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Author: Niamh Fallon

In the final event of the IIEA/ Irish Aid Development Matters series for 2020, Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of the UN Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), took stock of the work of the Mission since its establishment in 2010 in building peace and stability in the country.

The Special Representative’s address to the IIEA followed the beginning of a new phase for the Mission and the agreement reached on 19 October 2020 between MONUSCO and the Government of the DRC on a joint strategy for the Mission’s drawdown and eventual withdrawal.

In his introductory remarks to the Special Representative’s (SRSG) presentation, Alan Gibbons, Africa Director at Irish Aid, reflected on the critical period ahead for MONUSCO and the challenge of safeguarding past gains during this new phase and in the wake of COVID-19. He further noted that the SRSG’s address was coming just ahead of the Mission’s anticipated mandate renewal in mid-December.

Special Representative Zerrougui reflected on the aims and achievements of MONUSCO and on the Mission’s current mandate objectives under UNSC Resolution 2502, namely:
(a) Protecting civilians; and
(b) Supporting the stabilisation and strengthening of State institutions, and key governance and security reforms.

Ms Zerrougui identified a number of markers of progress in the work carried out by MONUSCO to date. She stated that the degree of instability in the DRC when MONUSCO was starting out had necessitated a presence in 16 of the country’s 26 provinces, while today MONUSCO is present in only six plus Kinshasa, the Mission’s headquarters. She also highlighted MONUSCO’s work in containing three Ebola outbreaks and in supporting significant developments in the political culture of the DRC. The Special Representative further reflected that the advantage of UN Missions lies in the direct communication they afford with leaders at the highest political level in the countries in which they are based.

SRSG Zerrougui stated that once the immediate demands of containing outbreaks of violence have been met and a “minimum of peace” has been attained, the key task for MONUSCO is to bring about sustainable change so that the Mission does not leave a vacuum behind on its withdrawal. To this end, she stressed the importance of addressing the root causes of conflict in the DRC through the consolidation of state authority and a holistic approach that encompasses justice and human rights. This concern for the root causes of conflict is further reflected in Resolution 2502 among UNSC members’ requests for the joint drawdown strategy agreed in October 2020.

The Special Representative highlighted a number of specific measures crucial to achieving long-term stability in the DRC such as: building the capacity of the armed forces and the police – however, SRSG Zerrougui stressed, this must be accompanied by genuine security sector reform and professionalisation; strengthening the justice system; tackling the illegal exploitation of minerals and natural resources; integrating former members of armed groups into peaceful communities; and improving land access. On the final point, she noted that 100 million hectares of unexploited land in the DRC could be utilised to reduce competition between different groups. The SRSG stated that these programmes need not be expensive if they are well-designed and that the role of MONUSCO is to create the space for partners such as the EU, the US and other global actors to aid in their implementation.

MONUSCO Drawdown and Exit Strategy
In order to adequately address the complexity of conflicts in the DRC, the joint strategy agreed between MONUSCO and the government of the DRC on 19 October 2020 envisages a series of region-specific plans for drawdown that are tailored to the needs of the six provinces outside Kinshasa in which MONUSCO still has a presence. The Special Representative offered her insights on the outlook for each of the provinces.

Discussing Kasai and Central Kasai, which are in a post-conflict phase, Ms Zerrougui affirmed the Mission’s proposal to withdraw by June 2021. She suggested that the election of President Tshisekedi in 2018, who is from the Kasai region, had contributed to a decrease in violence. According to the SRSG, maintaining stability in these two provinces will rely on ensuring the core functions of the state are in place including justice, policing and local government.

In Tanganyika province, the Special Representative stated that she anticipates that the withdrawal of MONUSCO will take place in either late 2021, or by mid-2022. She pointed out that although conflict persists in the region, it is a local conflict without a regional dimension and without the complication of the presence of minerals. She indicated that providing communities with the means to make a living would reduce inter-ethnic tensions.

With regard to the remaining three provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri, SRSG Zerrougui stated that it was as yet too early to assess a timeframe or set benchmarks for MONUSCO’s departure. She noted that all three provinces are facing conflict arising from a complex mix of regional dynamics, ethnicity, control and exploitation of minerals, and issues of land access, all compounded by weak state authority. The Special Representative re-emphasised the need to address root causes of conflict in a sustainable and responsible manner.

Politics, Governance and Democracy in the DRC
Special Representative Zerrougui stressed that the transition from practices of coming to power by force, conflict or inheritance to a functioning democracy is not a straight swap but a gradual process. She stated that the core element for advancing this process is the presence of a range credible political leaders and alternatives and argued that progress in the DRC in this area should not be downplayed. For example, Ms Zerrougui reflected that historically in the DRC, loss of power has resulted in death, imprisonment or exile. She therefore highlighted the significance of the fact that all major political leaders, whether members of the ruling coalition or in opposition, are currently present in the DRC as political opponents who disagree over the management of the country, but who are ultimately united by a national identity.

However, SRSG Zerrougui, also acknowledged remaining challenges. She stated that the real proof of stability is achieving several successive peaceful transfers of power and that the Presidential election of 2023 will be a crucial test for the country in this regard. She also addressed the ongoing political tensions between the DRC’s governing coalition partners. The Special Representative suggested that the potential for crisis in the current situation lies in the delay of a resolution as the resulting vacuum would be exploited by spoilers. She said that the role of MONUSCO is not to tell political leaders how to proceed, but to support them in proactive decision-making by ensuring they understand the risks at play.

Justice and Rule of Law
Special Representative Zerrougui placed particular emphasis on the consolidation of the rule of law as a means of addressing the root causes of instability and conflict. She stated that perceptions of “national institutions versus the people” should be avoided by asserting impartial application of the law, and discussed the significance of the fair trial principle in eradicating a culture of revenge.

MONUSCO is working to support this goal in the context of military justice and Ms Zerrougui discussed progress in curbing sexual violence perpetrated by the armed forces and ending the enlisting of children. She described how the provision of expertise by MONUSCO has helped to develop evidence-based sentencing and to eliminate the practice of torture to elicit confession.
The SRSG also underscored the importance of demonstrating accountability. She highlighted MONUSCO’s support for the work of the American Bar Association and Avocats sans Frontières in implementing the Mobile Courts initiative in the DRC which allows local populations to see justice done in the place where a given crime was committed. She further noted the value of Mobile Courts in allowing victims and witnesses to testify more easily, especially since the inability of victims and witnesses to travel to do so frequently leads to acquittal.
In considering the role of international courts and tribunals, Ms Zerrougui made the point that, ultimately, strengthening the capacity of domestic institutions is the most durable solution to fighting impunity. However, ideally, she said, both levels would work in tandem given the scale and number of crimes in question. She stated that a measure such as an ICC tribunal requires international political will as well as financial support, but she believed it would not be met with opposition from political leaders in the DRC.