Great Lakes Envoy statement

New York 6, May 2013 – Briefing to the Security Council of Mary Robinson  Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for  the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

Mr. President,  Distinguished Members of the Security Council,
I am pleased and honored to have this opportunity to speak to you this morning, following my first visit to the Great Lakes since being appointed on 18 March as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the region.

The Council’s role in new efforts to forge peace will be crucial, and you have already taken important decisions. I look forward to close consultation with you, and to your strong support moving forward.

The reason I accepted the responsibility of Special Envoy is because I know this to be one of the longest enduring, most appalling human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights and humanitarian crises – with levels of deaths, violence and suffering that are totally inacceptable. This time we have to tackle it differently and sustain the political will.

I believe we meet at a moment of renewed opportunity. There is a fresh chance to do more than just attend to the consequences of conflict, or to manage crises of the kind seen again most recently last November. There is a chance to resolve its underlying causes and to stop it for good.

Hope and possibility must now infuse what will be a very challenging process to implement the “Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region” signed in Addis Ababa on 24 February, under the auspices of the Secretary-General.

And there are reasons to hope this new framework can work. For one it represents a comprehensive agreement requiring actions at all levels, by all who have responsibilities, nationally, regionally, and internationally. It includes mechanisms of oversight, both in the DRC and in the region, to ensure that benchmarks are set and are met. It has the support of 11 nations and the involvement of the four organizations that are its witnesses. And it has emerged at this time precisely as a result of exhaustion with the continuing cycles of crises, and a broad realization that there is a need for a new approach.

And that is why, as I made my first visit in this capacity to the region last week, I described this agreement as a Framework of Hope. For if this new attempt is to succeed where others have fallen short, there must be optimism and courage in place of cynicism. The governments and the people of this region, and the international community, must believe once again that peace can be achieved and take the necessary actions to obtain it. As this process advances, it must bring hope to the people who are the victims and who will ultimately be its beneficiaries.

As I carried that message with me around the region, I also made it clear that my approach as Special Envoy will be different. I will, of course, focus much of my energies on engaging with the leaders and the governments of the region in order to build trust, and to help them translate their commitments into tangible plans and actions for peace. At the same time, I will also be working from the bottom-up.  I will be engaging with civil society, as I believe it will be essential to generate the widest possible constituency for this agreement. If people are engaged and taking ownership of this process, they can become a strong force for implementation. I believe this new effort will only have a chance if many partners are coordinated and pushing in the same direction.

I have summarized this personal vision of the framework, and my approach as Special Envoy, in a document entitled A Framework of Hope. I am sharing it with you today, as I did with all my interlocutors during the trip to the region. It reflects my own sense of the spirit of the agreement and how I can contribute most effectively to its implementation.

Having made these introductory comments let me turn now to a more detailed summary of my recent visit before leaving you with some concluding remarks.


Mr. President,

Between the 28 April and 5 May, I visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both Kinshasa and Goma, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and South Africa. I would have liked to visit the other countries signatories to the framework agreement, but regrettably, time and other scheduling constraints did not permit. Where I was unable to do so, I wrote to the concerned leaders and indicated that I would visit more countries during subsequent trips to the region in the coming months.

During this first regional visit, I met with Presidents Kabila, Museveni and Nkurunziza, and had a long telephone conversation with President Kagame, who was out of the country. I also met with the Governor of Goma, in the DRC, Mr. Paluku, the Minister of Defense of Uganda, Dr. Kiyonga, in his capacity as Facilitator of the Kampala talks between the DRC Government and M23. I met with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma, her Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region, Amb. Diarra, and the Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, Prof. Luaba. In all countries visited, I also held extensive meetings with UN entities, including MONUSCO, BNUB, the Country Teams, the World Bank, the IMF as well as the diplomatic corps and donor community. Finally, in each place I enlarged my consultations to include civil society, in the broad sense of the term, and even more so women groups, with whom I intend to work closely to implement my mandate. I would like to state my heartfelt appreciation to all the officials and actors that I met during this visit, for their very warm welcome and their expression of support for my future activities as Special Envoy.

The purpose of this regional visit was threefold.  First, to seek the views of leaders and others on the implementation of the PSC Framework, particularly on the establishment of the oversight mechanisms and development of benchmarks to the commitments of signatories.  Secondly, to encourage participation in the first meeting of the 11+4 oversight mechanism, planned on 26 May, on the margins of the African Union Jubilee Summit, in Addis Ababa.  Third, to share my vision and approach for the Framework, which I shared with you at the outset of this briefing.

Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the Security Council,

While I was familiar with the issues and knew most of the leaders in the Great Lakes before coming to this position, I undertook this visit in my new capacity to first and foremost listen to the concerns of those on the ground affected by the crisis in eastern DRC, from the leadership to the ordinary citizens. I had frank and warm discussions with all my interlocutors. During my meetings with each leader and Government official from the DRC and neighbouring countries, we discussed in detail their commitments as outlined in the Framework and I stressed that they should be fulfilled. I called upon the civil society groups to encourage their governments to respect their commitments and to hold them accountable. Equally importantly, I stressed that the implementation of the Framework was a shared responsibility, and success would be predicated upon each and all parties living up to their commitments, given the monumental challenges ahead of us.

My visit in the DRC, in particular, took place against the backdrop of tensions produced by M23 statements in reaction to the upcoming deployment of the Force Intervention Brigade. In Kinshasa and Goma, the overwhelming majority of the Congolese I spoke to were enthusiastic about the deployment of the Brigade, a feeling that is understandable. I stressed at the time that the Force Intervention Brigade while an important tool, should be seen as one element of a much larger political process aimed at finding a comprehensive solution to the crisis in eastern DRC.

Although at an apparent stalemate for now, the Kampala talks are also part of the efforts towards a regional peace initiative, and I called on the DRC Government to remain committed to this process with a view to expediting it as soon as possible. The current focus on the Force Intervention Brigade, which in my view should act mostly preventively, as a deterrent, with limited strategic military operations, needs to be put in context to minimize potential adverse impacts. It would be vital that it operated in full compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law, and with maximum consideration for the protection of civilians. Many in the humanitarian community, and officials in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, expressed concerns about the need to manage the potential consequences of the military operations. I am glad to note that MONUSCO is already undertaking mitigating measures in this regard.

President Kabila informed me that his Government was working on a Plan of Action for the implementation of the DRC commitments under the Framework, including on the composition and modalities of work of the national oversight mechanism. I stressed the importance of the inclusiveness of such a national mechanism, which should involve civil society representatives and have the necessary expertise to play an effective supervisory role. Both President Kabila and his Foreign Affairs Minister assured me that at least the architecture of the national oversight mechanism would be ready for the first meeting of the “11+4” to be held in Addis Ababa on 26 May.

At the regional level, I am also glad to report some encouraging news. As with President Kabila, I had frank discussions with Presidents Museveni, Kagame and Nkurunziza. All three stated their readiness to implement their commitments under the Framework and also, as I said earlier, expressed support for my mandate as Special Envoy. It is encouraging to see that the leaders in the region, particularly Presidents Kabila and Kagame, continue to talk to each other, either bilaterally or through the ICGLR.

In Kampala, I had fruitful discussion with President Museveni and the Facilitator of the Kampala talks, Minister of Defence Crispus Kiyonga. They both underlined that the dialogue remains a viable avenue to end the crisis in eastern DRC. While recognizing progress on key points of the agenda of the dialogue, they spoke of stalemate in others, particularly on the issues of amnesty, integration and disarmament. We exchanged views on how to move this process forward.

The ICGLR has played and continues to play a very important role under the leadership of its Chairperson President Museveni. The regional initiatives have helped mitigate the impact of the crisis and it is important that the international community, including the Security Council, acknowledges that role, if we want to make progress under the renewed partnership to end the crisis in eastern DRC, as clearly spelled out in the PSC Framework. I intend to work closely with my African Union and ICGLR partners in Bujumbura and Addis Ababa to ensure that we have a coordinated and concerted approach.

Mr. President,

It is important that the people in eastern DRC, and the Great Lakes region as a whole, feel that there is a peace dividend to enjoy. There is room for further regional economic cooperation provided that trust is restored between the DRC and its neighbours. I was told the last Summit of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (in French CEPGL), which includes Burundi, the DRC and Rwanda, was held almost 20 years ago. President Nkurunziza, who will host a CEPGL ministerial meeting next week in Burundi, has pledged to continue his efforts to revitalize this regional economic institution. As I was departing Kigali, Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo was flying to Kinshasa for consultations on joint economic projects and other peace and security matters. These economic consultations had been underway prior to the straining of their relations due to last year’s crisis.

In discussions in Pretoria with the Ministry of International relations and cooperation, I learned about encouraging measures that the South African Government has taken or plans to take to boost its economic partnership with the DRC and its assistance to Kinshasa in sectors such as governance, agriculture, infrastructures and revenue collection. The goodwill of South Africa was confirmed in a telephone conversation with Minister for International cooperation, Nkoana Mashabane, and in a meeting with the Minister of the Presidency, Collins Chabane. They confirmed the strong support of President Zuma who was on his way back from a meeting in Congo-Brazzaville at the time.

These bilateral and trilateral economic initiatives are positive steps which could greatly contribute to the restoration of trust between the countries of the region. We need to support them and I am very glad that already there is good will from the donor community and the international financial institutions, particularly the World Bank, to help the Great Lakes region.

Mr. President,

Looking ahead, as mentioned earlier, the African Union and the United Nations will be organizing the first meeting of the 11+4 oversight mechanism, on 26 May in Addis Ababa. Between now and then, I will be working on a concept paper, to be presented to regional leaders, on how this regional oversight mechanism and its supporting Technical Committee might operate. I am aware that given the short amount of time and the important events of the Jubilee, this meeting may only take the process a small way forward. However, I intend to continue consultations with each and every signatory of the Framework on this matter, so as to present an approved set of benchmarks to the next meeting of the 11+4 oversight mechanism at the UN General Assembly in September. Just after the Addis Ababa meeting on 26 May, I will head to Paris to attend a meeting of the International Contact Group on the Great Lakes on 28 May. I intend to encourage participants to coordinate their efforts more in support of the Great Lakes region.

I am heartened that President Museveni will organize an ICLGR Summit, probably in July, to take stock of the recent developments and define ways in which the region intends to work with the signatories and partners of the PSC Framework. In the meantime, building on current initiatives and existing regional fora, including on a regional plan of action for UN Security Council resolution 1325 of my African sister Binta Diop of Femmes Africa Solidarité, I intend to mobilize the women of the Great Lakes countries to play an active role in support of the PSC Framework. I also intend to work closely with the concerned authorities in Burundi, the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, UNHCR and the Red Cross to encourage the organization of a dedicated working meeting on refugees, at a date to be determined. Finally, I am already planning my second visit to the region later this month.

Mr. President,

Let me conclude by reminding us of the tragic history that remains inescapably attached to this problem — one that still scars the Great Lakes and this very institution of the United Nations, and one that also fuels my own personal commitment to this assignment.

Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the genocidal killings in Rwanda of 1994. I reflected about this last week when visiting the genocide memorial site in Kigali.

As President of Ireland, I was the first head of state to visit Rwanda in 1994 in the aftermath of the genocide. In the Hotel Mille Collines, where I stayed, there were walls still stained with blood. In 1995, I spoke of those horrors at the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations, because it was a reality that had to be confronted.

Only three years after that first visit after the Genocide, I was back in Rwanda, attending a vibrant Pan-African women’s conference in a nation that was already on the mend and moving forward.

Yet two decades later, that past is not yet fully behind us. Its echoes remain present in the horrific, cyclical violence that continues to deprive so many of the secure and peaceful lives they deserve.

In the Framework of Hope we have an opportunity to get it right – to bring peace, security and development at long last to the region and its people.   Now is the time to begin translating its broad commitment into tangible actions for peace.

There are no guarantees that this new push for peace will succeed. However, we can be sure that if it fails the consequences will be grave. We can also be sure that, however determined I am personally to this challenging assignment, this new push for peace will not succeed by the efforts of one person, one brigade, or any other action taken in isolation. No, this will require an all-out concerted series of actions that are both serious and sustained, at the national, regional and international level. It will require doing things differently, doing them better, and not stopping until the job is finished.

Thank you.