of the Congo had reached disturbing levels, he emphasized, noting that the Kamuina Nsapu militia had targeted and killed dozens of people and attacked voter-registration centres, schools and religious institutions. Through a combination of human rights monitoring and political outreach, he continued, MONUSCO was helping to restore a measure of stability wherever it could, but despite its efforts, disturbing daily reports of human rights abuses and violations continued. Dozens of mass graves had been reported, but, so far, national investigation efforts had been slow.
He went on to emphasize the determination of the United Nations to ensure that those responsible for the killing of Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán were brought to justice. While encouraged by President Joseph Kabila’s assurances about his determination to ensure that crimes committed in the Kasaï provinces would not go unpunished, he underlined that such statements must be followed by action. The level of cooperation and support that the Government would provide to the team of international investigators appointed by the Human Rights Council would be a test of its commitment to accountability, he stressed. The current political impasse, rising insecurity, and the worsening human rights and humanitarian situation in the country required a concerted response from its regional and international partners that must help to create the conditions for a successful transition and for free, fair and inclusive elections.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) emphasized that elections must be held in fewer than six months, and pressed the Government to reaffirm its commitment to uphold the 31 December agreement. The organization of elections, establishment of the national follow-up council and implementation of confidence-building measures were critical. Noting that there had been registration delays in Kasaï and Kinshasa, he called on the authorities to publish an electoral schedule, as stipulated in the 31 December political agreement. Increasing violence in the west required attention, especially in Kasaï, where fighting had reached an unbearable level, he said, adding that he was equally troubled by instability elsewhere that had inflamed intercommunal tensions. Urging belligerents to lay down their weapons, he said the authorities must investigate violations and hold perpetrators accountable before the judiciary. He also urged the Government to cooperate with the international mission of experts deployed by the Human Rights Council, stressing that MONUSCO must focus on protecting civilians and providing support for the 31 December agreement.
STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) said people in Kasaï were facing “the darkest moments of their lives” amid mass killings, beheadings, mass graves, displacement and reports that Government security forces were responsible. When faced with hell, people should be able look to the Government with hope, which could not be said for those in Kasaï, he said, noting that militias were also responsible for rapes, killings and recruiting children. The international investigation mandated by the Human Rights Council must start as soon as possible and be conducted with transparency, he emphasized, urging the Government to offer its full cooperation. Meanwhile political uncertainty in Kinshasa was fuelling violent instability across the country, threatening the wider region, he said, pressing the Government to stop the violence, ensure accountability for abuses and implement the 31 December political agreement. The Electoral Commission must release a timetable for the polls and agree a budget so that international funds could be released, he said.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said that, as a contributor of personnel to MONUSCO, his country’s Government was concerned about the slow implementation of the 31 December 2016 political agreement and the adverse trends in various parts of the country. The political agreement remained the only viable solution to the ongoing violence and its implementation should be the Government’s main focus, he emphasized. Expressing concern about negative trends, primarily in the areas of security and human rights, he said there was increasing violence among ethnic communities and in urban areas, noting that a staggering number of civilians had been forced to flee their homes. Expressing concern about human rights violations, particularly against women and children, he said it was disconcerting to hear that half of the violence was committed by State officers. It was the Government’s responsibility to respect, and ensure respect, for human rights, he said, underlining that the national authorities must begin investigations to ensure that the crimes did not go unpunished.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said the implementation of the 31 December political agreement must be supported by regional and international actors. He condemned attacks against civilians, including gender-based violence, emphasizing: “All armed groups must drop their weapons and cease all forms of violence.” Calling upon the Government to neutralize all armed groups, he said the scale of human rights violations against children had reached its highest peaks in recent years. The Government had a responsibility to bring criminals to account, he stressed, noting also that the economic situation continued to undermine humanitarian efforts.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said all signatories must implement the 31 December political agreement, thereby paving the way for free, peaceful and credible elections — the only way out of the humanitarian, economic and security crisis. He also encouraged strong, continuous engagement by regional actors, stressing that MONUSCO’s mandate, with its focus on supporting the political process, compelled the United Nations to act strategically. There was a need for consultations with the Secretariat to ensure the Mission’s ability to fulfil its tasks, he added. Concerning the killing of United Nations experts Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp, he emphasized that no stone should be left unturned in efforts to deliver justice in that case. Sweden, in cooperation with the Secretary-General, would continue to explore how the United Nations could support ongoing national investigations to establish the truth and bring the perpetrators to justice, he said, suggesting an additional investigative mechanism as one option.
RENÉ ERNESTO FERNÁNDEZ REVOLLO (Bolivia) said violence by armed groups affected civilians and had led to clashes between communities, adding that the worsening humanitarian situation included 1,400 human rights violations between March and May. In Kasaï, armed groups had recruited more than 500 children and 600 cases of sexual violence had been recorded since August 2016, alongside reports of human trafficking. Condemning and calling for the investigation of any sexual exploitation or abuse, he said: “This type of violence should not go unpunished.” There were 1.3 million displaced people in Kasaï, and 3.8 million throughout the country, he said, noting that some 400,000 children under the age of five years suffered from malnutrition, while attacks by armed groups on hospitals and medical centres fuelled the humanitarian crisis. MONUSCO must step up efforts to neutralize armed groups and protect civilians, including by improving early-warning systems, he said. Moreover, the 31 December political agreement was the road map for organizing elections, he noted, expressing concern that no oversight mechanisms had been established. There was also a need for inclusive dialogue that would consider the views of all stakeholders, he said.
MICHELE J. SISON (United States) said the United Nations and the wider international community had worked tirelessly for years to bring peace to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Commending the efforts of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), she said the United States would remain committed to ensuring that it fulfilled its mandate. In the same vein, the Congolese people must be empowered to have their voices heard through the upcoming elections, she said, emphasizing: “The election must not be delayed.” Warning that the United States would take action to sanction anybody who stood in the way of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s first transition to democracy, she underlined that those responsible for undermining peace and security in the country must be held accountable. The return to horrific violence must be disturbing for the Council, she said, noting that hundreds, if not thousands, of children had been forced to join armed groups. Noting that such occurrences reflected an absence of State authority, she emphasized that the bottom line was clear: the United States supported holding elections on time, and with a narrow window of opportunity to pressure the Government to stand by its commitment; “we cannot let history to repeat itself”.
ANDREA BIAGINI (Italy) said the spill-over effect of violence from the Democratic Republic of the Congo into neighbouring countries must not be taken lightly. All perpetrators of violence must be held accountable for their actions. The focus of all parties must now be on leading the country towards democratic and transparent elections, he said, welcoming efforts to speed up election preparations. Italy would continue to support MONUSCO, he pledged, noting that the Mission played a vital role in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) expressed deep concern over the situation, and regret that little progress had been made in implementation of the 31 December political agreement. With prospects for the timely holding of elections uncertain, Japan was concerned that the Electoral Commission would be unable to hold the polls by the end of the end of 2017. The Council must send a clear message that the political agreement must be implemented swiftly, he emphasized. He expressed support for MONUSCO, noting that it had relocated personnel to the country’s western and southern regions so as to better respond to challenges. Noting that the Catholic Church had reported 3,300 killings in Kasaï since last October, he said the Council should monitor whether the Mission’s current posture was sufficient to ensure dynamic protection of civilians.
IGNACE GATA MAVITA WA LUFUTA (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said that, due to the lack of flexibility and concessions on the part of the Rassemblement des forces politiques et sociales, the nomination of Government members had been delayed. The same attitude had prevailed during the signing of arrangements, which had delayed the creation of the council tasked with monitoring the follow-up to implementation of the 31 December political agreement (National Follow-up Council). A preparatory meeting of that Council on 3 July had included members of the presidential majority, opposition signatories to the 18 October accord, elements of the Rassemblement, and those affiliated with the late opposition leader Félix Tshisekedi, he said. A second meeting involving the same individuals would focus on validating the mandates of members and drawing up internal rules of procedures.
Turning to the elections, he said work was under way to update the voter register and 13 of the country’s 26 provinces had been covered. However, operations were yet to start in Kasaï and Kasaï-Central due to insecurity created by the Kamwina Nsapu militia. The Electoral Commission’s offices had been set ablaze, and where the situation had cooled down, new materials were being distributed. Registration was set to begin on 20 July in the two provinces, he said, emphasizing the importance for those who had fled to return home and participate in order to demonstrate greater civic mindedness. Furthermore, political stakeholders and the international community should avoid rhetoric that could rekindle tensions. Noting that the Electoral Commission had registered 33 million of an expected 45 million voters, he emphasized that all provinces must participate in the polls. “We cannot envisage the conduct of such critical presidential elections while excluding the Kasaï provinces,” he said, stressing that the results must be credible. “We need to avoid unrest.”
On the security front, he said the Government was aware of the troubling situation in the two Kasaï provinces and the army was working to restore order and eradicate armed groups. Some 1,700 militia members had laid down their arms and received reintegration kits from the Government, while 138 children had left the ranks of those armed groups and been handed over to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and MONUSCO. Regarding the alleged involvement of Government troops in violations, he said “marginal elements” in the army had committed atrocities against civilians in Muanza Lomba and had been condemned by a military tribunal.
Proceedings also were also under way to investigate the murders of the two United Nations experts, he added, emphasizing that the Government would conduct the investigation in a transparent manner, and welcomed the request the United States that it participate in the investigation through the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Congolese authorities were also ready to work with Sweden if so requested, he added, noting that 11 suspects had been arrested, eight of whom had been identified as having played a direct role in the murders.
He went on to express surprise at the virulence of Council members’ attacks on the country’s law enforcement forces, saying they had not perpetrated abuses. The Government condemned abuse and had adopted measures to punish perpetrators, he emphasized. Responding to comments about violence in the Kasaï provinces, he explained that when militias attacked law-enforcement officers, the latter were then accused of taking part in beheadings. “How would your law-enforcement officers react?” he asked. “We need to avoid double standards here.” He reassured the Council that justice would be delivered for the two United Nations experts, the four Congolese who had accompanied them and all compatriots victimized by the Kamwina Nsapu militia.
In response to MONUSCO’s claims of having discovered seven mass graves, he said only one body had been found in one alleged grave, adding that a 12-calibre weapon had been discovered in the second. It was important that the authorities establish their existence, although they had been announced “with great fanfare”. Most refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were from neighbouring countries, he said, pointing out the existence of numerous foreign armed groups. A regional approach to the situation was critical. MONUSCO had yet to see the reduction of 3,600 “Blue Helmets”, he said, adding that the same had been true of making the Force Intervention Brigade operational, which had only happened after current troops had been replaced with more seasoned units better equipped to tackle the asymmetric war.