Governance reforms key to lasting DRC peace

By Richard Lee | November 27th, 2012
Militia in eastern Congo
Militia in eastern Congo
Militia in eastern Congo

As usual, a ‘peace plan’ for the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been negotiated by regional leaders behind closed doors – without any real input from Congolese citizens or civil society. Realising that this approach will not result in lasting peace and stability, three major Congolese organisations have issued a joint statement calling for specific actions to be taken by the government, the M23 rebel movement and the United Nations.

The National Network on Security Sector Reform and Justice (RRSSJ), the League of Voters (LE) and the Centre for Governance (CEGO) expressed their deep concern about the situation in North Kivu province following the capture of the town of Goma by M23 forces and by the international community’s insufficient response to the latest conflict in eastern DRC.

The organisations are especially concerned about the ‘lack of sanctions against the aggressor countries, namely Rwanda and Uganda, whose support for the rebels was clearly demonstrated by the report of the Expert Group of the United Nations’ – and are urging the UN to impose sanctions on any individuals and entities that threaten the territorial security of the DRC. They also want donor nations to cut development aid to Rwanda.

The statement also calls on the UN to urgently appoint – in consultation with the African Union – a special representative for the Great Lakes. A similar call was made last week by a coalition of international organisations, including the Open Society Foundations and the Eastern Congo Initiative.

However, the three organisations – two of which are grantees of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) – understand that the root cause of the conflict in eastern DRC is the country’s governance crisis and that genuine peace depends on genuine reforms.

In particular, the groups call on the Congolese government to immediately pursue – with the support of the UN stabilisation force (MONUSCO) – clear, structured, coordinated and deep reform of the security sector, including the army, police and intelligence services. But this importance of this call has only been underlined by the fall of Goma, not sparked by it. All three organisations had been calling for serious reform well before the sudden advance of the M23.

But Congo also needs to get its democratic house in order and the groups called for the restructuring of the Independent National Electoral Commission and the establishment of a National Commission on Human Rights to protect human rights and boost citizen’s confidence.

Critically, the statement urged the government to ensure that the negotiating process involved non-combatants to give it more chance of success – rather than just the Congolese authorities, neighbouring countries and the M23.

And speaking of the rebels, the organisations made it clear that M23 must end its armed struggle, must ‘respect human rights and international humanitarian law in areas currently under its control, including the prohibition of the recruitment of children for military purposes’, and cease all attacks against civilians.

Given that the players in DRC’s conflict seldom listen to civil society, it is possible that this statement will once again fall on deaf ears. But it shouldn’t. There will be no long-term peace in eastern Congo unless the people and civil society organisations are involved. This statement makes that very clear.

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