The Security Council turned its attention this morning to the humanitarian aspects of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a rural women's rights activist and an Episcopalian clergyman warning the international community of dire consequences if it failed to help to turn the tide on a conflict that had raged in the centre of Africa for two decades.
The meeting came ahead of a Council decision later this month on renewing the mandate of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), and of an international high level meeting in Geneva in April to rally more funding for humanitarian relief efforts.
Today I speak as a rural woman, displaced and affected by conflict, said Jeanine Bandu Bahati, Coordinator of the Encadrement des Femmes IndigAnes et des Menages Vulnerables, an organization that promoted peace, gender and development. She described the situation in her country as catastrophic and chaotic, with women and girls � especially in the east � confronted by massacres, permanent displacement, rape, kidnappings, human trafficking, house burning and a proliferation of foreign and local armed groups, among other things.
This is a time bomb, she said, recalling the story of a 54 year old displaced mother of nine children � including one who had been kidnapped and raped � who herself had been wounded by gunfire in the fields. With less than $1 a day, it was impossible to live or even eat, plunging people into hopelessness and prompting some young people to join armed groups, she said. Women's political participation was weak, yet women were courageous and competent, she added, pressing the Council to support them and their children. Women of the DRC want to be considered, she said, and want you to respond to their cry of alarm and distress.
Donatien Nshole, Secretary General of the Episcopal National Conference of Congo, said the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was so bad that people were wondering if it resonated anymore with the United Nations and the wider international community. Given the dramatic humanitarian situation, it was essential for the Organization to get more involved and to put pressure on the Government to hold elections. Church leaders were convinced that only credible elections would give the people a legitimate Government that could tackle the country's multifaceted challenges, he said, demanding full implementation of the 31 December 2016 political agreement between the Government of President Joseph Kabila and the opposition, known as the New Year's Eve agreement, and a stronger mandate for MONUSCO.
Mark Lowcock, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, recounted his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo last week with the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, during which he said he met a 35 year old displaced mother of seven children living under a sheet of plastic in a congested and unsanitary camp. She was among 4.5 million people currently displaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where humanitarian needs had doubled over the last year, he said.
Without a halt to the violence and a successful political transition, these numbers will all increase, he said, emphasizing the need for urgent action, with the United Nations and its humanitarian partners aiming this year to reach 10.5 million people, compared with more than 4.2 million last year. Underfunding was the single largest impediment to the humanitarian response. This year's appeal was for $1.7 billion, nearly four times the amount secured last year, he said, drawing attention to the first ever high level humanitarian conference on the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Geneva on 13 April.
In the ensuing discussion, several Council members said a key to ending two decades of conflict and humanitarian catastrophe lay in full implementation of the New Year's Eve agreement, followed by a smooth transition of power. Under that agreement, elections should have taken place by the end of 2017, but combined presidential, legislative and municipal elections were now due to occur on 23 December 2018.
Equatorial Guinea's delegate said peace, security and development in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a priority for his country during its Council membership. Resolving the situation would be complicated if the humanitarian situation remained devastating, he said, calling on the international community to continue to finance the work of humanitarian organizations. He also stressed the need to neutralize armed groups and for the international community to help the Congolese along the path they freely chose, with full respect for their country's sovereignty.
The representative of Ethiopia said the humanitarian emergency in the Democratic Republic of the Congo could not be seen in isolation from the political and security situation. Strongly supporting calls for mobilizing more resources to save lives, he said it was imperative to implement the 31 December 2016 agreement in order to address the country's political impasse in a consensual, inclusive manner and set up peaceful, free, fair and credible elections. He also called for better coordination and support of regional initiatives, as well as those of the African Union, to support the electoral process.
The Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development said his country's taxpayers had extended hundreds of millions of dollars in response to the humanitarian crisis. However, prospects for change were being undermined by an inhumane and authoritarian Government, he said, emphasizing that the status quo was not working and that the Kabila Government must demonstrate concrete and measurable action. He went on to warn that the United States would reconsider its assistance if elections in the current calendar year were subject to further delay.
The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo spoke in place of his country's Minister of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action, who would be in New York later in the day. He said his Government was working to find solutions and that any contribution from the international community would be welcome. He expressed appreciation for the recent visit to his country by the Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator and the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, adding, however, that his Government considered as excessive a proposed review of the application of humanitarian assistance. He also emphasized his Government's determination to eradicate armed groups; otherwise it would be almost impossible to end the humanitarian crisis.
Also speaking today were representatives of France, China, Kuwait, Poland, Russian Federation, Peru, Kazakhstan, Sweden, CAte d'Ivoire, United Kingdom, Bolivia and the Netherlands.
The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 12:17 p.m.
MARK LOWCOCK, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, showed Council members a photograph of Mwasi Kallunga, a 35 year old woman and her seven children, including an 18 month old baby, who he met last Tuesday at the Katanika camp in Kalemie, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her husband and two other children were killed when militiamen attacked her village in January. They now lived under a plastic sheet in a congested, cramped, unsanitary and hilly camp at risk of fire and flood. The children could not go to school and the entire family was too terrified to consider returning home. They were among 4.5 million people currently displaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where humanitarian needs had doubled over the last year. Thirteen million people needed humanitarian assistance, he said. More than 4.6 million children were acutely malnourished, while mushrooming epidemics included the worst cholera outbreak in 15 years. There was also an epidemic of sexual violence, largely unreported and unaddressed, while 746,000 Congolese had fled to neighbouring countries. Without a halt to the violence and a successful political transition, these numbers will all increase, he said.
Emphasizing the need for urgent action, he said the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo were resilient and resourceful, and that without humanitarian assistance, things would be much worse. This year, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners were aiming to reach 10.5 million people, compared with more than 4.2 million last year. Constructive discussions had taken place with the authorities on persistent insecurity and bureaucratic impediments, including kidnappings and hijackings of aid workers, he said, adding that the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) had created space for humanitarian delivery and the protection of civilians. Underfunding was the single largest impediment to the humanitarian response. This year's appeal was for $1.7 billion, nearly four times the amount secured last year, he said, drawing attention to the first-ever high level humanitarian conference on the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Geneva on 13 April.
I ask Council Members today to ensure that the humanitarian situation in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] is on the agenda of your Governments and to encourage high level participating and pledges on 13 April, he said, underscoring also the need to address root causes of the crisis, including progress on the political front and fair elections. Neighbouring countries must meanwhile behave responsibly, and all parties must protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in line with international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Progress was possible, he said, emphasizing the need to strengthen support to the Congolese, including Mrs. Kallunga, who only wanted to be resettled on a small plot of land to farm. It's not much to ask for, is it? he said.
JEANINE BANDU BAHATI, Coordinator of the Encadrement des Femmes IndigAnes et des Menages Vulnerables, said the voices of rural women were not often heard. Today I speak as a rural woman, displaced and affected by conflict, she said. Her organization promoted peace, gender and development so that community conflicts were prevented, and to ensure that women and girls were protected from violence. It aimed to strengthen community mechanisms to promote human rights by focusing on peaceful coexistence and sustainable development.
She described the security and humanitarian situation of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as degrading, catastrophic and chaotic. Most were traumatized, especially in rural areas, and the situation had worsened over two decades. Women and girls, especially in the east, had been weakened by a number of violent acts: massacre, carnage, killings, permanent displacement, rape, kidnapping for ransom, trafficking, house burning, militancy, proliferation of foreign and local armed groups, natural resource looting, a lack of strategies to encourage development and education and the illegal hoarding of weapons.
This is a time bomb, she said. It will end up killing and exterminating women and girls. She described what had happened last week to a 54 year old displaced mother of nine children, who had been attacked and wounded by gunshot while going to the field to harvest. Her daughter had been kidnapped, raped and returned a few days later. The deteriorating socioeconomic situation of women and girls had resulted from the humanitarian crisis. With less than $1 a day, it was impossible to live, even eat. Such extreme poverty had plunged people into a lack of hope and prospects for opportunity, leading some young people to join armed groups.
Women's political participation was also weak, she said, mainly because the new electoral law did not favour their emergence. Women often did not create political parties and they were seldom appointed to decision making bodies. The voice of women has been reduced to silence, she said. And yet, women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were courageous and competent, she said, pressing the Council to support them, without forgetting the children who had nothing to do except stagnate in unemployment.
Going forward, the international community must revise security, protection, socioeconomic and political strategies to favour women and girls, she said, and redefine indicators in a manner that led to positive change. The United Nations and others must act quickly against impunity, ensuring that investigations took place and that criminals were punished. Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must be supported at the grass roots level. Women of the DRC want to be considered, she said, and want you to respond to their cry of alarm and distress.
DONATIEN NSHOLE, Secretary General of the Episcopal National Conference of Congo, said the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was so bad that people were wondering if it resonated anymore with the international community, including the United Nations. Today the situation was characterized by the resumption of violence in the east of the country, he said, including attacks by armed groups, the razing of villages and fields, the looting of schools and hospitals, and the risk of epidemics, especially with the return of the rainy season. He also emphasized the thousands of displaced people, including children, wandering homeless along roads, as well as those who had fled to neighbouring countries as refugees.
Given such a dramatic humanitarian situation, it was essential for the United Nations to get more involved and to put pressure on the Government to hold elections, he said. Bishops were convinced that only credible elections would give the people a legitimate Government that could tackle the country's multifaceted challenges. They demanded full implementation of the New Year's Eve agreement, with the United Nations monitoring compliance with the electoral timetable. Any accommodation on that issue would be a time bomb, he said. The mandate of MONUSCO must also be strengthened, with the Mission being provided with the resources it required to protect civilians and their property. Humanitarian assistance must be provided to those forced to flee their land, while a plan must be drawn up for the country's post election economic development.
FRANCOIS DELATTRE (France) said more than 11 million people lived in forced displacement in the Great Lakes region, stressing that the donor conference in April in Geneva would allow for a determined response. The causes of conflict must be addressed. In the Kasais, Ituri, the Kivus and elsewhere, local conflicts degenerated to trigger a broad humanitarian crisis. Further, the political rivalries fed tensions linked to natural resource availability, and both national and provincial elections would trigger new tensions. The Government, which was responsible for organizing elections, must ensure the conditions for free, open and peaceful voting were in place, and that de escalation measures were implemented, in line with the goal of national reconciliation, tolerance and democratization, as well as the commitments outlined in the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, signed in 2013. As for MONUSCO, its focus on civilian protection could be a model for peacekeeping. It must work to prevent conflict and must have all the means necessary to accomplish its goals. Stressing that much would depend on the manner in which elections were prepared, he said regional countries must spare no efforts to implement the Framework Agreement.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said that the current humanitarian emergency in the Democratic Republic of the Congo could not be seen in isolation from the political and security situation. The continued instability had affected an unprecedented number of people. He strongly supported calls for mobilizing more resources to save lives, particularly in severely affected areas. He welcomed the education, water, sanitation and agricultural efforts to help displaced people and expressed hope that $1.7 billion needed to address the nation's emergency needs would be raised at the humanitarian donors' conference in April in Geneva. Implementation of the 31 December 2016 agreement was imperative to address the political impasse in a consensual, inclusive manner and set up peaceful, free, fair and credible elections. He called for better coordination and support of the initiatives taken by countries of the region and the efforts of the African Union to support the electoral process, which was key for the stability of the country and the wider Great Lakes region.
WU HAITAO (China) described the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an important African country where, in recent years, the situation had remained complex and grave. Its Government shouldered primary responsibility for protecting civilians, with the international community extending assistance in that regard. China hoped that MONUSCO would step up communication and coordination with the Government. He emphasized the importance of taking the domestic process forward, with the international community engaging with all parties and pushing for the peaceful resolution of differences. Underscoring the role of the African Union and other entities, he said the international community should continue to provide humanitarian assistance, with greater attention given as well to helping the country overcome social and economic woes. He drew attention to China's participation in MONUSCO, its provision of food and medical supplies and its contribution to the country's economic development.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said that of all the topics on the Council's agenda, those involving humanitarian suffering resulting from political tugs of war were the most critical. He cautioned against any procrastination in the implementation of the New Year's Eve agreement, adding that his country looked forward to the high level humanitarian conference that would take place in Geneva on 13 April. He went on to stress that the humanitarian situation would not be resolved without a comprehensive political solution, with presidential, legislative and municipal elections taking place on time and perpetrators of human rights violations held to account. However, it was not necessary to wait for elections to lift the suffering of the Congolese people, he said, noting the need to renew MONUSCO's mandate for another year.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) expressed concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, stressing that humanitarian needs had doubled over the last year. She underscored the preventive aspect of assistance activities, including addressing the root causes of conflict and displacement. Advocating community dialogue, which could help ease tensions and improve the humanitarian situation, she said widespread human rights and international humanitarian law violations constituted a protection crisis. She pressed Congolese authorities to protect the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, and implement measures outlined in the Saint Sylvester Agreement. She welcomed the goal of having 20 million women participate in upcoming elections, noting with concern that women were often targeted in order to intimidate female candidates. She also voiced concern over sexual violence, which had increased by 56 per cent last year, urging the Government to bolster security, punish perpetrators and protect victims. All violations of children's rights by State security forces must be stopped and perpetrators brought to justice, regardless of their affiliation or rank. The lack of options for demobilized children only increased their risk for re recruitment.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) agreed that the worsening humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was due to inter ethnic fighting, and armed group activities in the northeast. He voiced concern over food insecurity, stressing that a new wave of refugees would have a negative humanitarian impact, including on neighbouring countries. Meeting such new challenges was barely possible under current financing arrangements, and donors must step up their support of United Nations efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For its part, the Russian Federation was working to ease the debt burden of African States within the framework for heavily indebted poor countries, through which it had written off $20 billion. On time elections would ease tensions, he said, calling on opposition forces to cooperate with the Electoral Commission, agree to the proposed dates and refrain from violence. He did not agree with mentoring or imposing measures on Kinshasa, and MONUSCO must not exceed its role in organizing elections. The Government was responsible for normalizing the situation. MONUSCO should not interfere in internal State affairs, he said, cautioning it against providing support only to one side in the elections. Its main function was to improve the security situation. Resumed intertribal conflict in the northeast was a factor to be considered when reviewing MONUSCO's mandate. The Russian Federation did not endorse the Secretary General's proposals on ending MONUSCO's stabilization tasks or cooperating with Kinshasa on camps for former combatants. If the United Nations implemented the protection through projection concept, it would be unlikely to protect civilians.
FRANCISCO TENYA (Peru) said it was essential for MONUSCO to continue to support humanitarian actors, ensuring that more people would get more aid. Noting that the number of women and children in need had doubled to 7 million, he said child sex work and trafficking in persons must be confronted. Given an unstable economic situation, the United Nations, through its agencies, in cooperation with the Government, the African Union and others, must get to work on a long term strategy that would open the way to sustainable peace, he said, welcoming the convening of the forthcoming Geneva conference.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan), echoing concerns about the Democratic Republic of the Congo's dire humanitarian situation, underlined the importance of the upcoming high level humanitarian conference and called on donors to increase their response. Noting that the politically fragile and insecure situation in the country was heightening the existing crisis, he called for its political resolution, adherence to the Constitution, and the holding of timely, free, fair and credible elections. The international community must support the Democratic Republic of the Congo in laying the foundations of good governance, rule of law and institutional reform. Expressing concern about the country's food security situation and the high vulnerability of women and children, he said the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had a critical role to play in ensuring that protection was mainstreamed across humanitarian action, and its work required adequate funding. Urging partners to help address the crisis through a model innovative strategy, led by regional actors, he said the security track must be closely interlinked with development, and safe and unhindered humanitarian access across the country remained critical.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said that the current crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was of catastrophic levels, with civilians, particularly women and children, bearing the brunt. It was a man made crisis, he stressed, pointing out that surging levels of violence, fuelled by political instability, were leading to forced displacements coupled with sexual and gender based violence, human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. Responding to those humanitarian needs would require a surge in funding, he said, emphasizing the need for an integrated approach that addressed the nexus between humanitarian, development, human rights and peace and security. To foster long term stability and peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the holding of credible, transparent, inclusive and peaceful elections on 23 December would be imperative. Measures to ensure women's full and effective participation in the elections were critical.
MARK ANDREW GREEN, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, said his country regarded the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an urgent priority for several reasons. United States taxpayers had extended hundreds of millions of dollars to help ease the suffering and pave the way to self reliance, but the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a man made disaster, with prospects for change being undermined by an inhumane and authoritarian Government. The United States cared about the crisis and the breath taking human suffering it had created, and the messages from briefings had been heart wrenching, and some would argue that the challenges were too complex and deeply entrenched. But there was no excuse for inaction, he said, emphasizing that the status quo was not working and that the Kabila Government must demonstrate concrete and measurable action.
The United States was demanding credible elections this calendar year, he said, adding that his country would reconsider its assistance if those elections were delayed. The Government must also immediately foster conditions for true democracy. He went on to say that an international crisis required an international response, and that the Kabila Government had done little to alleviate suffering while its leaders had been lining their pockets. Each Council member represented humane and compassionate people, but the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo required more than money, he said, emphasizing the need to demand concrete action that would end a recurring cycle of misery. The crisis would remain hopeless if nothing was done.
BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (CAte d'Ivoire) said his country was extremely concerned by the severe humanitarian crisis in the brethren nation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Given the scale of the humanitarian crisis, immediate action must be taken to cover funding needs. CAte d'Ivoire was also calling on the international community to step up assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons, and encouraged the signatories of the Framework Agreement to end cycles of conflict that fed the humanitarian crisis while undermining the security and development of the entire Great Lakes region. He went on to encourage the international community and its partners to increase support to the Government and MONUSCO and for the funding community to participate in the upcoming Geneva meeting.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said peace, security and development in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were a priority for his country during its Council membership. It supported a constructive role in a peace process in that kindred country of Central Africa and the Great Lakes. Resolving the situation would be complicated if the humanitarian situation remained devastating. Emphasizing that most human rights violations went unpunished, he said his country called on the international community to continue its support, especially in financing the work of humanitarian organizations. Equatorial Guinea insisted on the implementation of the Framework Agreement signed in February 2013, he said, adding that it was essential to neutralize armed groups in the east of the country. The international community must constructively assist the Congolese along the path they freely chose, with full respect for the country's sovereignty. He went on to acknowledge the role of the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union and other organizations, adding that his country unreservedly supported the renewal of MONUSCO's mandate.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said 13.1 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo needed assistance, the same number as in Syria, while the United Nations had declared level 3 emergency need in some provinces, placing them beside Yemen and Iraq in that regard. In eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, 90 per cent of the women had been raped in certain areas, he said, stressing that the country also had the highest number of displaced people in Africa, with 2 million displaced in the last year alone. Some 740,000 refugees were in neighbouring countries. For its part, the United Kingdom had committed to spending $285 million in aid between 2017 and 2020. However, support from the Congolese Government was crucial and he pressed it to improve administrative procedures for non governmental organizations, to reduce bureaucracy for humanitarian workers to get visas and pass through customs, and to ensure that security was maintained across the country so that such groups could reach those in need. Pointing to political instability as the cause of conflict, and citing violence against church led protestors this year, he said free, transparent elections must be held on 23 December. The world must remain united in support of the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the expectations of its Government and insistence on accountability and progress. The Council must work with the region and subregion to do so. He also pressed the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure a thorough, transparent investigation into the deaths of Zaida Catalan and Michael Sharp, and to ensure that all those responsible were held to account.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDA�N (Bolivia) condemned the violence committed last December during peaceful protests, especially the threat posed by armed groups, which was the main reason for the deteriorating humanitarian situation. He welcomed the 13 December 2017 end of the trial centred on the rape of 38 girls, with 12 defendants sentenced to life in prison. Noting that 4.5 million people had become internally displaced, including 900 million women, and more than 680,000 Congolese had sought refuge in neighbouring countries, he said 8 million faced severe food insecurity, up 30 per cent from last year. Kasai, Tanganyika and South Kivu were at emergency level 3, the highest level, he said, calling for international support, and on all actors in the conflict to provide unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance. All parties must also comply with the New Year's Eve agreement by carrying out confidence building measures in order to hold credible, inclusive, on time elections, with equitable participation of women in all phases. For its part, MONUSCO must work with others to address illegal natural resource exploitation, making full use of preventive diplomacy.
KAREL J.G. VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), recalling Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag's visit with Mr. Lowcock to the Katanika camp in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo last week, said women continued to bear the brunt of the crisis. Underlining the need to step up the immediate response and prevent further escalation, and voicing concern about increasing attacks on humanitarian personnel, he declared: This month, we have the chance to give MONUSCO the mandate and means it needs to prevent escalation. The Council should also address the situation more frequently. Expressing support for a Council visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo this year, he said the situation in Ituri required particular attention, adding that the international community must address the root causes of the man made crisis. Indeed, the escalation since 2016 was directly linked to the country's political crisis, and a renewed commitment to the Saint Sylvester Agreement from all parties was critical. Noting that women's meaningful participation in the country's elections was essential, he said regional stakeholders � and the Council itself � should increase efforts towards finding a peaceful solution to the crisis.
IGNACE GATA MAVITA WA LUFUTA (Democratic Republic of the Congo) spoke in place of his country's Minister of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action, who would be in New York later today. He recalled that, for more than two decades, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been in the midst of a humanitarian crisis resulting from recurring armed conflict, natural disasters and epidemics. The Government was working to find solutions and any contribution from the international community would be welcome. He expressed appreciation for the recent visit to his country by the Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator and the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, adding, however, that his Government considered as excessive a proposed review of the application of humanitarian assistance. Ahead of the Geneva conference, a meeting of the national framework for humanitarian coordination � a space for dialogue with humanitarian actors � would be held to harmonize views. However, without the eradication of negative forces, it would be almost impossible to end the humanitarian crisis, he said, emphasizing that the Government was unrelentingly determined to eradicate armed groups, with support from MONUSCO and its robust mandate. Going forward, he said it would be useful to think about the root causes of the humanitarian situation and for a political dialogue to take place between armed groups, especially those originating from outside the country.
Source: United Nations