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Democratic Republic of the Congo: Arria-formula Meeting

On Monday (12 February), Council members will hold an Arria-formula meeting focused on the upcoming presidential, legislative and provincial elections scheduled for 23 December 2018 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The meeting will be open to the press.

The expected panelists will be Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix, President of the DRC Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) Corneille Nangaa, Central African Director for Human Rights Watch Ida Sawyer, and African Regional Director of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems Rushdi Nackerdien. In addition to Council members, representatives from the DRC government, the AU, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), and the EU are expected to participate.

The US, which initiated the meeting, is co-hosting it with Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

According to a concept note that has recently been circulated, the objective of the meeting is to promote coordination among Council members and regional organisations in monitoring progress toward elections in the DRC. To that end, the meeting provides an opportunity for the Secretariat, regional and subregional organisations, and the broader international community to discuss ways to enhance support for the DRC government and to ensure that elections are held in a timely, peaceful and credible manner in December 2018. The meeting is intended to provide an opportunity for Council members and other participants to assess whether benchmarks for the elections are being met, both with regard to logistical and technical preparations and in terms of ensuring that the electoral process is free, fair and inclusive. Participants in the meeting are, accordingly, expected to focus on these issues.

The concept note refers to the presidential statement of 26 July 2017 (S/PRST/2017/12) in which the Council underscored the need to do everything possible to ensure that DRC authorities organise the elections with the requisite conditions of transparency, credibility and inclusivity, that confidence-building measures are undertaken, and that technical benchmarks are met. The concept note further references the presidential statement’s reference to a peaceful and credible electoral cycle as being crucial for lasting peace and stability in the DRC.

During Monday’s meeting, members will be interested to learn about the current status of technical preparations for the elections; how those preparations coincide with the electoral calendar, resource and logistical gaps; and what role the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) can and is expected to play with regard to logistical assistance. They will further inquire about the steps being taken to ensure that participation in the electoral process is not restricted, and that the DRC is providing an environment for free and fair elections.

The political uncertainty in the DRC remains a serious concern, as President Joseph Kabila, whose second and (under the country’s constitution) last term in office ended in December 2016, remains in power. The concept note recalls that according to an agreement reached between Kabila and the opposition on 31 December 2016, elections were to be held by the end of 2017, and Kabila was not to initiate amendments to the constitution and run for a third term.

Before the deadline, the CENI and government officials had said that elections would not be possible by the end of 2017, citing logistical difficulties with voter registration and violence in several regions in the country. The opposition is of the view that Kabila is purposely stalling elections to remain in power. On 5 November 2017, the CENI announced the publication of a new electoral calendar, including technical benchmarks, for combined presidential, legislative and provincial elections, to take place on 23 December 2018.

Council members issued a press statement on 28 November 2017, taking note of the new electoral calendar published by the CENI and emphasising the critical importance of ensuring the elections are not postponed beyond 23 December 2018. They also called for transparent, credible and inclusive elections (SC/13095).

The CENI’s announcement came about a week after US Ambassador Nikki Haley visited the DRC and called for elections to take place by the end of 2018. Opposition figures denounced the new calendar and called for protests, while the authorities in major cities have banned protests and have reportedly arrested opposition leaders, as part of a wider trend of curbing political freedoms of the opposition and curtailing the freedom of the press.

On 31 December 2017, demonstrations against Kabila in Kinshasa and other cities, organised by Catholic and opposition groups, were met with violence by security forces. A spokeswoman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Liz Throssell, said that at least five people were killed, 92 injured, and around 180 arrested during the protests, while the number of actual casualties may be higher.

Council members issued a press statement on 16 January 2018, noting with serious concern the continued political impasse and the violent incidents against protesters and calling on all stakeholders to remain committed to the 31 December 2016 Agreement, which it says remains the only viable path out of the current political situation (SC/13163).

Council members are generally agreed that the Council must stay focused on the security and political developments in the DRC, during what is a very critical period. This Arria-formula meeting is part of the attempt to maintain that focus.

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