UN Security Council Raises Alarm about Possible Violence in DR Congo
All 15 members of the Council, plus the chief of Congo’s UN peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO) Maman Sidikou, and Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, shared a strong sense of foreboding. It is now less than two weeks before the end of President Joseph Kabila’s second term on December 19.
In a strongly-worded statement, the President of the Council emphasized concerns “about the risk for destabilization of the country and the region as a whole … in the absence of a swift and consensual resolution to the current political crisis.” In the words of the ambassador of New Zealand, “there has been no shortcoming of warnings to the Security Council regarding the risk of conflict in the DRC.”
Angola evoked the threat to “regional peace and security,” calling on all sides to avoid violence “at all costs.” Ukraine’s ambassador warned that “if the situation descends into violence, there will be no winners but only losers,” reminding Council members that the “deaths of protesters [during demonstrations in September] are fresh in our memory.” He called for “maximum restraint.”
Sharing the sense of urgency, France warned that “if there is a spiral of violence, nobody can say where it will stop and when it will stop.” More subdued but still concerned, the Ambassador of China cautioned that the “political process is at a critical juncture” and the security situation “still fragile.”
The ambassador of the United Kingdom cautioned that “we all know what comes next if he [President Kabila] makes the wrong decision. We saw it in the bloodied streets of Kinshasa in September. We cannot allow a repeat of such barbarity in a fortnight’s time.” He called on the Council to send an unequivocal message to Kabila to make a commitment that he will not stand for a third term as president. “The two term limit cannot be changed,” he said, “and certainly not just to suit one man’s political agenda.” The ambassador said that there must be “consequences” for Kabila if he were to decide otherwise. The ambassador also called on the Security Council to take guidance from the European Union, which threatened to impose sanctions on members of the Congolese security forces responsible for serious abuses.
“Kabila needs to make a clear and public statement that he will not seek a third term,” the US ambassador said. She stressed that “elections could take place in 2017,” because it is not a “technical problem” but a “problem of political will.”
Nearly all ambassadors called on political stakeholders in Congo to resume dialogue and find meaningful compromise. In this regard, the US ambassador cited the Catholic Church’s efforts, which “present the best hope” in her opinion, while Japan called for “direct dialogue” between President Kabila and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi.
Regarding MONUSCO’s role, the UK ambassador insisted that “the biggest peacekeeping mission in the world with a clear mandate to protect civilians robustly cannot stand by if civilians are threatened.” MONUSCO chief Sidikou elaborated on the measures the mission has taken to refine its contingency plans in order to diffuse potential violence and protect civilians. He stressed, however, that these efforts “may not be fully sufficient to mitigate or respond adequately to any major outbreak of politically-related violence,” and he warned that the UN’s military and police forces in Kinshasa “are stretched thin.”
Perhaps giving in to the pressure, Kabila met on Monday with the Catholic Church’s Conference of Episcopal Bishops in Congo (CENCO), and the presidency later issued a statement saying the president had urged the bishops to continue their mediation efforts – a seeming reversal from the statement released by his ruling coalition on Friday, calling the Catholic Church’s mediation efforts a failure.
President Kabila should now take the next step and take action before December 19, including – most importantly – a public commitment that he will step down and not seek to change the constitution or run for a third term.
MONUSCO should also heed the calls from Security Council members and ensure that the mission is prepared to do all it can to protect the population during potential political violence on or around December 19. And UN member states, including police and military troop contributors to MONUSCO, should ensure the mission has the resources and will to effectively carry out its mandate.