Period of the review: 5 January - 15 February 2018
Prepared by Ijechi Nwaozuzu
A woman casts her ballot at the Lycée de Limete in Kinshasa during the last elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2006 (UN Photo/Myriam Asmani)
Pursuant to Security Council Resolutions 2293 (2016), 2277 (2016), 2211 (2015), 2198 (2015), 2147 (2014), 2136 (2014), and 2098 (2013), the Security Council calls on all stakeholders in the DRC to swiftly implement the 31 December 2016 agreement and ensure an environment conducive to a free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful and timely electoral process. In addition, Resolution 2348 (2017) specifically urges for the full participation of women at all stages of the electoral process. Resolution 2348 (2017) also demands that all armed groups cease immediately all forms of violence; and calls upon the Government of the DRC to uphold its national commitments to Security Sector Reform (SSR) and to implement of its national Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) Programme. Lastly, the Security Council decides to extend the mandate of MONUSCO until 31 March 2018, reducing the number of MONUSCO military personnel, observers and staff officers.
The report focused on electoral developments in the DRC, restrictions on political space and violence relating to the implementation of the 2016 political agreement. The Secretary-General noted MONUSCO’s efforts in supporting the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) in terms of financing and technical support (para. 9). He also touched on remaining gaps in electoral developments, including criticisms by the international community and civil society voices against the use of untested, electronic voting machines due to the potential for election fraud (para. 10). The report also discussed restrictions in political and civil society spaces leading up to the elections, including recent attacks against peaceful protesters and political activists, MONUSCO personnel and human rights officers by Congolese authorities (paras. 12-14). In closing, the Secretary-General pointed out how little has been done to implement the confidence-building measures aimed at creating a conducive environment for peaceful and credible elections, in line with the 2016 Political Agreement. He also expressed concern that further delays would fuel renewed political instability in an already difficult security, economic, human rights and humanitarian situation (para. 23).
In comparison to the previous report, there has been a notable decrease in references to women and gender perspectives. Out of 31 paragraphs, only 2 (6.5%) referenced women, and only as statistical data on civilian deaths and voter numbers. It also fails to address the role of women’s groups and civil societies in the mitigation of elections-related conflict. In this regard, it has fallen short of its mandate, as per Paragraph 52 of Resolution 2348 (2017), to inform the Council of the ways in which MONUSCO will be best prepared to address security risks as well as to monitor and report on human rights violations and sexual violence, along with the impact of conflict on women and children.
Unlike in the previous report, the Secretary-General makes no mention of the importance of the national disarmament programme in reducing community violence. Although the report hinted at the need for investigations into, and follow-ups on, the violence and human rights violations committed by state forces (para. 8), it remained silent on the violations committed by other actors like rebel groups as well as other forms of violence like SGBV. As WILPF’s previous research suggests, disarming one group alone is not effective in achieving sustainable peace. To address the problem of continuing human rights violations and SGBV, disarmament programmes should be applied to the entire society to include all armed actors and eliminate general access to arms.
The Secretary-General expressed his concerns that election delays would exacerbate the human rights and humanitarian situation in the DRC (para. 23). However, his concerns were not accompanied by suggestions for specific humanitarian measures that may be taken to mitigate the crisis. There is also no mention of how MONUSCO can assist in providing gender-sensitive care, including sexual and reproductive healthcare, to the millions of women and girls who continue to suffer from internal displacement and severe food shortages, as reflected in his previous report. Lastly, it did not address the prevalence of attacks against Women Human Rights Defenders, as well as political activists. The violent repressions of peaceful protests in Kinshasa by security forces on 31 December 2017 and 21 January 2018 has particularly affected women human rights defenders and peace activists, and contributed to increased levels of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), which affected at least 150 women between September and November 2017.
Although the Secretary-General’s report touched on women’s participation as voters (para. 8), it did not flag or discuss the decrease in women voters as compared to the previous election cycle. It also failed to address the other key aspect of women’s political participation, which is political representation. Even though concerns have been raised about the potential of the the law on the distribution of seats to limit women’s participation in public office, the report has alarmingly omitted discussions around them (para. 25). Women who want to run for elections independently continue to face major obstacles, under the proposed electoral law. Some women are even forced to enter political parties and to take on certain positions by forced nomination by the government and without their consent. In this regard, the report has also failed to assess the capacity of civil society to support women both as voters and as political actors, providing very little opportunity for further advocacy on increasing civil society space in the DRC. Lastly, the report does nothing to address the prevalence of SGBV and rape in voting places or offer suggestions on how MONUSCO and other security forces can ensure the safety of women voters, including internally-displaced women.
Relief & Recovery
Deteriorating violence in the country has included growing levels of extrajudicial executions and reprisals against human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, peaceful protesters, Catholic activists, MONUSCO personnel, as well as members of the media (paras 13-15). Although the report acknowledged that most perpetrators of such violence and human rights violations are state agents who continue to enjoy impunity, it did not offer specific measures for holding perpetrators of violence and human rights violations accountable. It also failed to address impunity of perpetrators from rebel armed groups, apart from state forces, who continue to be responsible for most sexual violence.
As existing gender analysis suggests, disarming the society in the DRC is the key for effective prevention; peace as a process goes beyond the disarmament of insurgent groups. It is therefore important to ensure a broader DDR strategy in the DRC that is informed by gender analysis and developed in partnership with women’s organisation on the ground. Future reports should call upon relevant actors for stronger action on disarmament in the DRC. In the interim, the Secretary-General should urge the DRC government to adopt a strict control of small arms within the state. He should also remind arms-providers to ensure that arms are not used to commit or facilitate a violation of international humanitarian law or human rights, including acts of SGBV, as mandated by the 2013 UN Arms Trade Treaty. MONUSCO should effectively monitor all stages of the transfer of arms; establish a transparent, complete, and current arms register; and encourage spaces for effective participation of women in forums for safety, legal measures and disarmament plans.
The Secretary-General should call upon MONUSCO to strengthen its collaboration with national and civil society organisations to streamline coordination mechanisms and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable. A broader, gender-sensitive protection plan should be established to cover the full range of assistance required by women and girls, including food and health services. It is also imperative that MONUSCO continues to monitor SGBV and related human rights violations, particularly in areas that have experienced the most violence and instability. Increased security should also be installed at voter registration areas so women would be more encouraged to vote in the elections process. Lastly, the Secretary-General should encourage strengthening action to ensure women politicians, candidates, activists and human rights defenders are protected in the context of implementation of the political agreement, the National Action Plan on Resolution 1325 (2000) and any national strategies aimed at combating sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
The Secretary-General should reiterate the DRC's obligations under the 2016 Political Agreement to hold “free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful” elections. For starters, women’s representation in public office should be a key point of discussion in future reports, beginning with the new electoral law on the distribution of seats. The Secretary-General should work with political supporters of gender equality from the government, women’s groups and civil society organisations to encourage ensure women’s political participation. Accompanying this, the Secretary-General must call upon donors and the Government to mitigate restrictions on, and provide women-led civil society organisations with financial support and technical assistance, including training in advocacy and negotiation for women participating in peace processes. To increase the participation of women voters, it is recommended that a more comprehensive and gender-sensitive security strategy be implemented at both the district- and national-level. For example, MONUSCO should assist civil society organisations in creating a Women’s Situation Room to help mitigate conflict before, during and after elections. Further, MONUSCO should consider the need for women-only registration sites, as well as greater flexibility in voter identity regulations for internally-displaced women.
Relief & Recovery
The Secretary-General should reiterate the DRC's obligations under international law to respect freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the rights of activists including women human rights defenders. In this regards, future reports should call for urgent investigations into the excessive use of force by security forces against peaceful protesters, journalists and political activists. The Secretary-General should also urge the DRC government to rop charges against women human rights defenders and peace activists, release protesters, and ensure accountability for relevant acts of violence. Additionally, reports should also highlight gaps in local laws infringing basic political rights and freedoms like the DRC’s draft law on the Freedom of Assembly, which has been under consideration in Parliament for 3 years but still not adopted. Lastly, where it was not referred to at all in this report, justice for victims of SGBV crimes must be ensured. In so doing, the UN Joint Human Rights Office and the Senior Women’s Protection Adviser should continue to support FARDC and the Congolese government to implement the Joint Communique between the government and the United Nations on the Fight Against Sexual Violence in Conflict and related actions plan, with a particular emphasis on strengthening accountability. To facilitate this, women-led civil society should also come to the forefront in these processes to encourage dialogue, reconciliation and healing.