On Monday, United Nations Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa Mary Robinson said UN forces will be "more robust" in addressing sexual violence and conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She added there is still much work to be done to build peace and security in the region.
Robinson, former president of Ireland and founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, spoke to the press after a morning mini-summit convened on the margins of the 68th General Assembly by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Chairperson of the African Union Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The meeting assessed the progress of the Regional Oversight Mechanism of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC.
African leaders, including six heads of state from the DRC, Malawi, Uganda, South Africa, Rwanda, and Tanzania, as well as representatives from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) attended what Robinson called a "very focused, very positive, very constructive meeting." Robinson told reporters that MONUSCO, the UN's stabilization force in the DRC, is currently the most effective tool to combat the over-prevalence of sexual violence in the country.
"I think MONUSCO is showing a more robust role across the board," Robinson said.
"Let's put it this way, I believe there is a much stricter sense of implementation and zero tolerance of gender based violence from now on and that would be part of tackling the armed groups."
The Framework was signed 24 February in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by 11 African nations. Just one month later, on 28 March, the UN Security Council authorized a specialized Intervention Brigade to operate within MONUSCO. As the first ever UN "offensive" combat force, the brigade was created to "neutralize and disarm" M23 and other rebel groups in the region in an effort to prevent further violence and human rights abuses.
Robinson praised the work of Special Representative for the Secretary-General Martin Kobler, who was appointed in August. Like me, she said, Kobler has no tolerance for gender-based violence or sexual violence against women by any military or rebel forces.
Robinson stressed that addressing these armed groups, which include M23, FDLR, ADF, and the Mayi Mayi, is on the agenda. They "will not be allowed to continue with this terrible situation where families live in fear. People are displaced. We visited countless displaced people, newly displaced. We heard of women raped and re-raped, this will not continue."
"Their conduct and way of doing is not tolerable, its been going on for far too long and its not tolerable," she said.
The Secretary-General said the amount of human suffering in the eastern DRC was "overwhelming," and that he was "appalled by the attacks against civilians, including vulnerable women and children."
He condemned the recent military actions of the M23 and other armed groups in the eastern DRC, and expressed concern for the estimated 2 million Internally Displaced People (IDP) in the country and tens of thousands of refugees in neighboring countries.
According to UNHCR, IDPs and refugees are much more at risk of sexual and gender-based violence.
"Your presence here is testimony to concern for peace for people of the DRC," Dlamini-Zuma told the summit. "It also testimony for your concerns for women and children of DRC who are bearing the brunt of this conflict."
"I get the impression of the heads of state that they really want this framework to change the whole dynamic, especially for the Democratic Republic of Congo and especially eastern DRC," Robinson said. "There's been too much pain and suffering for far too long and this has held back this part of Africa. Things must move forward."
Earlier this month, the government of the DRC and members of M23 resumed ongoing peace talks in Kampala. DRC President Joseph Kabila is set to address the General Assembly on Wednesday morning.