Painting a troubling picture of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where an ever-growing number of violent, destructive rebel groups was battling for territory while terrorizing local populations, the top United Nations official in the country appealed to the Security Council today urgently to consider authorizing an additional military brigade to help the overstretched peacekeeping mission there deal with a "daunting array" of challenges.
Briefing the Council, Roger Meece, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, said that, while certain elements of the situation were encouraging - such as the continuing relative organizational weakness of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) - he regretted to report that the general security situation in the east continued to deteriorate.
Mr. Meece, who also heads the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), said the attention of both the Congolese authorities and the international community had focused mostly on the mutiny originally started by Bosco Ntaganda and now widely known as the M23 rebellion. "This attention is well merited," he added, explaining that the consequences of the rebellion, arising both from direct actions by M23 forces and the indirect effects throughout North Kivu and neighbouring provinces, represented "the most serious security threats to stability in the region in general, and to the population in particular", since he had taken up his duties two years ago.
"I must underscore again [...] that our forces and our resources are stretched very thin over a broad area," he continued, warning that as new threats emerged in other areas, including Maniema and Katanga provinces, "we have a very limited opportunity to respond to them". A broad range of regional and international efforts were under way in regard to "this daunting array of issues", most especially the threats posed by the M23, FDLR, Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADDF) and other armed groups in North and South Kivu. They included the regional peace framework initiative spearheaded by the Secretary-General's office, and talks in Kampala under the general coordination of Uganda, as Chair of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICLGR).
Yet there were two particularly important pending initiatives with a direct potential impact on MONUSCO's activities that should be considered, he emphasized. The first proposed to add an unmanned aerial vehicle surveillance capability to MONUSCO, he said, expressing his personal thanks and appreciation to the Council for its support of that proposal, and assuring the 15-member body that the Mission was moving forward with the relevant New York offices to ensure deployment of the aircraft at the earliest possible time.
The other important initiative was the widely discussed proposal for an additional brigade equipped with peace-enforcement authorization beyond the traditional United Nations peacekeeping mandate, he said. "From my perspective, it has become increasingly clear that MONUC, now MONUSCO, has long operated consistent with a traditional UN peacekeeping model developed and based on a post-conflict environment," he said. Unfortunately, as recent events had underscored anew, the environment in which the Mission now operated "is much more and too often one of active conflict".
Seeking to adapt a post-conflict peacekeeping model to that context had not been particularly satisfactory, he continued, stressing that a peace-enforcement capability on the ground was necessary to help achieve the conditions suited to the establishment of a durable peace in the area. As a specific proposal for that prospective force was finalized, probably using forces to be provided by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), he would strongly encourage the Council to give serious consideration to its requirements, and, it was to be hoped, provide the necessary support and authorization for its deployment at the earliest time possible. "I believe this represents an urgently needed and important response to the existing situation on the ground, especially in North and South Kivu," he said.
Providing additional details on the security situation, he said that, while there had been a general pause in M23 offensive operations since the group's temporary occupation of the provincial capital, Goma, in late 2012, it had continued to consolidate its own administrative structures in the portion of North Kivu under its control. There had been widespread reports of violence and threats of violence against authorities or others who attempted to resist M23 authority. Furthermore, MONUSCO continued to receive many reports of the group's continuing recruitment of new fighters, including by force, and widespread recruitment of minors.
"We have also observed that the M23 has maintained significant military positions just outside the city of Goma, in violation of the Kampala agreement reached last year," he continued. They included well-placed firing positions on the Munigi Heights, which put the Goma airport within firing range. Noting that there had been no evidence to date of any general pullback by M23 forces, or a significant change in their general military posture, he said the group maintained the appearance of being well supplied, well provisioned and well armed. It also continued to conduct patrols and to stage other operations in the immediate vicinity of Goma.
He went on to emphasize that in recent weeks, those patrols had provoked increased fears and rumours of an imminent resumption of large-scale military action. "The overall situation is volatile and precarious, and could break down at any time into a large-scale conflict without much, or any, prior warning," he emphasized. In the meantime, the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) were maintaining some 650 troops in Goma, in accordance with the Kampala agreement. Their headquarters in the region had been re-established in an area south of Sake, he said, adding that a renewed Congolese police presence had been established in Goma, with the support and collaboration of MONUSCO, which had been maintaining order despite a shortage of arms, vehicles and other resources since the M23 occupation. Besides the three-way security arrangement at Goma airport stipulated in the Kampala agreement, MONUSCO had maintained overall control of the airport from the time of the occupation until the present.
Meanwhile, the Mission continued to witness a general increase in Congolese militia activity throughout the province, he continued. Whether by design or simply circumstance, the continuing clashes between armed groups had assumed the character of proxy battles. For example, in the very volatile area around Pinga in North Kivu, there had been clashes between Mayi Mayi Cheka, with Cheka having shifted from collaborating with Congolese national forces to cooperating with the M23 and the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS), a militia now sharing anti-M23 objectives with the Congolese army. Other armed confrontations were occurring regularly and involved a number of other groups, including the FDLR, Rayi Mutumboki, Nyatura, FCD, Mayi Mayi Shetani and others.
He went on to say that inter-community ethnic tensions had heightened sharply since the start of the M32 rebellion, and the sporadic clashes and ongoing friction between factions had contributed to a general situation of instability, an overall degradation of security conditions and a state of "quasi-permanent threat" to much of the province's population. While the M23 had been unable to establish any significant support outside its occupied area in North Kivu, despite its repeated attempts to do so, South Kivu had seen a general rise in militia activity, increasing insecurity in the northern portion of North Kivu, and ongoing strife in Ituri District, all facilitated by security voids and the authorities' general preoccupation with the M23 threat. The general uptick in insecurity included activities by the ADF, based in northern North Kivu Province, although it was unclear whether their presence was a coincidence or if it represented a longer-term trend.
While citing widespread reports of killings, sexual violence, child recruitment and various other serious violence and human rights abuses "in essentially all areas" of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said there were nevertheless "two relative brighter spots" on the general security front. One was the continuing weakness of the FDLR and its apparent inability to rebuild or reinforce its general capabilities. There had also been a general and major reduction in the number of FDLR fighters processed for repatriation since a peak of 141 in March 2012, just before the outbreak of the M23 rebellion.
That result was associated with the then-ongoing joint operations in South Kivu, he continued, noting that the numbers had since fallen considerably. Despite an "unusual surge" in January of 66 repatriated Rwandan FDLR combatants, only 19 repatriations had been recorded, as of 15 February, apparently indicating a return to the generally low repatriation levels of late 2012. "Despite these conditions, there is no evidence the FDLR has been able to build any new strength, in fact all reports suggest the opposite," he said. As of 15 February, attacks by and the general activities of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) also continued to appear limited in the Orientale Province of north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
MONUSCO had sought to respond to the multiple threats by using all available resources "and to the limits of our mandate", he said. Calling attention to the Secretary-General's latest report, he said, for example, and contrary to a considerable amount of "erroneous press reporting at the time", MONUSCO was substantially engaged militarily in opposing M23 offensive operations, including its November offensive against Goma. "I would be happy to supply Council members with a detailed account of the military operations surrounding that M23 offensive as may be desired," he added.
"Unfortunately, as is clear, that military engagement, and that of the Congolese FARDC forces, failed to halt a strong, well conceived, well equipped and determined operation to take control of Goma," he acknowledged. The Mission had been continuously reviewing its deployments and bases of operations to try and ensure maximum capacity to respond not only to M23 operations, but also to the threat posed by a wide variety of armed groups throughout the east of the country. MONUSCO's civilian and police components, as well as United Nations specialized agencies, had all worked closely together to respond as effectively as possible to a broad and growing range of security and humanitarian issues.
In discussing current security threats, he also noted recent "worrisome" developments in Katanga and other provinces. The Mayi Mayi leader known as Gédéon, and associated militias such as Kata Katangais and others, had been stepping up their activities in northern Katanga Province since Gédéon's escape from prison in late 2011. The situation had now reached alarming proportions, affecting a growing geographic region, and was already generating a major humanitarian crisis, he said. OCHA now estimated that there were 316,000 displaced persons in Katanga because of Gédéon-related military activity, and the number was growing. "We have received many requests for an increased MONUSCO presence and response, [but] unfortunately, we have a very limited presence in the area, and correspondingly a limited capacity for response."
Nonetheless, the Mission was looking at all possibilities and involving all relevant country team agencies, in addition to working with local, provincial and national authorities to identify options. "I fear, however, this situation will likely grow worse in coming weeks," he cautioned, saying he was increasingly concerned about the recent temporary occupation of Punia in Maniema Province by a cell of the Rayi Mutumboki militia. That town was a considerable distance from the group's previous area of operations in South Kivu, he pointed out, saying the action represented another expansion in the reach of militia activity and violence, "and again, beyond the area of any MONUSCO presence".
Turning to the humanitarian situation, Mr. Meece said the challenge to relief agencies had been growing increasingly acute, particularly in light of the ongoing financial pressures limiting funding for needed operations. Humanitarian workers were facing "daunting challenges" in delivering services to needy populations, certainly including but not limited to the large and growing numbers of displaced people in the Kivu provinces, but elsewhere as well. The challenges included lack of adequate access, and associated security threats posing potential immediate dangers to the individuals and agencies involved. "We are working as closely as possible with MONUSCO resources, and those drawn from all UN agencies, to respond to these needs," he said.
Briefly noting a few important developments that touched on MONUSCO's mandate, he said the National Assembly had recently adopted a new election law providing for substantial reforms to the Independent National Election Commission, and just in the past week, it had passed a required legal review by the Supreme Court. In the next few days it was expected to be forwarded to President Joseph Kabila for promulgation, which was expected to follow shortly. That would set the stage for reform of INEC, which would include a new formulation for an oversight plenary and executive board.
"As this unfolds," he said, "we will need to examine, in collaboration with all engaged partners, the prospects and timing for needed pending democratic and transparent provincial and local elections to determine an appropriate engagement to support the process." That would represent a critical phase in the development for the country's nascent democracy and for pending decentralization moves, consistent with the 2006 Constitution and popular will, and all in the existing general political context. It was too early to reach definite conclusions about how those processes could or would unfold, but the issues represented were of obvious importance to the future of the country and its people.
He went on to note forward movement on critical reviews of the existing Capacity-building of the Stabilization and Reconstruction Plan (STAREC)/International Security and Stabilization Support Strategy (ISSS) programmes in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo; moves to advance the Peace Consolidation Programme for other areas of the country; and progress towards formal adoption of a joint United Nations/GoDRC Action Plan to prevent underage recruitment and sexual violence against children and other grave violations of child rights by FARDC and Congolese security services. The last represented a major and encouraging step forward in a long-standing area of concern, he pointed out.
Mr. Meece went on to report the imminent formal adoption of the long-awaited multi-year joint justice programme, to be jointly signed by the Minister for Justice and the United Nations. He said he was optimistic that it would be ready for adoption and signature in the near future, and would effectively complement MONUSCO's ongoing efforts with the military justice system in the fight against impunity, "which remains a high priority".
Before closing, he noted the various discussions and options regarding potential modifications to the MONUSCO mandate, saying: "I strongly believe that such a review is appropriate, and indeed I have already indicated some areas where I believe a modification is urgently needed, especially in regard to a new peace-enforcement capability." He strongly urged that those discussions be held in full cognizance of the overall context, MONUSCO's limited human and other resources, and, above all, the importance of resisting the temptation to "add more to the already very substantial compilation of MONUSCO tasks and requirements".
Ignace Gata Mavita wa Lufuta, (Democratic Republic of Congo), said the elaboration and imminent signing of a framework agreement on peace, security and cooperation in his country was yet further more evidence of the unstinting efforts by the Secretary-General and Mr. Meece to ensure peace and stability there and in the broader Great Lakes region. Strengthening MONUSCO's mandate and the proposed creation of a military brigade to work with the Mission were "correct actions" requiring the Council's speedy approval. "The time is ripe for this," he said, underscoring the fragile and troubling situation, while urging the Council to consider adopting a resolution on the matter as soon as possible.
Turning next to reports of human rights violations by Congolese Armed Forces in Minova, he said the Government had never refuted the allegations. On the contrary, it had ordered the arrest of the perpetrators and judicial actions against them were proceeding accordingly. As for the report before the Council, he reiterated the Government's support for the global strategy, saying it was keen to ensure stability but also to jump-start economic and social development in conflict-affected regions of the country. The activities of M23 had severely impacted thousands of lives, including by exacerbating humanitarian challenges, he said, pointing out that many United Nations reports, including the one before the Council today, cited the activities of that and other rebel movements as having led to human rights violations in east Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The meeting began at 10:14 a.m. and ended at 10:47 a.m.