On December 19, 2019, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 2502, outlining a new mandate for the peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo—known by its French acronym MONUSCO. Changes to a peacekeeping mission’s mandate instruct peacekeepers on what shifts to make in their policies, activities, and operations on the ground. So, what adjustments were made to MONUSCO’s mandate and what do these changes signal? Overall the message appears to be that MONUSCO is still needed in the DRC and that modest improvements in the conflict environment warrant a focus on gradual transition, but not a whole-scale change in the activities or role of the Mission. The Council also signaled that strong performance is expected of all peacekeeping personnel and that MONUSCO needs to ensure it is mitigating any harm its operations and support to Congolese security forces might have on the Congolese people it is mandated to protect.

The first item to note is that the two core pillars of MONUSCO’s mandate remain unchanged. MONUSCO’s primary mandated task continues to be the protection of civilians. The second task, “support to stabilization and the strengthening of state institutions” was also maintained. Upholding these two pillars of MONUSCO’s mandate reflects the reality that over one-hundred armed groups operating in the DRC’s eastern region continue to pose acute protection threats to civilians, as do underpaid and underequipped members of the Congolese national army and police services. Since his election in January 2019, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi has taken initial steps to address persistent violence and systemic corruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the DRC), but both endeavors will be long-term projects.

Secondly, MONUSCO’s troop ceiling was reduced from 16,215 to 14,000 and the number of individual police officers authorized for deployment was temporarily increased from 391 to 591. The Council’s decision to reduce the troop ceiling was likely motivated by a variety of factors, including a desire to better adapt the mission to the changing context and to signal that the Mission should be looking toward transition and drawdown in the coming years.  However, the lower troop ceiling will not require any actual repatriation of troops, since the number of military peacekeepers deployed in the DRC at the time of the mandate renewal was significantly lower than the official ceiling of 16,215. That is because MONUSCO has sought cost savings over the last several years by shrinking its troop numbers in some areas of the country that were affected by conflict in the run-up to presidential elections but have since returned to relative calm. In areas where armed-group violence has receded, criminality and impunity remain. The temporary increase in police officers authorized by the Council, if recruited, trained, and deployed effectively, could help MONUSCO assist Congolese authorities to address this gap in rule of law.

The mandate language also makes clear that MONUSCO should be developing a plan, in consultation with the people and government of the DRC, for MONUSCO’s gradual exit from the country. But, although mandate language explicitly recognizes the finding of an independent strategic review that “an absolute minimum transition period of three years is required” it also stresses the need for flexibility in the process to ensure that it is responsible and sustainable. In this vein, the Council requested the Secretary-General of the UN to identify a set of benchmarks that will measure progress transferring MONUSCO’s tasks to other stakeholders, including Congolese authorities and UN humanitarian and development agencies. Overall the mandate wisely favors an approach for MONUSCO’s drawdown that is tied to concrete improvements on the ground rather than a somewhat arbitrary and externally imposed deadline.

As MONUSCO supports the Congolese authorities to gradually assume responsibility for some of the activities currently carried out by its personnel, the Mission will need to ensure that it does not support activities that harm civilians. New language was added to the mandate underscoring the need for MONUSCO to mitigate risk to civilians, by “tracking, preventing, minimizing, and addressing civilian harm resulting from the Mission’s operations, including when in support of national security forces.”

The Council also used the mandate renewal as an opportunity to underline the importance of strong performance by peacekeeping personnel. New language in paragraph 41 of the mandate calls on the UN to ensure accountability for underperformance, “in particular by investigating and taking immediate action following significant performance failures to implement the protection of civilians strategy, to include the rotation, repatriation, replacement or dismissal of under-performing MONUSCO uniformed or civilian personnel….” UN officials launched several investigations into the performance of MONUSCO officials in 2018. New mandate language stresses the importance of ensuring that investigations don’t end up only as black ink on white paper but result in concrete corrective action on the ground.

Finally, some changes were made to more closely align the activities of MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) with the rest of its military component.  Since its creation in 2011, the FIB has been mandated to take offensive action to neutralize armed groups that pose a threat to civilians in the DRC. Since the initial authorization of the FIB, some stakeholders within and external to the UN have expressed concern that this distinct mandate for the FIB created several misconceptions: chiefly, that the FIB was not responsible for implementing other protection related tasks included in the mandate and that non-FIB troops in MONUSCO were not expected to take robust and kinetic action to protect civilians. Updated language in resolution 2502 emphasizes that the FIB is expected to perform all protection-related functions in the mandate. Moreover, it references the need to enhance the effectiveness of the FIB, including by ensuring there are units within the FIB equipped with appropriate training, capabilities, and equipment for their specialized role, which requires them to operate in jungle environments against armed groups who employ tactics of asymmetric warfare.

Efforts by the Council to clarify the FIB’s role and improve its effectiveness should not be interpreted as encouraging an overly militarized approach to the protection of civilians in the DRC. The Council maintained language throughout the mandate emphasizing the importance of a comprehensive and integrated approach to protection of civilians and stressing the need for regional initiatives to address the root causes of conflict, including through cooperation between MONUSCO and the Office of the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes. Further evidence that the Security Council wants to see a regional and politically driven approach to conflict resolution in the DRC came this week when the Council held an informal dialogue on the role of the Central African region in stabilizing the country. This is a welcome approach, as military operations alone are unlikely to put an end to armed group activity in a country where many militias are community-based or operate with the backing of opaque political and criminal networks.

Image courtesy of MONUSCO/Force