On 2 January 2015, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) will have exhausted its options for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) should it fail to voluntarily disarm and surrender. As the security situation in the region continues to deteriorate and as the FDLR appears to be regrouping and recruiting in anticipation of a United Nations (UN) military offensive, it is fitting that the Peace and Security Council (PSC) reminds actors in the Great Lakes region that success in permanently neutralising and eliminating the threat to security posed by the armed group will require the committed consensus of all parties involved.
While reviewing the implementation of the Peace and Security Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region (PSC Framework) on 22 August 2014, the PSC noted that there were still many challenges to overcome despite some progress having been made. These challenges include ‘(i) the continued presence of negative forces in [the] eastern DRC, including the FDLR; (ii) the delay in the implementation of the conclusions of the Kampala direct dialogue between the DRC government and the M23 rebels, as contained in their statements adopted in Nairobi on 12 December 2013; (iii) the illegal exploitation of natural resources in [the] eastern DRC; and (iv) the persistence of impunity despite the reforms that the Congolese government is endeavouring to bring about’. From the perspective of regional relations and the mandate of the United Nations (UN) Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), the threat associated with the FDLR has now become a major concern, not least because 2 January 2015, the deadline the international community has set for the FDLR to disarm, is fast approaching.
The deadline the international community has set for the FDLR to disarm, is fast approaching
Continuing security concerns in the eastern DRC
While the defeat of the M23 rebel group at the end of 2013 was a significant accomplishment, it has not resulted in sustained or increased security in the eastern Kivu region of the DRC. Armed groups such as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan group, and the FDLR are still operating in the region. There have been several massacres and constant looting this year, and on 24 November Saïd Djinnit, the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Great Lakes, said the security situation in the eastern DRC had been steadily deteriorating over the past few weeks and an ‘escalating trend of massacres’ was emerging. While the massacre of 20 November in Beni, North Kivu and the attacks of 7 December in the same area (in which dozens were brutally killed) have been attributed to the ADF, with the increased insecurity in the region, the FDLR’s failure to disarm could further destabilise the eastern DRC.
Despite the FDLR’s disarmament declaration last December, very little progress has been made. This delay may be attributed to a change in the approach to disarmament in the first six months following the declaration.
In May this year, the Congolese government first presented a rapid 22-day voluntary disarmament plan. However, a June 2014 report by the Group of Experts on the DRC stated that the FDLR continued to recruit and train combatants, including children. On 2 July, a joint ministerial meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) extended the timeline for voluntary disarmament by another six months, to 2 January 2015. However, there has been little progress since then. Only 156 combatants and their dependents have voluntarily surrendered and disarmed, raising serious questions about the FDLR’s intentions.
Disarming or taking a stand?
The victory of the Congolese army – the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) – over the M23 rebels in October 2013 with the support of the FIB (deployed as part of the UN Stabilisation Mission for the DRC [MONUSCO]), created the possibility of progress in the quest to neutralise all armed groups in the eastern DRC. In December 2013, with decisive military offensives waged against the armed groups in the region by the FARDC, the FDLR issued a statement expressing its commitment to voluntarily disarming and surrendering. This move had the potential to alter significantly the security situation in the region and was welcomed by the PSC as a rare opportunity to break the cycle of violence in the eastern DRC.
Despite the FDLR’s disarmament declaration last December, very little progress has been made
As stated above, indications are that the FDLR has instead been mobilising to galvanise support. Since June, the FDLR has been actively regrouping, recruiting and reaching out to the opposition in the diaspora. In fact, in March the FDLR joined the Coalition of Rwandan Political Parties for Change, which includes three other opposition parties in exile and is headed by former Rwandan Prime Minister Faustin Twagarimungu.
In addition to the political support it has received, the FDLR has forged alliances with other local armed groups. It has also continued to foster ties with certain Congolese officers who benefit from the revenue from the FDLR’s illicit trade in gold and charcoal.
In recent months, the FDLR has been unresponsive to calls by the Congolese government, SADC/ICGLR and MONUSCO to attend meetings and move forward with the voluntary disarmament.
As the deadline to disarm approaches, the Guarantors of the PSC Framework, meeting for the first time on 1 December in Addis Ababa, expressed their ‘deep concern’ over the slow pace of disarmament. They are also concerned about evidence brought before them that the FDLR is in fact reorganising in anticipation of a military offensive by the FARDC and the FIB. In their communiqué of 1 December, the Guarantors stressed that the 2 January deadline was non-negotiable and reiterated that following that date, MONUSCO and the FARDC would be called upon to use all means necessary to neutralise the FDLR.
Indications are that the FDLR has instead been mobilising to galvanise support
Regional consensus amid continuing differences among key countries
There is consensus among regional actors that the FDLR needs to be neutralised in order to make headway in the stabilisation of the eastern DRC. The AU, SADC and the ICGLR also agree that the 2 January deadline for voluntary disarmament will not be extended. In recent months, all these actors have been very active in engaging in high-level meetings, monitoring the situation and pressuring the FDLR to abide by the established timeline.
On 20 October, the ICGLR and SADC held their third joint ministerial meeting. According to the ensuing statement, there has been no progress in terms of voluntary disarmament. The communiqué noted the efforts made by MONUSCO and the DRC government to create favourable conditions for FDLR elements at reception centres and transit camps. Most importantly, all participants agreed on the ‘inevitability of military action for non-compliance’ with the disarmament timeframe.
On 4 November, SADC and the ICGLR held a joint summit in South Africa, which was also attended by the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Sergui Smail, and the representative of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region. The summit was an opportunity to urge SADC and ICGLR member states to honour and implement the benchmarks of the PSC Framework.
Finally, as stated above, on 1 December the Guarantors of the PSC Framework met in Addis Ababa. The meeting was a clear indication of the ‘non-negotiable character’ of the timeline established. Should the FDLR fail to disarm, MONUSCO and the FARDC will use force to neutralise it.
Despite this apparent consensus at the regional level, differences remain between key countries in the region. President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania’s recommendation that Rwanda opens negotiations with the FDLR has led to a fall-out between President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Kikwete and has caused tense relations between the two countries. Tanzania, like South Africa – also in a diplomatic row with Rwanda over allegations of the attempted assassination of political opponents in South Africa – is a major troop contributor to the FIB.
There is consensus among regional actors that the FDLR needs to be neutralised in order to make headway in the stabilisation of the eastern DRC
Determination of the international community
Given the central role of the UN, its Group of Experts and MONUSCO in the stability of the region, the UN Security Council has been briefed on a regular basis on developments.
The US Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the DRC, Russell Feingold, and Djinnit have both travelled to the region in recent months and issued statements encouraging the FDLR to voluntarily disarm.
Emphasising that there should be no further delays beyond the 2 January 2015 deadline, the UN Security Council in a presidential statement on 5 November called on MONUSCO and the DRC government to update operational plans for military action against the FDLR that should begin no later than January 2015.
Major issues for the PSC
A major issue for the PSC is the continuing insecurity in eastern DRC including the recent spike in violence and the slow progress in the implementation of the PSC Framework agreement both nationally and in the region.
A further area of concern for the PSC is how to ensure that the 2 January deadline does not pass without significant progress in the disarmament of the FDLR, in order to avoid a relapse into military confrontation.
Another major issue for the PSC is to avoid a situation where ties between some elements in the FARDC and the FDLR and tensions among key countries in the region undermine the implementation of the PSC Framework and the necessary action and coordination to neutralise the FDLR, should the 2 January deadline not be met.
The Council could follow up on the request of the Guarantors of the PSC Framework for it to consider the situation in eastern DRC
Options for the PSC
In the light of the challenges facing the PSC Framework and the continuing insecurity on the ground, the Council could follow up on the request of the Guarantors of the PSC Framework, made at their meeting of 1 December 2014 for it to consider the situation in eastern DRC.
Given the fast-approaching deadline, the PSC could encourage the Guarantors of the PSC Framework to rapidly implement the necessary assurances and incentives to encourage the FDLR’s prompt disarmament.
The PSC could call on the ICGLR and SADC countries to scale up the regional consensus on extending full support for the efforts of FARDC and the FIB for neutralising the FDLR including through normalising regional relations.
The PSC could urge the countries in the region that the successful elimination of the FDLR as a security problem requires that the military action, if it comes to that, be accompanied by political processes. This includes security guarantees that facilitate the disarmament and return of ordinary FDLR members and other refugees.
The PSC could request the AU Commission to work with the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for the Great Lakes Region to initiate a broader regional dialogue. This will be part of the PSC Framework for addressing the regional root causes of the conflict, including the issues of refugees and the disarmament of all armed groups.
Statement by the President of the UN Security Council, S/PRST/2014/22, 5 November 2014, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/PRST/2014/22
UN Midterm report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo S/2014/428, 25 June 2014, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2014/428
Joint Summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), 4 November 2014, http://www.sadc.int/files/9613/8366/6022/FINAL_FINAL_SADC-ICGLR_JOINT_SUMMIT_COMMUNIQUE_-_4_NOVEMBER_2013.pdf
UN Security Council Press Statement on Democratic Republic of the Congo, 25 November 2014, http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11675.doc.htm
Third Joint ICGLR-SADC Ministerial Meeting Communiqué, 20 October 2014, http://www.dfa.gov.za/docs/2014/ango1021.pdf
Communiqué of the 1st meeting of the Guarantors of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region, 1 December 2014, http://www.peaceau.org/uploads/com-1st-mtg-garantors-glc-1-12-2014.pdf