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DR Congo’s fragile detente ‘could yet unravel’

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Female peacekeepers from Tanzania interact with women and children in Beni, DRC. TANZBATT 7/Ibrahim Mayambua

Planning for a drawdown of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is well underway, but much work still remains to be done to put the country firmly on the path to long-term stability and sustainable development, the Security Council heard today.

Leila Zerrougui, Head of the UN’s Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), urged Council members to continue to support its efforts to help the Congolese government and people maintain the gains made since its establishment in 2010.

Discussing the political situation, she said that in the peaceful transfer of power that following the 2018 elections, the political class accepts – “and even appreciates” – the opportunities offered by the ruling coalition between the Cap pour le Changement (CACH) and the Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC).

Dangers lurk

However, in addition to persistent tension between coalition members, there is a risk that politicking and positioning ahead of elections in 2023 will overshadow the governance reforms and stabilization measures that the Democratic Republic of the Congo needs, she said.

“The current political dispensation remains fragile and could yet unravel,” she said.  “At the same time, it has the potential to sustain and advance the gains which have already been made – should all actors work towards this goal.”

Ms. Zerrougui said that she is sparing no effort in exercising her good offices, meeting regularly with stakeholders from across the political spectrum, urging them to focus on implementing reforms to address the pressing needs of the Congolese people.

Thin line of stability

“In doing so, I have sought to impress upon all my interlocutors that there is a difference between normal political competition and behaviour that undermines the stability of the country,” she said.

On the future of MONUSCO, she said that the Council will soon be presented with a joint strategy for its progressive and phased drawdown, with President Félix Tshisekedi requesting a progressive transfer of tasks from the Mission to the Government.

Elaborating, she said that the Government agrees that in the coming years, MONUSCO will gradually consolidate its footprint in the three Congolese provinces – North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri – where conflict persists, while also pursuing its good offices work and institutional strengthening at the national level.

Withdrawal ‘relatively soon’

Meanwhile, she added, MONUSCO should be able to withdraw “relatively soon” from the Kasai region, while an improved security situation should enable the Mission to scale back its military presence there in Tanganyika.

She went on to say that MONUSCO remains focused on improving the implementation of its protection-of-civilians mandate – including by deploying new technologies such as unarmed drones – alongside working with local communities and civil society to promote reconciliation and monitor human rights.

She also appealed to the Council to support MONUSCO’s efforts to foster a community-based approach to the reintegration of ex-combatants in the east of the country.

That approach involves building the resilience of communities receiving ex-combatants and providing for legitimate needs, while also removing incentives for former fighters to form and join armed groups.

Avoid past mistakes

“It is vital … that we avoid repeating the experiences of the past,” when large numbers of ex-combatants were granted amnesty and integrated into the Congolese security forces, where the prospect of obtaining a rank was an incentive to form an armed group, she said.

MONUSCO’s mandate dates back to July 2010, when it took over from an earlier UN peacekeeping operation, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).

It had just over 18,000 deployed personnel as of August, including more than 13,000 contingent troops.  Its approved budget for the 12 months to June 2020, was $1.09 billion.

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Africa Today

Little progress on disputed Abyei region between Sudan and South Sudan

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Despite the strengthening of the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan, little progress has been made regarding the disputed Abyei region, the head of UN Peacekeeping told the Security Council on Thursday. 

Jean-Pierre Lacroix briefed ambassadors on recent developments concerning the oil-rich border area, where the UN interim security force, UNISFA, has been deployed since 2011 to protect civilians and humanitarians. 

He recalled the signing earlier this month of an historic peace agreement between the Sudanese authorities and several armed groups from Darfur following a year of negotiations facilitated by South Sudan. 

The two neighbours have also signalled their intention to relaunch the political process to discuss the final stages of Abyei and its border areas, which Mr. Lacroix described as a positive development. 

“However, despite this continued rapprochement between the Sudan and South Sudan, the peace process has made little progress in Abyei.  The main developments at the local level were the appointments by Juba and Khartoum of their respective chief administrators”, he said. 

“This constitutes an unprecedented political development as it is the first time Abyei has two appointed chief administrators.” 

Volatile security situation 

Meanwhile, the security situation in Abyei remained volatile.   

Mr. Lacroix reported that since April, there have been four attacks against UNISFA personnel and four incidents of intercommunal violence, including armed attacks on villages.  

While the force continued to engage leaders from the Nginka and Misseriya communities, the violence has had a negative impact on peace efforts. 

Reduced force strength 

The UN peacekeeping chief also reported on issues facing UNISFA, which has a mandated deployment of 640 police personnel. This figure includes three Formed Police Units consisting of 160 officers each. However, staffing currently stands at 35, with 16 officers set to end their assignments in the coming weeks. 

“Since no visas have been issued for any new officers who could be deployed as replacement, the strength of the police component will reduce to 19 officers. Consequently, this situation will inevitably lead to the closure of some team sites in UNISFA, and will have a negative impact on the mandate implementation”, said Mr. Lacroix. 

The non-issuance of visas, coupled with COVID-19 travel restrictions, has also affected China and Tanzania who must conduct reconnaissance visits to the area ahead of sending personnel for the force.  

Cooperation on oil production 

The Security Council heard in addition from the UN Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, who also commended the growing engagement between Sudan and South Sudan. 

 “As the countries now strengthen their relationship, they are no longer likely to pursue activities that undermine each other’s stability”, he said. 

The Special Envoy reported on continued cooperation in oil production.  Last month, the two countries signed a protocol on the resumption of  production in the Unity and Toma South oil fields in South Sudan, with 15,000 barrels per day expected soon. 

“The deal includes details on the transfer of crude oil to Sudan for its domestic use. In return, Sudan will provide technical support”, he said.  

“Before the agreement, South Sudan was providing 30,000 barrels per day of crude oil to Sudan. The deal is in line with South Sudan’s plan to return to its pre-conflict production level of 350,000 barrels per day from its current 150,000 barrels per day .”

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UN chief calls for end to reported police brutality in Nigeria

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Nigerians protest in Lagos over the now-disbanded and discredited police unit, known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS. Unsplash/Tobi Oshinnaike

The UN Secretary-General on Wednesday said he was closely following recent developments across Nigeria, in the wake of reports that protesters had been shot dead and wounded, and called for “an end to reported police brutality and abuses.” 

António Guterres said in a statement issued by his Spokesperson, that he condemned “the violent escalation on 20 October in Lagos which resulted in multiple deaths and caused many injuries.” 

According to witnesses, Nigerian security forces opened fire on Tuesday night in Africa’s largest city, as protests continued over a now-disbanded and discredited police unit, known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS. 

The Government has pledged to carry out further police reforms, and improve police accountability.  

A curfew has been imposed on Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, with reports that tensions continued into Wednesday, with police across the city firing shots in the air, in an effort to disperse protesters who were defying the order to stay off the streets. 

The UN chief expressed his condolences to the families of the bereaved, and wished a speedy recovery to those injured.  

Act with ‘maximum restraint’, demonstrate peacefully 

He called on Nigerian authorities “to investigate these incidents and hold the perpetrators accountable.” 

Mr. Guterres also urged security forces “to act at all times with maximum restraint while calling on protestors to demonstrate peacefully and to refrain from violence.” 

“The Secretary-General encourages the authorities to swiftly explore avenues to de-escalate the situation”, the statement continued. “He reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to support national efforts towards finding a solution.”

‘Root and branch’ examination of security forces needed: Rights chief

The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet on Wednesday, also strongly condemned the excessive and disproportionate force by Nigerian armed forces in Lagos, in a statement issued by her office, OHCHR.

She called on the Nigerian authorities to take urgent steps to deal decisively with the underlying problem of persistent violations committed by security forces, and make a far stronger effort to bring police and army personnel guilty of crimes against civilians to justice.

“While the number of casualties of yesterday’s shooting at the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos is still not clear, there is little doubt that this was a case of excessive use of force, resulting in unlawful killings with live ammunition, by Nigerian armed forces,” Ms. Bachelet said.

“Reports that CCTV cameras and lighting were deliberately disabled prior to the shooting are even more disturbing as, if confirmed, they suggest this deplorable attack on peaceful protestors was premeditated, planned and coordinated.”

‘Already at boiling point’

The High Commissioner noted that the country “was already at boiling point before this shooting because of the revelations about years of unchecked violence, including alleged killings, rape, extortion and other violations, by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.

“While the authorities have now dissolved SARS and announced a series of inquiries at both Federal and State levels, there have still been few if any charges levelled against its members despite abundant evidence against various members of the squad, as well as members of other security forces and the army.”

She said the continued protests are several weeks of demonstrations, was evidence that there was no public trust in the authorities’ response thus far:

“I appreciate that the Government has taken a number of measures to address the protestors’ demands,” Ms. Bachelet said. “However, the immediate creation of another elite police SWAT team to replace the SARS – without first addressing some of the root causes of police violence and putting in place sufficient safeguards to prevent future violations – has eroded the public’s trust even further. This latest terrible event in Lagos is like wantonly adding fuel to a fire that was already starting to rage out of control.”

‘Immediate concrete steps’

She added that the authorities needed to take immediate concrete steps to show they are genuinely committed to tackling impunity, after years of inaction.

“There need to be immediate, independent, transparent and thorough investigations, not just into last night’s killings, but also into all the previous violations committed by security forces…Those appointed to carry out such investigations must not only be independent and impartial, but must be widely perceived as such. And, where sufficient evidence already exists to warrant charges, immediate suspension of officers – including senior officers – suspected of committing serious crimes, should take place long before the conclusion of such investigations.”

She said now was the time for “a root and branch re-examination of the entire security sector, and of its civilian oversight…This should include a full-scale review of rules of engagement and training systems and methods.”

Ms. Bachelet also called for immediate investigations into reports of violent and provocative attacks on peaceful protestors by unidentified groups armed with cudgels, cutlasses, sticks or guns, in some cases apparently with the overt backing of police or other security forces.

Fundamental rights

“Nigerians, like everyone else, have a fundamental right to peaceful assembly and protest,” the High Commissioner said.  “The Government has a responsibility to take positive measures to ensure the realization of this right, including deterring others who intend to prevent them from protesting peacefully. The world’s attention is now focused sharply on how Nigeria’s Government and security forces react over the coming days and weeks.”

“In a population with such a young median age, it is important to listen to the grievances of the younger generation and make an effort to address the multiple problems they face, which include – but are far from confined to – police brutality and violations.”

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Burkina Faso ‘one step short of famine’

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In Burkina Faso, the number of people facing a critical lack of food has increased. UNOCHA/Giles Clarke

Unless access is urgently granted to humanitarian organizations, thousands in the Central Sahel will be “pushed into further destitution”, the UN emergency food relief agency warned on Monday.  

Ahead of Tuesday’s High-Level Ministerial Conference on the Central Sahel in the Danish capital Copenhagen, the World Food Programme (WFP) sounded the alarm that catastrophic levels of hunger could hit parts of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.  

‘Tragic’ food insecurity spike 

Violence and insecurity have pushed 7.4 million people in the Central Sahel region of West Africa into acute hunger, according to WFP. 

Additionally, the number of internally displaced people has risen from 70,000 two years ago to nearly 1.6 million today – including over 288,000 in Mali, more than 265,000 in Niger and over one million in Burkina Faso, which is now home to the world’s fastest growing displacement crisis. 

“When we can’t get to vulnerable communities, we’re seeing tragic spikes in food insecurity”, said Chris Nikoi, WFP Regional Director for West Africa.  

He explained that “dreadful violence and conflict” in parts of northern Burkina Faso have left over ten thousand people there “one step short of famine”.  

“The world cannot wait to take action until children, women and men have died”, stressed the WFP official. 

Food deliveries on the way 

As the delivery efforts of humanitarian organizations have been jeopardized by worsening conflict and insecurity, life-saving assistance to the neediest communities has become inaccessible. 

Moreover, aid workers are increasingly targeted by non-State armed groups in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.  

WFP, which was recently awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, is urging conference participants to find ways for organisations to engage with communities and all actors on the ground to open safe passageways for humanitarian assistance to reach those in need.  

A worrying outlook 

Meanwhile, in response to the deepening crisis and growing needs, WFP has continued to ramp up lifesaving assistance, reaching more than 3.4 million people in August alone.  

In scaling up to meet the growing needs in Burkina Faso, WFP worried about its financial outlook.  

The UN agency has already been forced to reduce rations from July and risks, by next month, a break for emergency assistance to displaced people who – having fled their homes, farms and jobs – have no other options. 

Building resilience   

At the same time, WFP is working to strengthen resilience-building support for at-risk communities.  

Its interventions include rehabilitating community assets, improving degraded land, feeding students, and community-based nutrition activities, to prevent and treat malnutrition.  

Since 2018, more than one million people have benefitted from WFP’s integrated resilience activities in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. 

Humanitarian event 

The UN is co-hosting the conference in Denmark along with Germany and the European Union. 

It will feature on Tuesday, a ministerial round table that follows up on a virtual 8 September meeting, focused on forward-looking plans relating to humanitarian action, development and peace efforts, among other things.

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