Once the world’s largest and most expensive peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is in the process of drawing down. MONUSCO’s withdrawal is guided by a Joint Transition Plan drafted by the Mission and Congolese government in 2021. The Plan notably conditions MONUSCO’s withdrawal on concrete improvements in the protection environment and reduced threats against civilians.  

But the challenges are myriad. Despite improved security in some areas, civilians in eastern Congo contend with hundreds of armed groups committing horrific abuses, including large-scale extrajudicial killing and sexual violence. The Congolese army remains largely unable to protect civilians and is itself responsible for nearly half of all human rights violations and abuses recorded across the country. In a dire security context, large protests against MONUSCO broke out across eastern DRC in July 2022. Following the protests, Congolese authorities announced that they would “reevaluate” the Joint Transition plan, without providing further details. 

The stakes for MONUSCO’s transition are high: in recent years, poorly managed departures of peacekeeping missions in contexts such as Darfur have led to increased violence against civilians. A MONUSCO withdrawal that does not prioritize the protection of civiliansor include the voices of civil society alongside UN agencies, humanitarians, and government authoritiescould have devastating consequences for Congolese communities. 

Focusing on MONUSCO’s ongoing transition as a case study, this Policy Brief, “Prioritizing the Protection of Civilians During Peacekeeping Transitions: Lessons Learned from MONUSCO,” offers lessons for UN peacekeeping transitions in challenging contexts. These lessons center on how the UN can prioritize the protection of civilians during withdrawal and ensure inclusive transition processes. The research offers important takeaways on fostering civil society inclusion, local ownership and mapping local protection capacities to enable a transformation of tasks, the importance of strategic communication during drawdown, and the need to build effective and transparent processes to measure against benchmarks. The Brief also examines the challenges of fully achieving these benchmarks, particularly those which monitor improvements in the POC context and the capacity of state security forces to protect civilians. 

The brief is based on interviews with 128 individualsincluding Congolese civilians and civil society leaders, MONUSCO military and civilian officials, humanitarians, UN secretariat officials, and Congolese government officialsconducted in the cities of Goma, Kinshasa, Kalemie, Bunia, Bukavu, and New York between March and September 2022.

Read and/or download the brief here