CIVIC released a new policy brief today on peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Analysis in the brief can contribute to conversations around the future of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and how to plan for an eventual exit of the Mission that does not endanger the lives of Congolese civilians or threaten international peace and security. The brief examines shifts in MONUSCO’s budget, presence, and mobility over the last few years. It identifies challenges that have arisen from MONUSCO’s attempts to reduce its field presence and shift to more mobile operations, including perspectives of civilians and civil society leaders living in two towns in the east where MONUSCO bases closed in 2017 and where violence has since resurged.  Finally, the policy brief discusses several key issues that Member States, MONUSCO, and the government of the DRC will need to jointly address alongside humanitarian and development actors to facilitate the Mission’s exit. Below are excerpts from the policy brief, Charting a Future for Peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

UN peacekeepers have been continuously deployed in the DRC for 20 years. The length of the deployment, recurrent insecurity and humanitarian crises, and the sometimes slow progress of building peace and security has led to fatigue among Member States and donors. This weariness is understandable, and placing pressure on missions to develop exit strategies and prioritize their activities can drive positive change. Yet there are still a number of hurdles that need to be overcome for the DRC to achieve durable peace, and MONUSCO’s protection efforts remain crucial in the meantime. With limited support from the Congolese government in the past, MONUSCO has struggled to ensure that its efforts are sustainable. However, the January 2019 change in government presents an opportunity that the UNSC and MONUSCO should capitalize on. As one UN official noted, “it is not the time to say good luck and pack up.” This is a time to evaluate what a successful end to MONUSCO’s mandate will look like, what failures from past drawdowns can be avoided, where the Mission has been successful, and which Mission activities should be reinforced to achieve an exit that does not leave civilians trapped between violent armed groups and abusive state security forces.

Reductions to MONUSCO’s budget over the past several years have spurred base closures and an increased reliance on mobility. While recent closures in the west of the country may prove an effective way for MONUSCO to prioritize and refocus on the most insecure provinces, past base closures in the east serve as an example of the risks that can arise from a quick drawdown in areas where armed groups are still entrenched.

In many of the areas in North Kivu where MONUSCO shuttered its bases in 2017, the security environment has deteriorated. Civilians in Masisi and Nyabiondo who spoke with CIVIC in May of 2019 reported an increase in the frequency and severity of armed group activity, armed group activity closer to or within major population centers, and the creation of new armed groups since the MONUSCO bases closed in these towns. For example, a civil society leader in Masisi told CIVIC, “Everything has changed since the closure of the MONUSCO base. … The situation has deteriorated, abuses have increased, and physical and sexual violence are deployed every day here.”

Many civilians living in Masisi and Nyabiondo are displaced persons who fled to these towns because their home villages were overrun by armed groups and the MONUSCO presence offered them a safe haven. Since the base closures, however, they describe a situation in which they are desperate, encircled by armed groups without any actor to provide protection. One woman who originally fled to Nyabiondo to seek protection from MONUSCO told CIVIC, “Now it is hell. I tell you we live in hell here. We do not know when and how the enemies will come, but we know that at every moment, the rebels can come and hurt us.”

One of the largest barriers preventing MONUSCO from reaching an end state where it can safely reduce its presence is the absence of a credible actor to provide physical protection to civilians as it withdraws. …In the past, MONUSCO’s efforts to support security sector reform and the demobilization of armed groups have been undermined by corruption, the vested interests of actors who profit from the current system, and a government lacking political will to make progress in these areas. Ultimately, the ability of MONUSCO, donors, non-governmental organizations, and regional actors to address SSR and DDR will depend on the willingness of the government to champion these issues. It will also depend on the ability of donors and other international actors to identify the underlying incentive systems that perpetuate armed groups and to push for concrete improvements.

A rapid drawdown and withdrawal from the DRC would undermine the gains MONUSCO has made and have devastating consequences for civilians. Plans for MONUSCO’s exit should remain linked to thorough analysis of the conflict environment, and timelines for drawdown should take into account the need to bridge large gaps in security sector reform, the necessity of demobilizing armed groups, and the importance of transitioning protection-related tasks to other actors in the DRC. The UNSC can avoid significant risks by linking MONUSCO’s exit to benchmarks that evaluate the security environment and signal when civilians truly no longer need the protection of peacekeepers.