The UN Security Council on Tuesday tasked its huge peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo with helping to prepare elections meant to end President Joseph Kabila’s rule.
The council unanimously adopted a resolution presented by France that renews the mandate for MONUSCO, the UN’s biggest peacekeeping mission, until March 2019 and emphasizes the need to protect civilians as the DR Congo heads toward the historic polls in December.
Western powers are turning up the pressure on Kabila to allow a peaceful transfer of power after the December 23 vote and rein in his security forces after dozens of protesters were killed.
Russia warned that peacekeepers must not take sides in the elections while the DR Congo’s ambassador said the mission’s focus should be fighting rebel groups — not supporting elections.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the vote was “crucial for the future of the DRC but also for the region as a whole,” paving the way to the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s history.
“Without credible elections accepted by all, the stability of the country and of the entire region will be at risk,” he told the council after the vote.
Kinshasa authorities have set a date for the vote but Kabila, in power since 2001, has not clearly stated whether he will step aside, raising fears that the country will slide into all-out violence.
The resolution “underscores the need to do everything possible to ensure” that the elections “are organized with the requisite conditions of transparency, credibility and inclusivity and security.”
The council requested that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres make plans for beefing up the peacekeeping mission if needed, “looking at all options” such as sending reinforcements from other missions.
Guterres will report to the council in 90 days on the contingency planning.
Under the resolution, MONUSCO will provide technical assistance and logistical support for the elections, help train the Congolese police and monitor human rights abuses which it will report to the council.
Russia, China warn against meddling
Sounding a cautious note, Russia stressed that the mission’s mandate was to protect civilians and not meddle in the country’s internal affairs while China said the DR Congo’s sovereignty must be respected.
“It is necessary to completely avoid a situation when MONUSCO might deliver support to one of the Congolese parties with the fight against electoral violence also under way,” said Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy.
The international community must help the Congolese leadership “strengthen its own security capacity so that it can achieve stability in the country autonomously,” said Chinese Deputy Ambassador Wu Haitao.
Congolese Ambassador Ignace Gata Mavita disagreed with the council’s decision, saying the mission’s mandate should be “to combat armed groups to protect civilians and restore peace and security in the east of our country.”
The ambassador renewed calls for MONUSCO’s exit from the DRC, after nearly 20 years.
Under pressure from the United States, the council last year reduced the troop ceiling for MONUSCO by about 3,600 military personnel.
This year, the ceiling remained unchanged, with 16,215 troops, nearly 1,450 police and 4,000 civilians.
The United States called on UN member-states and in particular African countries to push Kinshasa to hold free and fair elections.
“The people of the Congo must know that we have their backs, and the government of the Congo must know that failure is not an option,” said Amy Tachco, the US political coordinator.
The United Nations has warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis in the DR Congo, with at least 13.1 million Congolese in need of aid, including 7.7 million who are severely food insecure.
An international conference will be held in Geneva on April 13 to mobilize funding for a $1.7 billion humanitarian appeal, but Kinshasa said it would not attend and accused the world body of exaggerating the crisis.