The head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) today expressed disappointment at a recent decision taken by national authorities to suspend the transmissions of Radio Okapi, a radio station backed by the world body.
"This is particularly unfortunate given the current very sensitive and difficult situation in North Kivu province," said the Secretary-General's Special Representative and head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), Roger Meece.
"Radio Okapi is broadcasting essential messages to the population with appeals for calm by religious and other leaders, communication regarding a city curfew by provincial government authorities, and other essential information," he added in a MONUSCO news release. "We find the timing and lack of notification by the CSAC puzzling and regrettable. We will be registering an official protest of this action with Congolese authorities."
The DRC's Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel et de la Communication (CSAC) took the decision on the suspension on 30 November.
Radio Okapi is a partnership between MONUSCO and the Hirondelle Foundation, a Swiss non-governmental organization, and it has the largest Francophone audience in sub-Saharan Africa.
The station first went on the air ten years ago with the aim of contributing to the consolidation of peace in the DRC through the free flow of information. It broadcasts daily in five languages, including the country's four national languages. Most of its programming is in French. Currently, an estimated one third of the DRC's population tunes in to Radio Okapi daily.
The decision to suspend Radio Okapi was not communicated either to Radio Okapi nor MONUSCO, according to the peacekeeping mission. However, MONUSCO was able to obtain a copy of the CSAC written decree which cites a dispute over the submission of programme scheduling to the CSAC as the basis for this decision.
"Given the seriousness of the security situation in Goma, the Special Representative took the decision to use alternate means to ensure continued and intermediate transmission of Radio Okapi in North Kivu," MONUSCO noted in a news release.
The province of North Kivu, in the eastern DRC, has been the site of upheaval and a humanitarian crisis recently, with the occupation of its capital city, Goma, by the 23 March Movement (M23) armed group, composed of soldiers who mutinied in April from the DRC national army, known by the French acronym FARDC.
Monitored by MONUSCO peacekeepers, M23 fighters withdrew from the city over the weekend, in line with requirements laid out in a communiqué of a regional group, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). The communiqué also restricted the M23 outside of the 20 kilometre zone around Goma and called on them to cease all military activity while a long-lasting solution continues to be worked on.
The M23 occupation of Goma, which came after a steady advance over preceding days and included clashes with the FARDC, drew widespread condemnation and calls for the fighters' immediate withdrawal, including from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council.
It also caused a humanitarian emergency, with tens of thousands of people uprooted amidst armed clashes and reports of targeted summary executions, the widespread recruitment and use of children, unconfirmed cases of sexual violence, and other serious human rights abuses.
In the news release, MONUSCO added that all members of the UN system in the DRC remain "fully committed to addressing urgently the humanitarian and security needs of the population in North Kivu, providing full support to achieving a resolution of the threat posed by M23 military actions as rapidly as possible, and establishment more broadly of long-term peace and security for the people of North Kivu and the region."