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Democratic Republic of the Congo Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (11 October), Maman Sambo Sidikou, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), will brief the Council. The briefing will be followed by consultations, which will also be attended by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix. Current developments in the DRC as outlined in the Secretary-General’s recent MONUSCO report (S/2017/824) and the Secretary-General’s report on MONUSCO’s strategic review are expected to be the main focus of the meetings (S/2017/826).

Special Representative Sidikou will brief on recent developments in the country as described in the recent MONUSCO report, including the difficult political, security, human rights and humanitarian situation. The country faces ongoing difficulties in implementing the 31 December 2016 agreement, which envisioned elections by the end of 2017. There will probably be discussion of the violence in the Kasai region, marked by intercommunal conflict and clashes between militias and government forces. The humanitarian crisis will most likely be a part of the briefing, as 3.8 million people are internally displaced and approximately 7.7 million people suffer acute hunger. There may be reference as well to the killing of two UN peacekeepers and the wounding of several others in North Kivu province on 9 October by elements of the Allied Democratic Forces. At press time, Council members were expected to issue a press statement condemning the attack.

In resolution 2348 (31 March), the Council requested the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic review of MONUSCO, examining the continued relevance of all mandated tasks, priorities and related resources, by 30 September. The review was to provide options for a reduction of MONUSCO’s military and civilian components, following the successful implementation of the 31 December 2016 agreement on the electoral process culminating in the conduct of elections by the end of the year, and sustainable progress in reducing the threat of armed groups. The Council further requested the Secretary-General to provide advice on an exit strategy for the mission after the implementation of the agreement.

The lagging implementation of the 31 December 2016 agreement will be an important part of tomorrow’s discussion, especially during the consultations. It remains a major concern among Council members. The strategic review notes that there is broad recognition across the political spectrum in the DRC and the region that elections will in fact not be held by the end of the year, as was agreed in the 31 December 2016 agreement. The DRC electoral commission has cited logistical difficulties with voter registration, including the challenging conditions in Kasai, and an unrealistic electoral calendar as the main reasons for this. In the meantime, President Joseph Kabila, whose second and—under the country’s constitution—last term in office ended in December 2016, remains in power. His opponents accuse him of purposely stalling the elections, and threaten not to recognise his presidency beyond the end of 2017.

While all members are worried about the political situation, there are different views on the urgency of holding the elections. Some members maintain that the elections must be held as quickly as possible, worried about the potentially dire consequences of a lack of progress towards holding them. Others assert that the timing of the elections is less important than ensuring that they are peaceful and inclusive and that Kabila and the opposition need to agree on a new realistic timeframe.

Another issue that will probably be raised is MONUSCO’s ability to conduct its operations in the context of recent reductions in the mission’s budget and troop strength. MONUSCO’s budget was recently reduced by the General Assembly’s fifth committee by 8.5 percent, and the Council reduced its troop levels by roughly 600 troops in resolution 2348. (The resolution lowered the mission’s authorised troop ceiling to 16,215 personnel.) Against this backdrop, MONUSCO intends to focus on supporting the implementation of the 31 December agreement and mitigating the impact of the current crisis on civilians. Members may be interested in discussing what implications these reductions may have for both the military component and civilian component of the missions (including with respect to tasks related to longer-term stabilization). According to the strategic review, the political strategy of the mission will need to focus on “tangible progress towards free, fair and credible elections with the framework of the 31 December agreement,” which will require “extensive good offices and engagement with interlocutors across the political spectrum…”. The review posits that MONUSCO should “rely increasingly on protection through projection, as opposed to protection through presence,” while describing efforts to streamline the mission’s civilian activities.

During negotiations over resolution 2348, while the US and the UK advocated a reduction of troop strength, many Council members were of the view that plans for downsizing MONUSCO and an eventual exit strategy were premature because of the tenuous political and security situation. On this issue, the strategic review posits that while “changes under way in MONUSCO will yield efficiencies… member states should exercise caution in making further cuts to the Mission’s budget that may compromise its ability to deliver on its core priorities.” It notes that further adjustments and reductions in the force may be considered if the 31 December 2016 agreement is successfully implemented and the security threat imposed by armed groups improves, an option which the Secretary-General maintains may not occur “unless the Congolese are able to quickly overcome the current political impasse…”.

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