US seeks tougher rules for regional forces in DR Congo

Monday October 23 2023

East African Regional Force soldiers guard Rumangabo camp in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on January 6, 2023. PHOTO | GUERCHOM NDEBO | AFP


The working rules for East African Community Regional Forces (EACRF) in the Democratic Republic of Congo are going to be tougher if the US gets the support it seeks from the United Nations Security Council for its proposals.

According to Washington, the idea is to learn from the mistakes of the departing UN Stabilisation Mission in the Congo (Monusco) and place stringent safeguards for troops not to violate civilian rights.

Although the EACRF may still leave the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by December 8, after Kinshasa said it will not renew the mandate, the US says the new regulations should be observed by any new forces deployed in the DRC.

Read: UN peacekeeping reforms open door for DRC funding

At a session of the UN Security Council on DRC on Tuesday, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the UN, urged Council members to avoid endorsing greater Monusco support to the EACRF “without appropriate safeguards, in line with UN policies to address human rights, accountability, and command and control concerns”.

“These safeguards are vital to ensure we do not inadvertently worsen an already dangerous security situation,” she said.


Monusco is supposed to begin its exit from the DRC in December, with the last lot expected to leave 12 months later.

December is the month DRC is holding elections.

President Felix Tshisekedi had reached out to countries in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), having lost faith in the EACRF.

SADC has not deployed troops yet, but the US said any redirection of monies or resources from Monusco should only happen if new missions buy into the new regulations.

Read: SADC extends troop deployment to DRC and Mozambique

Co-ordination call

“We call on regional troops deployed to eastern DRC, whether bilaterally or through the East African Community, to coordinate with each other and Monusco. And they must avoid human-rights violations and abuses and illicit activities, including illicit mineral extraction,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield said.

Monusco, which has been in the Congo since 1999, has itself been accused of violations, including rape and sexual exploitation. Last week, Monusco expelled some South African soldiers found culpable of sexual exploitation. Traditionally, the UN relies on troop contributors to punish their own soldiers, leaving a gap that critics say allows troops to get away with crime.

In the DRC, however, the exit of these missions could leave a hole in security.

Huang Xia, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, has warned of an alarming escalation of animosity between Rwanda and the DRC, who accuse each other of fuelling rebel activities.

Mr Huang presented Secretary-General António Guterres' latest report on the implementation of the Framework Agreement on Peace, Security and Cooperation for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the region and noted that no significant progress had been made in addressing concerns about the deteriorating security situation in the east of the DRC.

Read: DRC again sounds alarm over Rwanda 'aggression'

Rwanda and the DRC, he said, continue to “reinforce the military positions of both sides, the absence of direct high-level dialogue, and the persistence of hate speech on both sides.”

North Kivu region is once again experiencing clashes between the M23 rebels and the Wazalendo self-defence group. The fighting could move closer to the borders with Rwanda and Uganda. Even the EACRF said they had been ambushed by an “unknown armed group” that targeted the Ugandan troops in the mission.

Rwanda and the DRC had reached some form of agreement in the Luanda Process, where they agreed to de-escalate tensions, a necessary condition to support dialogue between armed groups known as the Nairobi Process.

Mr Huang said both processes had broken down, even though Kinshasa said it had honoured its end of the deal.

On July 27, a Congolese soldier exchanged fire with a Rwandan Defence Force soldier in Rutagara, near Goma in the DRC. There are also countless attacks, mainly targeting civilians.

“Between March 16 and September 10, the M23 carried out 97 attacks against civilians, causing the death of 124 people, including 15 women and 11 children,” says Guterres' report.

“The M23 is also said to have tried to extend its area of operations to the South Kivu province. The FDLR, which remains active in the east of the DRC, is said to be responsible for 17 attacks on civilians, resulting in 13 deaths, including one woman and three children".

Read: DR Congo declares new ‘war’ on M23

The M23 and FDLR are central to the continual tiff between Rwanda and the DRC. While Kigali accuses Kinshasa of backing FDLR, the latter accuses Kigali of supporting M23. The Luanda Process was supported to enforce a ceasefire and cantonment. However, recent fights have disrupted that.

"Kigali and Kinshasa must engage in dialogue and build confidence," pleaded the United Arab Emirates representative at the Security Council. France, on their part, urged “that this dialogue includes respect for the cardinal principles of the Framework Agreement, that is the absence of support for armed groups; respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighbouring states; and a commitment not to harbour or provide protection to persons accused of crimes and violations of international law".

Zénon Mukongo, representing the DRC at the Security Council meeting, stated that "as the Council meets, the Rwandan Defence Force and its M23 terrorist supporters are still occupying positions on DRC territory".

Robert Kayinamura, representing Rwanda, argued that more than 120 armed groups, including the FDLR and its dissident groups integrated, according to him, into the Congolese national army, currently occupying the east of the DRC. Kigali's representative accuses the DRC of a lack of political will “as evidenced by its failure, or rather refusal to reduce the threat posed by foreign armed groups”, among others.

Read: Tshisekedi calls for withdrawal of UN peacekeepers

“The agreements reached in Luanda and Nairobi have not been implemented either in spirit or in letter,” he said. Kayinamura underlined “the major shortcomings that persist in the implementation of the Framework Agreement, 10 years after its adoption, and pledged his country's support for it.”

Zénon Mukongo also deplored "the lack of implementation of the Framework Agreement by some of the signatory parties, which, according to the representative, raises the question of the need to revisit it".

The DRC representative rejected the allegations linking the Congolese army to the FDLR. In his view, "this is nothing more than a refrain repeated all day long by Rwanda". Zénon Mukongo also rejected a link to FDLR saying his country is ready for the UN to present "a plan to eradicate the FDLR in which the DRC will be happy to participate.”

Ms Thomas-Greenfield said the UN must pursue diplomatic solutions but placed the burden on the DRC to run free and fair elections.

“As such, I call on regional leaders to maintain an open dialogue, especially as the DRC’s national elections approach.

“These elections must be free and fair for everyone, including women and minority communities. All Congolese civilians deserve the right to live in peace, and to have their voice heard at the polls,” Mr Greenfield said.