By Daniel Levine-Spound and Josh Jorgensen
In December 2022, the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of MONUSCO, the United Nations peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for another year. The Council also adopted another resolution lifting the notification requirement for arms, which previously required that arms suppliers notify the Council before providing certain types of military equipment and training to the Congolese government.
As CIVIC observed in December, the MONUSCO mandate renewal took place during a period of deepening insecurity in eastern DRC. The M23 armed group continues to control large portions of DRC’s North Kivu province, and conflict between the group and the Congolese military (FARDC) has led to the displacement of over 200,000 civilians since October. More broadly, civilians across eastern DRC continue to contend with over one hundred armed groups as well as ineffective and abusive security forces. The impact of conflict, coupled with the perception that MONUSCO has not adequately protected civilians, has fueled anti-MONUSCO sentiment, leading to violent protests and calls for the Mission’s departure.
In challenging circumstances, the Council sought to clarify and streamline MONUSCO’s mandate. Notably, the Council laid out three primary tasks “by order of priority”: the protection of civilians; disarmament, demobilization, reintegration (DDR) and stabilization; and security sector reform (SSR). The Council’s decision to stress “that the protection of civilians shall be given priority in decisions about the use of available capacity and resources” (operative paragraph (OP) 24) is wise given the protection threats facing Congolese civilians. The Council also included new language to respond to developments in the context, including the deployment of the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) into the DRC.
At the same time, the Council streamlined the mandate, cutting approximately one fifth of the resolution and approximately one quarter of MONUSCO’s core mandate. Partly due to an acrimonious debate over the arms notification requirement, the Council did not dedicate significant time to deliberating how cuts could impact the Mission’s work in the DRC.
There are potential benefits to these cuts. Several peacekeeping reform initiatives have reiterated the need for clear, focused, and realistic mandates, which can provide better guidance to missions and host states and inform decisions as to the capacities necessary for mandate implementation. More succinct mandates may also allow civilians and civil society organizations to better understand what peacekeeping missions are—and are not—mandated to achieve. But some of the changes in MONUSCO’s new mandate could be perceived as de-prioritizing important elements of the Mission’s work, including human rights monitoring, inclusion of civil society, and early warning and rapid response.
I. Updating the Mandate for the Context
In renewing MONUSCO’s mandate, the Council contended with several political and security developments in the DRC which required additional or modified language, including anti-MONUSCO protests, the deployment of the EACRF, and reports of several states in the region supporting armed groups in the DRC. The mandate takes account of all three developments.
A. MONUSCO’s Transition Plan
Following the outbreak of anti-MONUSCO protests in August 2022, the Congolese government announced it would “re-evaluate” the Joint Transition Plan, which it had jointly drafted with MONUSCO to guide the Mission’s drawdown from the DRC, without providing further information. At present, it is not clear whether the plan will be replaced, re-written, or maintained as is.
Given this ambiguity, the Council took note of the Congolese government’s call to “review the Transition Plan for MONUSCO” (OP 38) and called for the government and the UN to identify “concrete and realistic steps” to “enable the responsible and sustainable exit of MONUSCO.” The Council also requested “updates on progress towards the realisation of the benchmarks and indicators” in the Transition Plan every six months and called for “options for adapting MONUSCO’s configuration” no later than July 2023. (OP 44)
The Council’s new language sends two signals. First, absent a new plan, the 2021 Joint Transition Plan remains in force and the UN and Congolese government must report against its benchmarks. Secondly, the Council expects that a “joint review of the Transition Plan for MONUSCO” will be undertaken, and that it should include proposals for MONUSCO’s drawdown. (OP 44) Helpfully, the Council referenced UNSC Resolution 2594—a resolution that provides detailed guidance on the Council’s expectations for peacekeeping transitions—in the preambular paragraphs.
B. East African Community Regional Force
In 2022, the EACRF, composed of battalions from several East African Community member states including the DRC, steadily deployed into Congo. Thus far, Kenyan troops are primarily acting as a blocking force between Congolese forces and the M23 in North Kivu province. Burundi, which is also a member of the EACRF, has begun undertaking joint operations with the FARDC against armed groups in South Kivu province.
The Council stressed the importance “of close coordination and information sharing” between the EACRF, MONUSCO, and other international forces, “including to deconflict operations and to ensure MONUSCO mandate implementation,” and noted the need to conduct all operations in compliance with international law. (OP 17) Such clarification is helpful, particularly given recent history. Since December 2021, FARDC and the Ugandan military (UPDF) have conducted joint operations against the ADF armed group in North Kivu province with Congolese government authorization, including in areas where MONUSCO maintains a presence. But MONUSCO has struggled to receive information from, or coordinate with, FARDC-UPDF operations. Several UN officials have asserted that the lack of information-sharing has negatively impacted the Mission’s protection efforts in the Beni area, where threats to civilians are high. The Council’s call for deconfliction, coordination, and information-sharing can help to avoid a similar outcome, during a moment in which the number of international forces operating on Congolese soil continues to increase.
Less clear is the Council’s encouragement of “support to the EAC Regional Force, as appropriate.” (OP 17) The new language, which appears in the operative paragraphs prior to MONUSCO’s mandated tasks, does not explicitly call for MONUSCO support to the EACRF and does not constitute an explicit endorsement of the force. But, absent further specificity as to what constitutes “support” —and who is meant to provide it—such language risks disagreement over interpretation later on. Moreover, it is difficult to say what unfunded support MONUSCO could potentially provide, even if authorized to do so.
It should be noted that any MONUSCO support to the EACRF would need to be provided in compliance with the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy (HRDDP), an all-UN policy which prohibits support to state security actors when “substantial grounds [exist] for believing there is a real risk of the receiving entities committing grave violations of international humanitarian, human rights or refugee law.” In certain instances, “close coordination and information sharing” could constitute “support” within the definition of the HRDDP, such as if MONUSCO provides information to the EACRF related to the presence of armed groups in a particular area, which facilitates offensive operations.
C. Regional Support to Armed Groups
As observed by UN Group of Experts on the DRC and other organizations, neighboring states continue to support armed groups, including the M23, on Congolese territory. Though MONUSCO’s 2021 mandate recalls regional commitments to not supporting armed groups, the Council reinforced its language this year, “strongly condemn[ing] all external support to non-state armed actors, including the M23, and call[ing] for an immediate end to such support.” (OP 15) It is not possible to imagine a more peaceful future for Congolese civilians if multiple governments continue to support armed groups in Eastern Congo, and the new language rightly signals that continued assistance is unacceptable. But meaningful change is unlikely without accountability, and it remains to seen whether states will face consequences for such support.
II. Streamlining the Mandate
Following the Council’s decision to cut one fifth of the MONUSCO mandate language, it is worth considering the potential impacts, particularly given the streamlining of thematic areas relevant to the protection of civilians. For example, from 2021 to 2022, the Council cut references to gender from 25 to seven, references to “civil society” and “community engagement” from five to one, and references to early warning from nine to one. It is not clear whether such deletions will affect the Mission’s activities, and the Council’s interest in reducing repetition is understandable. But the Council did not undertake a systematic assessment of the ramifications of cutting so much language. Indeed, several officials informed CIVIC that mandate negotiations were dominated by discussions of the arms notification regime, rather than key protection questions. Given that the arms notification regime was set to be debated in June, the prominence of the issue in December negotiations—which should have focused on the MONUSCO mandate—is unfortunate.
A. Civil Society Inclusion
As CIVIC’s past research has demonstrated, peacekeeping transition processes that effectively include civil society will likely be more responsive to the protection context and better capitalize on the capacities of local actors to contribute to protecting civilians. Nonetheless, several officials told CIVIC that certain Council members pushed to remove all mentions of “civil society” from the mandate. The Council rightly maintained the language encouraging the UN and the Congolese government to “identify the concrete and realistic steps to be taken” to allow for a MONUSCO withdrawal “in liaison with civil society.” (OP 38, italics added) But the deletion of other civil society references is troubling. Indeed, given the Congolese government’s past reticence to include civil society in transition process, the Council would have been wise to incorporate more—not less—language on civil society inclusion.
B. Early Warning and Rapid Response
Peacekeeping early warning and rapid response (EW/RR) systems are critical for alerting missions to evolving protection threats against civilians and guiding leaders in deciding how to prevent or respond to incidents. While EW/RR remains a critical challenge for peacekeeping missions, CIVIC’s research has shown the progress made in developing and refining mechanisms, procedures, and responsibilities necessary for faster responses. Across peacekeeping mandates, including MONUSCO’s, the Council has added language focused on strengthening these systems.
This year, the Council cut all but one reference to early warning. The deleted language called for MONUSCO to systematically record and analyze its response rate to early warnings, include risks of sexual violence in its threat analysis, and ensure the “continuation” of an early warning system in the context of drawdown.
The 2022 text does still refer to the implementation of some activities listed in a paragraph in the 2021 mandate, which includes several EW/RR references. But as MONUSCO draws down, EW/RR becomes even more vital. The Mission will notably need to take steps to ensure that its EW/RR mechanisms do not collapse in areas where it closes bases and field offices, which requires coordination with civil society organizations, government and international actors, and potentially Congolese security forces.
C. Civilian Harm Mitigation
MONUSCO, like several other peacekeeping missions, is mandated to mitigate the risks to civilians that could arise from its own military or police operations. Since 2019, the mandate has specified that the Mission should track, prevent, minimize, and address any such harm. Despite the continued need to systematically ensure the Mission is considering and addressing these risks, the Council cut this language. Peacekeeping missions and the UN Secretariat are actively developing further guidance and methods of implementing this responsibility, which should continue despite the Council’s decision.
D. Human Rights Monitoring
Human rights monitoring has long been a central part of UN’s work in the DRC. Indeed, several weeks prior to the mandate renewal, MONUSCO’s Joint Human Rights Office (JHRO) released a press statement confirming the massacre of at least 131 civilians by M23 in the town of Kishishi between November 29 and 30. More broadly, the 2010 UN Mapping Report, which documented grave violations of international law committed in the DRC between 1993 and 2003, remains central to Congolese calls for accountability. In conversations with CIVIC, many civil society leaders stress the value of the Mission’s efforts to document violations of international law.
But while the mandate retains human rights monitoring, it is not a “priority task,” and—in contrast to the 2021 mandate—appears below both SSR and DDR. Moreover, during negotiations, at least one council member called for the elimination of human rights monitoring entirely. The de-prioritization of human rights monitoring is concerning, particularly given that mandate language can have an impact on the number of posts and personnel afforded to specific mission sections during the UN Fifth Committee’s budgetary negotiations.
III. Potential Impacts of MONUSCO’s New Mandate
Despite the changes, MONUSCO’s mandate continues to reflect the ongoing protection challenges facing the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The protection of civilians remains the Mission’s first priority task, the Council maintained the Mission’s troop ceiling at 13,500, and the mandate avoided potentially harmful references to timelines or a fixed date for MONUSCO’s departure. Moreover, Council experts informed CIVIC that they do not expect the modifications to the mandate to significantly change how MONUSCO carries out its work.
But it remains to seen whether the deletion of more than one fifth of the language in the mandate will have an impact on MONUSCO’s activities, operations, and strategies. In a transition context, when questions of early warning, civilian harm mitigation, human rights monitoring, and civil society inclusion are as salient as ever, streamlining could send a troubling signal about the Council’s priorities. Going forward, it will be critical to closely monitor the impacts of deleted language, particularly on the Mission’s protection of civilians efforts.
Daniel Levine-Spound (@dlspound) is CIVIC’s DRC and South Sudan Peacekeeping Researcher.
Josh Jorgensen (@Josh__Jorgensen) is CIVIC’s UN and Peacekeeping Advisor.