U.N. envoy Mary Robinson said Monday that she believes there’s a chance to solve the underlying cause of decades of violence in Congo and “stop it for good.”
The former Irish president told the U.N. Security Council her hope stems from the peace accord signed by 11 African countries in late February to stabilize the troubled central African nation because it requires national, regional and international action and includes oversight to ensure that benchmarks are set and are met.
As the new U.N. special envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Robinson is in charge of overseeing implementation of the peace deal, which she said will be “a very challenging process.”
But on her first trip to the region last week, she said she described the agreement to leaders as a “Framework of Hope” because if it is going to succeed “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 action to obtain it,” Robinson said.
Congo suffers from persistent violence by both local and foreign armed groups that has displaced nearly 2 million people, according to the U.N.
Under the peace deal, Congo’s neighbours collectively promised not to interfere in Congo’s internal affairs or to support armed groups in the country and the Congolese government pledged to prevent armed groups from destabilizing neighbouring countries. The Congolese government also pledged to reform its army and police, consolidate its authority in the volatile east and promote reconciliation, tolerance and democratization.
The signatories include Rwanda and Uganda, which were accused in a U.N. report last year of helping aid the M23 rebel group which swept through eastern Congo in 2012 and captured Goma in November but pulled out under international pressure. Both countries denied the allegations.
Robinson said that Congo’s President Joseph Kabila told her his government was working on a plan to implement its commitments and the leaders of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi told her they were ready to implement their commitments.
M23, the most prominent rebel group operating in eastern Congo, had been holding peace talks with Congo’s government in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, but the rebels suspended the talks last week saying it was meaningless to negotiate peace when the U.N. is about to deploy an intervention brigade authorized to attack them.
The U.N. Security Council authorized the new “intervention brigade” for Congo in late March with an unprecedented mandate to take offensive military action against rebel groups to help bring peace to the east by neutralizing and disarming their fighters.
Although the Kampala talks are at an apparent stalemate for now, Robinson said, they are part of the regional peace effort and she urged the Congolese government to remain committed to the negotiations “with a view to expediting it as soon as possible.”
Looking ahead, she said, the 11 nations and four regional groups that witnessed the peace agreement will meet on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa on May 26 to focus on oversight.
Robinson, who also served previously as the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said her approach as special envoy will be different because she will not only engage with leaders but will work “from the bottom up” with civil society and women’s groups to generate the widest possible support for the agreement.
“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,” said Robinson.
But she added that the 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 DR Congo.
M23 has said it will return to peace talks with the DR Congo government only if a full ceasefire accord is reached.
Robinson acknowledged there was “an apparent stalemate” and called on the DR Congo government “to remain committed to this process.”
UN experts have said Rwanda and Uganda have backed M23 in the past but Robinson. Both countries deny the charge and Robinson said that the presidents of both countries had been among leaders who “stated their readiness to implement their commitments” under the accord sealed in March.
“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,” Robinson said. She cautioned that while there are no guarantees of success, “we can be sure that if it fails, the consequences will be grave.”