Thank you, Mr. President. And I would like to thank UK Minister Simmonds for calling together this important event. I’d also like to thank Angolan Defense Minister Lourenço, DRC Foreign Minister Tshibanda, South African Defense Minister Nqakula, and Ugandan State Minister Okello for making the time to join us today at this critical session. And I thank Special Representative Martin Kobler, Special Envoy Mary Robinson, and Force Commander dos Santo Cruz for all of their efforts – their herculean efforts to ensure that the people of the Great Lakes finally, one day, get to live free from fear and free from want.
A year and a half ago, leaders from across the region came together to create an ambitious agreement to break the horrific and long-running cycle of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement that they signed was predicated on the understanding that not only the region, but the entire international community, had a stake in forging a durable and lasting peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo – an understanding reflected in the significant, unprecedented support that the accord received from the African Union, the United Nations, the World Bank, and other partners.
In the time since, significant progress has been made towards that collective goal. With strong support from MONUSCO, the DRC’s military defeated the M23, which is currently being demobilized, as well as several other armed groups. And MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade has demonstrated that – with a robust mandate – peacekeepers can effectively protect civilians from atrocities. They have performed with bravery and competence, putting their lives on the line for people from a country that is not their own.
We welcome MONUSCO’s commitment to investigate any and all occasions when civilians are massacred when UN peacekeepers are nearby. As well as Special Representative Kobler’s call today to shift from a mindset of protection by presence to one of protection by action.
However, significant obstacles continue to stand in the way of peace in the Great Lakes region, which undermine the hard-won progress of this collective effort.
The greatest threat is posed by the FDLR, whose members continue to carry out serious human rights violations and sow fear across the DRC. For example, in April the FDLR abducted at least 60 civilians in Walikale territory, according to the Secretary-General’s report. Their crime: refusing to carry out forced labor. The FDLR also continued to forcibly recruit children. These abuses, in turn, fuel more inter-communal violence, displacement, and fear, and foster a climate in which new armed groups are likely to emerge.
The longer FDLR militants remain at-large, the greater the risk to all that has been achieved up to now. FDLR leadership must be held accountable for their crimes, beginning with Sylvestre Mudacumura, who was charged by the International Criminal Court on nine counts of war crimes, including murder, mutilation, torture, and rape. He should immediately be handed over.
We have heard here today an alarming report from the Special Representative. The FDLR has interpreted the recent announcement of a six-month timeline as a call to stall the process. As Special Representative Kobler has put it, “Standing still means we are moving backwards.” We cannot move backwards. Spoilers will reenter the game. Yet, we hear the FDLR are cancelling meetings and ignoring international delegations.
Any demobilization process must lay out specific time-bound benchmarks. Over twenty years since the genocide in Rwanda, the FDLR has made many promises to disarm. Results are all that matter, and military pressure is needed – we have found – for results. We have seen this with the M23, we have seen this with the ADF, and we will need to see this against any and all FDLR holdouts.
This period should not be treated as a grace period, during which military pressure on the FDLR is suspended. Given the FDLR’s track record of committing atrocities at the same time that it claims to be demobilizing, this would put even more innocent civilians at risk and undercut broader efforts to establish peace and stability. Therefore, even as the demobilization process is underway, the DRC and MONUSCO must continue to apply robust and persistent military pressure on the FDLR against those parts of the FDLR that have refused to engage in a process of demobilization.
Another obstacle is posed by members of the M23 who remain in Rwanda and Uganda. Members eligible for amnesty should be promptly repatriated, while those who are not must be held accountable for their crimes. We call on the DRC government, with cooperation from Uganda and Rwanda, to finalize implementation of this process.
Now, beyond the urgent objective of ending the violence in the DRC, countries in the region can also advance peace, stability, and prosperity by continuing to shore up democracy and good governance. In the next three years, the DRC, Burundi, and Rwanda will all hold elections. While we all know that elections alone do not make democracy, concrete steps may be taken today to help lay the foundation for free, fair, and participatory processes, in accordance with international standards. To this end, it is critically important that electoral calendars be determined promptly, and that opposition parties be guaranteed space for equal participation.
It is also crucial that countries across the region continue to shore up what President Obama called “the ingredients of progress: rule of law, open government, accountable and transparent institutions, strong civil societies, and respect for the universal human rights of all people.” As he made the case to nearly 50 heads of state from Africa this week in Washington while hosting the Africa Leaders Summit, these ingredients not only promote free societies, but also vibrant economies.
A year and a half ago, the commitments contained in the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement were just that – commitments. Words on paper. Aspirations. That today so much progress has been made toward making them real is a result of unprecedented regional leadership and cooperation; robust peacekeeping; and a two-track approach that couples demobilization with significant military pressure. This formula has worked so far. And if it is applied to the FDLR and the remnants of other armed groups, the end of one of the longest and deadliest conflicts in the world is within reach. We must not stop yet.
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