Report of the Secretary-General:
On the Implementation of the political agreement of 31 December 2016 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Date: 15 August 2017
Period: 30 June- 15 August
Prepared by Anne Lescure
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. Resolution 2348 (2017) specifically urges for the full participation of women at all stages of the electoral process. The Security Council 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 present report covers the political, electoral and security developments in the DRC in relation to the implementation of the 31 December 2016 agreement, since 30 June 2017. First, in line with previous reports, the Secretary-General expresses concern at the growing political tensions between opposition platforms and the ruling majority regarding the implementation of the political agreement. Specifically, the report notes the slow implementation of the agreed-upon confidence-building measures meant to create conditions conducive to the holding of peaceful and transparent presidential, national and provincial legislative elections in December 2017. According to the report, a significant number of political prisoners remain in detention, and a ban on protests continue to be applied in most cities. Secondly, concerning the electoral situation, the Secretary-General reiterates his call to the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) to release the official and consensual electoral calendar, which was promised months ago. Moreover, the report points out that while the voter’s registration process is gradually being completed throughout the country, it is likely that it will not be completed before November 2017. At this time, there is a broad consensus among key stakeholders that the elections will likely not be taking place in December 2017. Lastly, the Secretary-General expresses grave concern at the security situation in the DRC, in view of continuing human rights violations across the country, and in the Kasai regions in particular. In the report, women are solely referred to in the context of voter’s registration. This illustrates the Congolese government’s and UN entities’ general lack of normative and practical focus on women’s inclusion in the electoral process, their role in preventing relapse into all-out violence after peace agreements, and their protection in times of electoral violence.
Of the 24 paragraphs in the report, only 1 (4 percent) includes references to women. While Resolution 2348 (2017) specifically urges for the full participation of women at all stages of the electoral process, women’s role into the preparation of the upcoming elections remain under-analysed in the Secretary-General reports. Congolese women hold a special place in their society at this critical time of change in the DRC: when women participate in elections, decisions better reflect the electorate and political processes are more inclusive. On one hand, the upcoming elections in the DRC represent a window of opportunity for women to be increasingly included in conflict prevention mechanisms surrounding the elections and in the post-elections political landscape. On the other hand, elections are a time when women require specific protection mechanisms. Consistent with previous reports, the Secretary-General however fails to acknowledge women’s political influence in electoral processes; he focuses on women as voters but fails to recognise women can also be political agents of change as part of the elections and should be provided with an opportunity to participate in the elections.
In the report, women’s participation in the Congolese electoral process is solely analysed from the voter’s perspective. According to report, as at 29 July, over 37 million eligible voters (90 percent), including 48 percent of women, had been officially registered as voters. The report also notes insurrectionist violence in the North Kivu and South Kivu provinces impeded CENI’s voter registration operations in the region. The report however does not mention women’s participation in the organisation and carrying out of the registration process itself, or in any other politically active position as part of the electoral process. While consideration of gender are incorporated into Security Council Resolutions at the international level, and into various laws and institutional guidelines at the national level, the report does not mention the importance of improving the involvement of women in politics. Moreover, it does not recognise the key role of the Congolese civil society, and of women’s organisations in particular, in the carrying out of inclusive and transparent elections.
According to the report, growing political divisions and perceived breaches of the political agreement -including the appointment of the Prime Minister- have undermined the confidence that the stakeholders had in the political agreement early in 2017. These challenges have led to the re-emergence of a climate of political uncertainty and tensions in the DRC. In response, the Secretary-General encourages the holding of the elections as soon as possible. He reiterates its call for the speedy release of the electoral calendar and the completion of the registration process. The Secretary-General does not makes any reference to the electoral process as possibly sparking new eruptions of violence, and seems to envision the elections in themselves as the best way to prevent conflict. He notably does not lay out any recommendation on prevention mechanisms around the electoral cycle; nor does he into account the role of the civil society in contributing to these prevention efforts.
Echoing previous reports, the Secretary-General is alarmed at the human rights situation in the DRC, amid worsening socio-economic situations. The report notes an increasing trend in violation of political rights and freedom in the DRC since 2015. Specifically, it reports there were 430 violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms linked to restrictions of the democratic space in relation to the elections between January and June 2017 throughout the country. It also calls for the immediate, full and tangible implementation of the confidence-building measures enshrined in the political agreement, such as the release of political prisoners. The report however does not mention the disproportionate impact of electoral tensions on women. Moreover, it fails to take into account for the specific targeting of women human rights defenders (HRDs) by the congolese authorities in their hunt for anti-Kabila journalists and actors from civil society.
Upcoming elections can be a critical momentum to institute women groups’ inclusion in peace processes and to establish more stable post-conflict institutions where women are more equally represented. Future Secretary-General reports must recognise women’s role as active participants in the holding of elections beyond their role as voters. In order to achieve women’s greater participation, the centrality of the agreement must be recognised and trust must be restored between the signatories. Women’s organisations like “Nothing Without Women” represents a very eloquent example of how local women from diverse political parties can bring about reconciliation between political opponents while advocating for women’s inclusion in leadership policies at the provincial level. Such initiatives must be supported by UN entities and replicated at different levels to project women’s organisations vision of peace as inclusive and enhance women’s participation in politics, and in the electoral process in particular.
Electoral cycles in conflict and post-conflict countries are often marred by violence. This is especially the case when elections are held in very unstable contexts, or when a society is not deemed “ready” or “ripe” to hold them. The Secretary-General’s current point of view as set out in the report seems to maintain that elections must be held as quickly as possible to avoid the potentially dire consequences of a lack of progress towards holding them. In view of the recent MONUSCO budget and troop cuts, CENI’s delay in releasing the electoral calendar and in completing the voter’s registration process, the unstable situation in the Kasai regions, and women’s limited participation at this time of the electoral process, it becomes increasingly apparent that the timing of the elections is less important than ensuring that they are peaceful and inclusive and that President Kabila and the opposition need to agree on a new realistic frame. The delay of the election could offer an opportunity for women’s groups such as “Nothing Without Women” along with other organisation to set up Women's Situation Rooms throughout the country to help prevent breaks out of violence through early-warning systems and partnerships with influential local figures. Women's Situation Rooms have proved efficient in Nigeria, and multiple other African countries. More than ever, the Secretary General must support such initiative and recognise the importance of women civil society’s efforts in preventing the re-emergence of conflict around the electoral cycle.
The report emphasises the need for free and constructive political debate in DRC. Congolese authorities, along with the UN mission, however have a long way to go to ensure an environment conducive to the conduct of this electoral process. Most prominently, the Secretary-General should condemn the Congolese government’s human rights violations, especially its attacks on the civil society space and freedom of expression. He should also encourage UN entities on the ground to support civil society, and women’s organisation in particular, to fight against the discrimination against women human rights defenders and journalists who are disproportionately targeted by government authorities.
In the future, reporting should include recommendations on how to better integrate women in electoral processes in the DRC. Deepened partnerships and collaboration with women civil society organisations (CSOs) is key to address gender inequalities in electoral processes. CSOs can be an excellent conduit to share civic and voter education materials because of their reach, especially in remote communities. Moreover, they can bring their gender expertise to bear on the electoral process, providing advice, assistance and access to networks that government entities may not have themselves.