Tomorrow morning (30 October), the Security Council is scheduled to adopt a resolution on the outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The resolution was initiated by Ethiopia, which worked in close cooperation with Sweden. Several Council members will co-sponsor the resolution.
The drafters wanted the resolution to focus on and highlight the significance of the Ebola outbreak as a health-related aspect of the security situation in the DRC. The draft resolution expresses concern that the security situation impedes response to and containment of the Ebola virus in the DRC. The original draft included a paragraph "determining that the unprecedented extent of the Ebola outbreak in Africa" constitutes a threat to international peace and security. Several states were of the view that such language would have been unjustifiably broad, however, and preferred a statement placing the Ebola epidemic within the context of the security situation in the DRC. As a result, this paragraph was withdrawn.
Another consideration for some Council members was that the DRC may take the view that a resolution on this issue infringes on its domestic affairs. The resolution thus recognises the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the DRC and commends its leadership in fighting the virus. It then emphasises the need for cooperation with the DRC in this regard and commends the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and others for their efforts.
Ebola broke out in North Kivu and Ituri in August. According to the WHO, as at 23 October there were 212 confirmed and 35 probable cases of Ebola. Of the 159 deaths reported, 124 are confirmed Ebola-related deaths and 35 are probable Ebola-related deaths. This is the second outbreak of Ebola in the DRC this year. A previous outbreak in Equateur province, which resulted in 54 deaths, was declared over by the WHO on 24 July. On 17 October, an Emergency Committee of the WHO decided that the current situation did not yet warrant a declaration of an international emergency.
The Council has been monitoring these developments. On 28 August, at the request of Sweden, Council members were briefed by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on the current Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC, under “any other business”. On 3 October, the Council members was briefed by Ghebreyesus again in consultations via video-teleconference from Geneva, at the initiative of Bolivia; at this meeting, Ghebreyesus told members that the activities of armed groups in North Kivu, particularly around Beni, have hampered the WHO’s efforts, at times causing them to be suspended entirely. He appealed to members to exercise their influence to achieve full, uninterrupted access to the affected areas, and to protect both locals at risk of contracting Ebola and responders. He further reported that the WHO had increased its assessment of the risk of regional spread from high to very high.
On the next day, Council members traveled on a visiting mission to Kinshasa with a focus on the current electoral process. The issue of Ebola was raised during a meeting with civil society on 6 October on the security and humanitarian situation in the country. One civil society representative noted that more medication and equipment should be deployed to the affected region and that the population needed to be better informed about the risk of Ebola. The speaker added that MONUSCO needed to address insecurity in the Ebola-affected area, as the difficult security environment was detrimental to response efforts. When the Council met with President Joseph Kabila later that day, Kabila commended MONUSCO for its efforts to help the DRC fight the disease.
Following the visit, Council experts met at the Swedish mission for an informal briefing from WHO officials. In a formal Council briefing on MONUSCO on 11 October, Ethiopia described the Ebola situation as worrisome, and that there is potential for the disease to spread to other regions (S/PV.8370). Ethiopia stated its intention to circulate a draft resolution on the situation shortly.
By initiating this draft, Ethiopia and Sweden wanted to raise awareness of the outbreak in the DRC and the importance of supporting responders affected by the security situation in the east. In this regard, the draft resolution emphasises the importance of continued international support, including financial support, in order to bring the Ebola outbreak under control; encourages the DRC, WHO, and other Ebola responders to continue to improve the transparency and accuracy of reporting on the status of the outbreak; notes the WHO’s assessment that the virus could potentially spread to Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and Burundi; and calls on the governments of those countries “to continue efforts to prepare for operational readiness, in full cooperation with WHO.”
The draft resolution also condemns rebel groups for putting responders at risk and hampering response efforts. Furthermore, it recalls resolution 2286 of May 2016 on the protection of health care workers and facilities in armed conflict and condemns acts of violence, attacks and threats intentionally directed against medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties. It urges that all parties respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law and that they ensure immediate and unhindered access for humanitarian and medical personnel and that their equipment and that medical facilities are protected under international law.
This is not the first time the Council has addressed the interaction between an Ebola epidemic and the maintenance of international peace and security. During the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea in 2014, the Council adopted resolution 2177 on 18 September 2014, determining that “the unprecedented extent of the Ebola outbreak in Africa constitutes a threat to international peace and security”.