The Democratic Republic of Congo continues to attract the attention of the United Nations amid fear that the country could relapse to violence ahead of 2023 polls.
Last week, the UN Security Council met to analyse the general situation in the DRC. And while the African members called for strengthening of institutions and a restructure of the UN mission operations there, how to deter violations in future remains DRC's biggest headache.
The meeting was attended by Bintou Keita, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in the DRC and Head of the UN Stabilisation Mission in Congo (Monusco). Mrs Bintou Keita presented a report listing challenges facing Monusco is facing.
Since the establishment of the state of siege last May, in Ituri and North Kivu, there has been strengthening of the partnership between Monusco and the FARDC --the Congolese army-- he said, something that could improve the security operations in the region but not necessarily eliminate threats.
"This is reflected in the progress in the planning and execution of operations," said Bintou Keita. She suggested that joint operations between the peacekeepers and the FARDC have led to the dismantling of several ADF (Uganda rebel group Allied Democratic Forces) rebel strongholds. The Special Representative also promised that until the end of October, "all rapid reaction units will have to be deployed to reinforce Monusco's capacity to protect civilians against the rebel groups" that are scouring eastern DRC.
In August, Kenya, the current President of the UN Security Council, sent troops to the DRC. Nepalese and South African troops are also expected in eastern Congo.
But this will only be military component. Ms Keita recognised that "much remains to be done to ensure respect for human rights" because, she points out, human rights violations are perpetrated by "state and non-state actors, particularly in the provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu". Between June and August, some 367 people were victims of arbitrary and extrajudicial executions.
At least 203 people, mostly women and children, were subjected to sexual violence, her report said. In the wake of confirmed cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by some agents of international organisations, the representative of the UN Secretary General in the DRC underlined "Monusco's commitment to follow the policy of zero tolerance against sexual abuse and to ensure comprehensive assistance to victims".
$1.5 million kitty
"Following allegations of sexual abuse in the fight against Ebola, the UN humanitarian team in DRC has strengthened its prevention system. $1.5 million has been made available for this purpose," she said.
"The UN system will work with the Ministry of Gender, Family and Children and the Office of the Special Adviser to the Head of State on Combating Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment, the FARDC, the national police, judicial and prison authorities, as well as stakeholders," said the UN Secretary-General's report S 2021/807.
That sexual exploitation has been committed by nearly every party in the Congo conflict, including UN staff. Monusco alone has seen 17 new allegations so far this year. "These allegations are horrifying, and they are unacceptable. Most are leveled at MONUSCO troops and police, but a significant portion concern the actions of civilian staff," asserted Ms Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
"The United States has been, and will continue to be, unequivocal in its call to an end to predatory behaviour across the entire UN system, no matter the setting or the nationality of the accused.
"We demand accountability for parties guilty of criminal acts and assistance for victims and survivors, and I join my British colleague in calling for MONUSCO's immediate review."
Even if some progress is highlighted by the head of Monusco, she noted that a multi-faceted crisis in the DRC will require more than just weapons.
With more than five million internally displaced persons, the DRC has the highest number of displaced persons on the African continent, and more than 26 million Congolese suffer from food insecurity, with a third of the population affected. On the community and social level, Monusco condemned "hate speech against the Banyamulenge communities", which are sometimes equated with "foreigners", particularly from Rwanda, in the DRC.
"These bellicose speeches are a danger to the stability of the country and must be subject to exemplary sanctions," Ms Keita said. She is also concerned about "cyclical epidemics" in the DRC. As the 2023 elections approach, she notes a deterioration in the political climate.
particularly with the lack of consensus on the appointment of members of the new independent national electoral commission.
President Félix Tshisekedi has been opposed his rival Martin Fayulu and a coalition called FCC allied to ex-President Joseph Kabila. Civil society is also deeply divided. An earlier proposal to appoint Ronsard Malonda by President Félix Tshisekedi was rejected causing a bloody unrest. A new candidate, Denis Kadima, is at the heart of a major controversy in DRC and will unlikely sail through unless parties can make compromise.