There are encouraging signs that the new push for peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) can succeed, Mary Robinson said today in her first briefing to the Security Council since taking her post as United Nations Envoy for Africa's Great Lakes Region.
“I believe we do meet at a moment of renewed opportunity,” Mrs. Robinson told a closed door session in New York of the 15-nation Council via video teleconference.
“There is a fresh chance to do more than just attend to the consequences of conflict, or to manage crises of the kind seen again most recently last November. There is a chance to resolve its underlying causes and to stop it for good,” she added, cautioning that while there are no guarantees of success, “we can be sure that if it fails, the consequences will be grave.”
Mrs. Robinson just wrapped up a week-long regional visit to respectively, the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, South Africa and Ethiopia, to seek the views of political and non-government leaders on the implementation of the UN-brokered “Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region” or as she describes it, a “framework for hope”.
The Framework, adopted in February with the support of 11 nations and four international organizations (11+4), aims to end the cycles of conflict and crisis in the eastern DRC and to build peace in the long-troubled region.
The Special Envoy told the Council that she was “glad to report some encouraging news” as Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi “stated their willingness to implement their commitments under the Framework” and supported Mrs. Robinson's role as UN Envoy to the region.
She added that it was also encouraging to see that the leaders in the region, particularly President Joseph Kabila and President Kagame, continue to talk to each other, either bilaterally or through the intergovernmental group known as the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), which is due to hold a summit on recent developments in the region in July.
The Envoy's 28 April to 5 May visit came amidst seemingly heightened tensions in the region as the 23 March Movement (M23) armed group publicly decried the upcoming deployment of the Force Intervention Brigade within the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), and broke off the so-called Kampala talks.
In March, the UN Security Council 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 overwhelming majority of the Congolese she met with in Kinshasa and Goma were enthusiastic about the Brigade, the Special Envoy said, while many in the humanitarian community and officials in Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda expressed concern about the potential consequences of military operations.
Mrs. Robinson told the Security Council that the Brigade should “act mostly preventatively, as a deterrent with limited strategic military operations” and operate “in full compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law, and with maximum consideration for the protection of civilians.”
She added that MONUSCO was already “undertaking mitigating measures in this regard.”
The Brigade “while an important tool, should be seen as one element of a much larger political process aimed at finding a comprehensive solution to the crisis in eastern DRC,” Mrs. Robinson stressed.
She also reiterated her support for the stalled Kampala talks between the DRC Government and the M23 group, and urged Mr. Kabila “to remain committed to this process with a view to expediting it as soon as possible.”
Turing to regional economic cooperation, Mrs. Robinson stressed that it is important for the people of the eastern DRC and the Great Lakes region overall to feel that there is “a peace dividend to be had.” She noted the Summit of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries known by its French acronym CEPGL which will be posted for the first time in two decades next week in Burundi.
The South African Government has also taken measures to boost economic partnership with the DRC and plans to do more on behalf of President Jacob Zuma, Mrs. Robinson said, including in sectors such as governance, agriculture, infrastructures and revenue collection.
Mrs. Robinson said that while she focused on engagement with leaders and Governments during her visit, she also strove to work from the bottom up with civil society to generate “the widest possible constituency” for the peace accord, particularly among women.
“I intend to mobilize the women of the Great Lakes countries to play an active role in support of the PSC Framework,” she said, adding that she will build on current initiatives and existing regional fora, including a regional action plan for UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women peace and security, by Femmes Africa Solidarité, of which Mrs. Robinson is a partner.
As one of her other priorities for the visit, Mrs. Robinson said she also sought to encourage participation for the 11+4 oversight mechanism which is due to meet for the first time on 26 May on the margins of the African Union Jubilee Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and then again in September at the UN General Assembly in New York.
Mrs. Robinson said she plans a second visit to the region later this month.