GREAT LAKES – The Security Council today restated its commitment to the United Nations-brokered peace accord for Africa’s strife-torn Great Lakes region and demanded an immediate end to hostilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where fresh clashes between armed rebels and Congolese troops have sent thousands of civilians fleeing for safety.
“The Security Council further demands that the members of all armed groups immediately and permanently disband and lay down their arms, and calls for the restoration of State authority of the Government of the DRC in eastern DRC,” the 15-member Council said in a presidential statement at the start of the meeting chaired by United States Secretary of State, John Kerry.
Over the past year, the 23 March Movement (M23), along with other armed groups, has clashed repeatedly with Congolese armed forces (FARDC) in the eastern DRC, with the rebels briefly occupying Goma, the region’s main city, in November 2012. The fighting, which erupted again in recent days, this time dragging in a group of Ugandan-based rebels, has displaced more than 100,000 people, exacerbating an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region which includes 2.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs) and 6.4 million in need of food and emergency aid.
The Council statement condemned all hostilities in the region and, in addition to the M23, cites other armed groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF-NALU), and the Mayi Mayi Kata-Katanga.
It specifically urges these groups “to cease immediately all forms of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, continuing recruitment and use of children, destabilizing activities, human rights abuses, violations of international humanitarian law, and attempts to undermine or supplant the DRC Government.”
Addressing the Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is “deeply concerned” about the current fighting and urged all parties to the conflict to return as soon as possible to achieving a political solution, starting with the so-called Kampala talks held under the auspices of the Chairperson of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
Mr. Ban stressed the importance of the DRC and its regional neighbours of fulfilling their commitments as outlined in the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region, and in Security Council Resolution 2098.
“I have called for maximum restraint and urge all Framework signatories to jointly and individually respect their commitments,” he stressed referring to the peace accord, which was adopted in February by 11 African leaders and four regional and international institutions (11+4) and has since been hailed as a “framework for hope.”
Also speaking at today’s meeting was Mr. Ban’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes, Mary Robinson, who has been working with civil society and a technical committee comprised of participates from ICGLR, UN peacekeeping mission in the country (MONUSCO) and UN partners, and the South African Development Community (SADC), to establish “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound” benchmarks and indicators of progress on the framework.
Mrs. Robinson will present the benchmarks to the next ICGLR Summit scheduled for 31 July in Nairobi, Kenya, ahead of the next meeting of the “11+4” oversight mechanism which will formally adopt them on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly high-level debate in New York this September.
Also stressing the importance of immediately stopping violence in the region, Mrs. Robinson told the Council today that in the four months since taking up her post, “not a day goes by without a report of killings, rape, sexual assault and displacement of people in eastern DRC… what strikes me is the lack of outrage and horrors at this daily toll. It has become the accepted normal.”
She added that while the steps taken in recent months may appear minor for the millions of people on the ground who eagerly waiting to see peace established and their lives changed, they are “concrete affirmation of the determination of the international community to try new avenues for sustainable peace and stability and development in the Great Lakes region.”
Among these, Mr. Ban reiterated the UN’s commitment to promoting economic development in the DRC and the wider Great Lakes region as highlighted by his May visit to the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and other concerned countries, accompanied by Mrs. Robinson and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, who pledged an additional $1 billion for cross-border development in support of the framework.
Speaking to the Council by video, Mr. Kim said he and Mr. Ban were committed to increasing cooperation between their respective institutions and with other partners, such as the European Union, African Development Bank, and the regional economic communities, to maximize the impact of efforts in the DRC and the region.
“We cannot have development without peace, and we cannot have peace without development,” he noted.
Today’s day-long Security Council meeting was chaired by Mr. Kerry on behalf of the United States, which holds the body’s rotating presidency for the month of July.
“As the chair of this debate and as a representative of a nation that, like all of yours, has a stake in the stability of the Great Lakes, I want to urge all of us around this table to take advantage of the unique opportunity that the framework provides,” Mr. Kerry said, leading a delegation that includes Russ Feingold, his newly appointed special envoy to the Great Lakes region.
“All parties must immediately end their support for armed rebel groups,” he emphasized. “All Governments must hold human rights violators and abusers accountable. We must end the era of impunity and that, unfortunately, has been rampant.”
In an attempt to squelch the fighting, the Security Council in March authorized the deployment of an intervention brigade within MONUSCO to carry out targeted offensive operations, with or without the Congolese national army, against armed groups that threaten peace in eastern DRC.
The brigade – which is currently being built up in North Kivu province and will ultimately consist of more than 3,000 peacekeepers – is tasked with neutralizing armed groups, reducing the threat posed to State authority and civilian security and make space for stabilization activities.