By Eleanor Bennett
Reporting Period: 4 June to 1 September 2018
A Congolese woman from Aru, Ituri, knitting in front of her house with a baby on her back, in Ituri, Democratic Republic of the Congo. (UN Photo/Martine Perret)
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. In addition, Resolution 2348 (2017) specifically urges for the full participation of women at all stages of the electoral process. Resolution 2348 (2017) also demands that all armed groups cease immediately all forms of violence.
This report builds on the work of the previous Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en République Démocratique du Congo (MONUSCO) reports this year including S/2018/174 , S/2018/128 and S/2018/16. It is part of a long succession of reports regarding peacebuilding; last year there were six reports S/2017/963 , S/2017/826 , S/2017/824 ,S/2017/712, S/2017/565 and S/2017/435.
The current report outlines in detail the recent political developments during the reporting period, as well as the economic developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (Para 11). The Secretary- General outlines in his report the security situations in each of the regions (Para 12-24). These issues vary by region, but generally the report focuses on ongoing violence and insecurity, and to what extent each region has improved following the last report. Between paragraphs 25 and 29, the Secretary-General outlines the humanitarian situation, with the majority of reference to displaced persons, some of whom have taken refuge in neighboring Ethiopia.
The previous report focused on the preparations for the elections and the steps taken to ensure accurate fair voter registration as well as the protection of voting machines, with 7% of its paragraphs referencing to women. The current report is a considerable improvement in relation to gender analysis and references to women; women are referenced in 11 (9%) 82 paragraphs, which is a 6% increase compared to the previous report. Of these references, three are in relation to violent crime, one highlights recent abductions, including 16 women (Para. 22), another ongoing issue with rape and sexual violence (Para. 38) and the third outlining that thirty six women were the victims of extrajudicial killings (Para. 31). Two references are in relation to democratic participation, the first noting that of the candidates running for election, 12% of these are women (Para. 7), and the other stating that not a significant enough amount of women had been included in the democratic process (Para. 75). Overall these references are more comprehensive than those in the previous report,however, there is a notable gap in the lack of attention paid to the needs of displaced women, and comprehensive policy to effectively address the ongoing accusations against peacekeepers of sexual abuse.
There is also a sizeable section dedicated to the human rights situation, which outlines that state actors were responsible for 59% of human rights violations, including the banning of peaceful gatherings, and ongoing legal issues surrounding opposition leaders (Paras 30- 37). The report also outlines the ongoing issues with sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) (Para 38-39) and considerable technical details as to the implementation of MONUSCO’s mandate. (Para. 42- 69).
Recent United Nations engagement with the DRC has focused on its upcoming elections in December 2018. François Delattre, the Permanent Representative of France to the UN stated that “The Security Council must put all its weight behind our priority objective: elections by 23 December, which are credible, transparent, and held in a calm climate”. The current president of the DRC, Joseph Kabila, has stated he will not run as a candidate in the forthcoming elections; his speech to the UN at this year’s opening of the General Assembly reiterated his country’s determination to have free and fair elections by the end of the year. An obstacle to sustained stability in the Democratic Republic has been the Ebola crisis, a ongoing issue directly related to the continued violence in the region (S/2018/655, S/2018/209) . The World Health Organization has reported 174 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak.
Within the UN system, the main focus of discussion is still the DRC’s upcoming elections, scheduled for December 23rd of this year. This election has been subject to considerable international attention and debate; particularly earlier this year when United Nations Security-Council debate grew quite heated over the use of voting machines.
In the most recent UNSC meeting on the DRC, the predominant focus was the electoral process, with the representative for France starting to prioritise the democratic participation of women. Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative and Head of Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en République Démocratique du Congo (MONUSCO), briefed the SC. Her primary focus was the amount of candidates, stating that only 12% of candidates were female and only one woman was running in the presidential election. H.E François Delattre issued a statement expressing concern relating to ongoing violence and the dispreportainte effect this has on both women and children.
The Secretary-General outlines the work of MONUSCO supporting young urban women in actively spreading the principles of peaceful communication among young people(Para. 71). The report outlines that this programme included more than 1,000 young people (694 women and 330 men), all of which were trained on how to voice their opinions while adopting a peaceful communication approach (Para. 71). This is a very welcome and positive development from the previous report, which did not outline a similar programme.
The report outlines the work of MONUSCO’s collaboration with Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the implementation of the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) action plan against sexual violence, including by engaging with the Office of the Special Adviser to the Head of State on the Prevention of Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment (Para. 39). The Secretary-General outlines the training provided by MONUSCO for FARDC commanders on the fight against SGBV, which resulted in the signing of a declaration of commitment by 66 FARDC commanders to combating sexual violence in their ranks (Para. 39). The report also states that the Congolese National Police was finalized and submitted for signature to the Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior (Para. 39).
Sexual exploitation by peacekeepers
The Secretary-General states in his report that the ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ is still in effect, and that ‘the internal preventative measures’ are still currently implemented in MONUSCO. However, the report neither provides any further information on what these measures entail nor any information about the results of these measures volunteered (Para. 67). This means that ascertaining the success of the policy is impossible.
The report also outlines that the Mission has ‘has engaged with the communities exposed to sexual exploitation and abuse with the aim of building their capacity to identify and process complaints of sexual exploitation and abuse’ (Para. 67). What it is that was obtained by ‘capacity building’ is unclear, therefore any tangible effects this engagement has had are not obvious.
The report also outlines that ‘community awareness-raising, open-forum discussions’ relating to the outcome of investigations of sexual abuse were organised by MONUSCO, and that efforts focused on the close monitoring of behavior of personnel and ‘deterrent activities’ by military police patrols and some pocket cards distributed for the prevention of sexual abuse (Para. 68). This element of the report is incredibly vague, since the ‘deterrent activities’ might mean going on more patrols but could also mean something entirely different. As for the pocket card, one can assume that these are similar to those distributed by the UN in Haiti these were cards given to police officers which stated that sexual abuse was not permitted. The report neither provides information on how many of the operatives for MONUSCO were covered by these prevention initiatives, nor what their effects have been.
The Secretary-General states that accountability has been implemented “through a comprehensive coordination mechanism and the direct involvement of field-level managers and unit commanders” but does not provide any results of this mechanism (Para. 68). The report also outlines that MONUSCO has engaged in ‘mass awareness raising campaigns’ in communities at risk, on the Zero Tolerance policy and also the reporting mechanisms for sexual exploitation and abuse (Para. 69). The report does not state if this campaign resulted in an increase in reporting- or any effects this campaign had at all.
As with the previous report, and the UN as a entire system, the response to sexual exploitation committed by peacekeepers is inadequate. Pocket Cards are at best a starting point, but far more must be done to end the lack of accountability. The Secretary-General must do more than condemn these acts and describe a ‘zero tolerance’ policy.
Protection- sexual violence
The Secretary-General’s report documents the rape of and other acts of conflict-related sexual violence against at least 129 women, two men, and 39 children- and that this sexual violence is part of a growing trend (Para. 38). The report also states that the holistic and medical care for these victims was insufficient (Para. 38). The report outlines MONUSCO supported legal action in relation to SGBV (Para. 38); however, it does not outline any convictions or legal processes.
Similar to the previous report, S/2018/655, the report is lacking in preventative response to sexual violence. Considering this has been an ongoing, systemic issue this is incredibly disappointing. Women in conflict zones around the world face disproportionate and gender-specific risks; for women in the DRC this threat is amplified by the increasing rates of SGBV. The lack of acknowledgement of the size of this problem has been a issue in previous MONUSCO reports by the Secretary-General, and it is disappointing to see that this trend has continued.
The report gives extensive attention to the upcoming elections in Congo, which are scheduled for December of this year, and it is clear that the participation of Congolese in the election is a priority. There are expensive outlines of the work of MONUSCO to counter potential violence on election day (Para. 43), the report also outlines the work to protect civilians (Para. 45), and the improvements to MONUSCO’s early warning mechanisms were also noted (Para. 46).
In relation to women’s democratic participation, the report outlines that MONUSCO held meetings with 22 female politicians affiliated with different political parties and civil society, to exchange views on the opportunities for and the challenges of being candidates, as well ashow to help to mobilize voters and win seats (Para. 72). This is a welcome development and a significant improvement from the previous report, which outlined no such work.
The Secretary-General also states his continued concern about the arbitrary arrests of civil society activists by intelligence services and repression of public demonstrations (Para. 77). Unfortunately, he does not outline any action based on this concern therefore it is unclear what steps have been taken to amend this issue.
RELIEF AND RECOVERY
The Secretary-General outlined the progress made towards the implementation of confidence building, but that considerable challenges remained including the continued imprisonment of opposition leader Franck Diongo (Para. 33). The report also outlined the work of MONUSCO that continued to provide technical and logistical support to military and civilian justice institutions in addressing cases of international crimes and other serious human rights violations and abuses in the eastern provinces and the Kasai region (Para. 34).
The report outlines the convictions of several persons for crimes against humanity, notably Dominique Buyenge and senior FARDC officers and a member of the South Kivu provincial parliament (Para. 34, Para. 35). There also was reference to the continued support by MONUSCO for Prosecution Support Cell in Beni which arrested three members of the Union des patriotes pour la libération du Congo, a group which organized a attack which resulted in that death of a MONUSCO peacekeeper (Para. 36).
The Secretary-General highlighted the continued issues with the deaths of incarcerated, noting that MONUSCO had recorded 28 deaths from malnutrition, and identified 31 cases of prolonged detention (Para. 37). The language used on this issue is comparatively weak to language used elsewhere in the report, and the report does not outline any steps taken on this issue.
Relief and Recovery Initiatives
The report outlines MONUSCO’s support to the Panzi Foundation for the provision of medical, psychosocial and legal assistance to 207 persons, including 62 survivors of sexual violence (Para. 38). Notably, the lead doctor of the Panzi Foundation, Dr. Denis Mukwege, won the nobel peace prize this year. There are no suggestions made that this programme be expanded nor does it outline in tangibly what is meant by ‘support’ meaning it is not clear.
The report outlines MONUSCO’s work supporting the reintegration of ex-combatants to their communities via income-generating activities, such as building community infrastructure, psychosocial support and vocational training (Para. 57).
The Secretary-General could support innovatives by promoting a re-evaluation of social norms though education and the ‘bystander approach’ in which people are taught not to be a bystander when they witness sexual violence. There could be many Congolese created responses to this ongoing issue, and the Secretary-General should support actively the creation and implementation of prevention measures.
The report does not outline any preventative action taken by MONUSCO on the issue of sexual violence beyond the aforementioned actions. It is critical that the Mission engage with grassroots organizations, create safe spaces for survivors, work with the government to prioritise women’s protection from sexual violence.
In future reports should outline comprehensive accountability mechanisms and be transparent about their effectivity. The ongoing culture of impunity is a major contributor to this continued issue, the UN should not rest on its laurels that some barriers to victims seeking justice have been lifted. The perpetuation of this issue is evidence of the failure of previous approaches.
In order to effectively deal with this issue, the UN must prioritise a comprehensive policy for data collection- in order that the problem be understood better. The fears of retribution felt by victims must be addressed, otherwise there will never be an environment in which victims are comfortable to come forward. Equally, there must be protections outlined for whistleblowers and persons within the UN to report and address these issues.
The appointment of Jane Connors as Victims’ Rights Advocate (VRA), and the personal intervention of the Secretary-General is not a sustainable approach to the issue. It is necessary to have a bottom-up, victim-centric approach that empowers grassroots organisations and communicates to victims in their own languages and on their own terms.
In future, the SG should proritise protection as a key issue for MONUSCO, and engage with local civil society and grassroots organizations to formulate comprehensive protection plans. Ideally, these would be a series of protection plans focused on different at risk groups. This process alone would help assure the Congolese population that these issues are being prioritised and tackled.
Despite the improvement in engagement by the UNSC and SG with the importance of women’s democratic participation- there is still more work necessary to ensure women’s meaningful participation. In order to ensure democratic participation by women it is imperative that women both as candidates and voters, be protected. The Secretary-General outlines that there is a issue with too few women candidates, but does not outline that this is in part because women are afraid to run. Women voters will face similar issues of intimidation and violence if more is not done to protect them. Female only polling stations and other safe spaces for women are a vital resource for many women in post-conflict democracies; MONUSCO and the SG should support these.
RELIEF AND RECOVERY
The work outlined by the Panzi Foundation was significant improvement over previous reports, that have not outlined a specific programme or organization supporting recovery from SGBV. However, more must be done. Organizations like the Panzi Foundation should not only be supported in their current status, but also expanded. Their offering of medical and mental healthcare, as well as board and food provides a useful model to future policy makers that should be promoted.
The Secretary-General should also support women’s and civil society’s participation in implementation by strengthening action to ensure women politicians, candidates, activists and human rights defenders are protected. In the context of implementation of the political agreement and ensuring action to meaningfully support civil society initiatives such as a Women’s Situation Room aimed at mitigating conflict before, during and after elections. Further, the Secretary-General should demand the government of the DRC refrain from criminalizing and restricting the peaceful and legitimate activities of human rights defenders and civil society, lift the ban on public demonstrations, and drop charges against women human rights defenders and peace activists.