Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you Special Representative Zerrougui. We are very pleased to welcome you to the Council and to having you heading the mission in Congo. We also welcome the participation of the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of DRC, Mr. She Okitundu, in today’s meeting.
Before I start, I want to take a moment to remember Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan who were kidnapped on March 12, 2017, nearly one year ago. We remember Michael and Zaida and their dedication to improving the lives of the Congolese, and we continue to work to ensure those responsible for their murders will be brought to justice.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is a country at a critical juncture today. For the first time in history, the people of Congo are on the verge of a peaceful, democratic transition of power. They have waited too long for this moment. But their enthusiasm is clear. Despite violence, threats, and broken promises, the people of Congo have eagerly lined up to register to vote. They not only have a great desire to determine their future, they also have an undeniable right to do so.
For nearly twenty years, the international community has invested in MONUSCO to protect the Congolese people from violence and to bring them closer to an enduring, inclusive peace. This mission is the most expensive in UN history and the most complex. It’s fair to ask ourselves what we’ve gotten in return for this investment.
Although the progress has been uneven, the greatest achievement of MONUSCO’s precursor mission is clear. The July 2006 voting that resulted in Joseph Kabila’s election as president marked the first free elections in Congo in over 40 years. It is one of the most complex votes the United Nations has ever helped organize. A true achievement.
Today the challenge is related, but different. The need to protect the security and the rights of the people of Congo, however, is the same. Free, fair, inclusive, and credible elections leading to a peaceful transfer of power are the next, indispensable step in Congo’s development. Like elections elsewhere, the promised elections in Congo will represent much more than the fulfilment of the minimum right of participation in a democracy. They will be a sign of progress across the board for the Congolese people. They will be a critical concession on the part of the government that it does not exist to extract wealth and power for an unaccountable elite.
The Government of Congo, like all governments, exists to respond to the needs of its citizens. But before this can happen, there is much more progress to make.
President Kabila has already stayed in office long past his constitutional term limit. His commitment to elections in December that result in his transfer of power to a successor remains unacceptably vague. In addition, political prisoners guaranteed release under the December 2016 agreement remain unjustly detained. The government continues to pursue questionable charges against political opponents. And peaceful protestors have been met with violence as the government cuts off communication and denies their right of peaceful assembly.
But there are also signs of hope amid the violence and uncertainty. So far, the government is satisfying the technical requirements for holding elections in December. And, most importantly, the people of Congo are energized and ready to vote. Building on this energy and delivering on the promise of democracy in Congo is now the central task for the Security Council.
And as we consider the renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate, we must ensure that it is doing all it can to ensure that elections are held on December 23, 2018 as the government has promised. Our highest priority for the mission will always be to protect Congolese civilians from violence. Troop and staff performance is bedrock. Accountability is essential. Sexual exploitation and abuse cannot be tolerated under any circumstances. But our focus on the performance of MONUSCO cannot be allowed to crowd out our focus on its purpose.
We are not devoting this much time and resources to Congo in order to reinforce a stagnant status quo. Our objective must always be to move forward – to help the people achieve the future they deserve. We call on the Council to rise to this challenge as we renew MONUSCO’s mandate. The mission must step up to the task of ensuring that Congo is ready for elections. We must hold the Government of the DRC accountable for adhering to clearly defined benchmarks as we progress toward elections. We must ensure that Congolese in all areas of the country are able to vote. We must ensure that the ability of citizens and candidates to participate safely and securely in the electoral process is respected. We must ensure the integrity of their vote by using proven and appropriate voting mechanisms. Finally, and perhaps more importantly, we must know when these things are not being done.
MONUSCO must report to the Council in a timely and transparent manner when progress toward elections is not being made and when peacekeepers fail to do their jobs. It is for this reason we support a trip to the DRC to ensure continued Security Council focus on elections.
When Ambassador Haley met with President Kabila last year, they talked about the historic opportunity he has to be the first leader of his country to voluntarily yield power to a democratically elected successor. This would be a remarkable and enduring legacy. And there is no more important work this Council can do than to share in this legacy.
We have invested a great deal in the future of the DRC. Now is the time to ensure that the investment pays off, not just for the Council but for the people of Congo.
Thank you, Mr. President.