By Daniel Levine-Spound and Samuli Harju
On December 18, 2020, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2556 and renewed the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO). The new mandate was negotiated in the context of increasingly significant political tensions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) alongside widespread human rights violations, threats against civilians, the continued presence of dozens of armed groups across eastern DRC, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Council approved the mandate with 14 votes in favor of the resolution and an abstention by Russia due to disagreements over language on humanitarian assistance.
The new mandate directs MONUSCO to make progress towards the two priority objectives laid out in last year’s mandate—protecting civilians and supporting the stabilization and strengthening of State institutions. Four aspects of the new mandate are particularly relevant to the Mission’s priority objective to protect civilians: first, in the context of pressure for the Mission to drawdown and transition, the Council kept the troop and police ceilings unchanged and added language recognizing that timelines for drawdown should remain flexible in the context of ongoing instability; second, the mandate fleshes out the Mission’s responsibilities in terms of early warning and rapid response (EW/RR); third, the mandate continues to emphasize peacekeeping performance; and fourth, the mandate adds important language on the UN Human Rights Due Diligence Policy (HRDDP). The new language on EW/RR and the HRDDP is particularly helpful given the Mission’s gradual withdrawal and transfer of protection responsibilities to the UN Country Team (UNCT).
Mission Transition and Drawdown
The most significant additions to MONUSCO’s mandate concern transition and drawdown. The Council endorsed the Mission’s vision for a progressive transfer of MONUSCO’s tasks to the Congolese authorities, the United Nations country team, and other stakeholders outlined in the joint strategy developed by MONUSCO in consultation with the DRC government. The Council also requested a transition plan and “detailed, measurable and realistic benchmarks” to operationalize the joint strategy. Language that emphasizes how benchmarks and end states must be reached prior to drawdown is important to ensure a responsible exit that doesn’t leave civilians at risk. It is critical that the transition plan includes protection of civilians-related benchmarks to avoid premature exit from the country as a whole, and in particular, regions that are likely to remain insecure.
The issue of timeline for Mission withdrawal continues to be debated in the Security Council. Some Council Members are interested in hard deadlines while others remain concerned about the context. The language in the mandate strikes a compromise between these positions. The mandate endorses the Mission’s withdrawal from the Kasai provinces in 2021 but notes that the withdrawal will be done “progressively” from the province of Tanganyika in 2022. Further, the mandate states that the consolidation of MONUSCO’s footprint in the three most conflict-affected provinces—Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu—will be “gradual.”
Inclusivity is also vital for a responsible drawdown. To this end, the new mandate calls for the establishment of a “working group” to enhance coordination and planning on the transition “in liaison with civil society.”
CIVIC’s research has shown that precipitated withdrawals which are not based on protection-related benchmarks and improvements in the security context can lead to increased risks to civilians. Additionally, CIVIC’s research has highlighted the importance of including civil society organizations and local communities in the development of transition plans. Civil society organizations can provide crucial inputs on the conditions and benchmarks necessary to enable a peacekeeping mission’s responsible drawdown. Transition will continue to be a dominant topic in Council deliberations on MONUSCO. Voices of the communities concerned—as well as the protection of civilians—should be at the center of these discussions.
Early Warning and Rapid Response
New language in the mandate makes clear that MONUSCO should strengthen its early warning system and improve its sustainability. The Council called on MONUSCO to record and analyze its rate of response to warnings and ensure that risks of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) are included in data collection and threat analysis. Recording and analyzing responses could allow the Mission to better identify, communicate, and address the principal challenges in responding to alerts, both by the Mission and by Congolese authorities. Adding further weight to this issue, the Council directed the Mission to ensure the “continuation of an early warning system” in the context of MONUSCO’s drawdown. CIVIC’s research has highlighted how drawdown of MONUSCO’s presence can lead to the collapse of community alert networks (CANs), community mechanisms through which civilians can report protection threats to the Mission. In light of this challenge, the new language on sustainability is welcome.
Human Rights Due Diligence Policy
The Council also added important language underlining the applicability of the HRDDP to all UN entities in the DRC. The HRDDP is an all-UN policy intended to mitigate the risk that UN support—for example, UN training, logistics support, joint operations, etc.—to non-UN entities, including Congolese authorities and security forces, could contribute to violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. A 2020 report by CIVIC highlighted the progress that MONUSCO has made in implementing the HRDDP. However, the report also noted that at least some UNCT members in DRC lack adequate awareness of the policy. Given MONUSCO is expected to transfer some activities to the UNCT, robust application of the HRDDP by all UN actors in the DRC will become increasingly important.
Finally, the Council continued to emphasize the importance of peacekeeping performance. Namely, the mandate reiterated the need for the Mission to improve the performance of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in light of the findings of the independent evaluation by Lieutenant General dos Santos Cruz, which assessed “MONUSCO’s response to the high number of attacks against civilians allegedly committed by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in Beni territory, North Kivu Province, and attacks against the Ebola response in Mambasa territory in Ituri Province, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” In general, implementation of reforms on peacekeeping performance, particularly to ensure the protection of civilians, should be transparently reported to the Council and troop and police contributing countries to ensure that peacekeeping stakeholders can provide appropriate support.
In the renewed MONUSCO mandate, the United Nations Security Council emphasized the need for a gradual, cautious and inclusive transition process, as well as the importance of improved performance on protection of civilians. The mandate’s focus on both elements is welcome. But in a fragile political and security context, it is vital that the Council closely monitor implementation over the following year.“We Have to Try to Break the Silence Somehow:” Preventing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Through UN Peacekeeping.  This specific language is particularly valuable in the context of transition. As observed in the 2019 Independent Strategic Review, “Existing community alert networks and early warning systems should ultimately be entirely managed by state authorities…Transferring the management of these networks to national actors will be an important task to ensure the sustainability of this effective protection tool.”  See OP 29 (ii)(e) of the resolution.  See OP 44 of the resolution.