Open letter to the new UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes

Dear Special Envoy,

Following your visit to Goma, DRC, the non-governmental organizations signatory to this letter welcome you to your post, and expresses support of your mission in DRC. As organizations operational in the Kivus, we recognize the challenges in front of you and look forward to working with you and your office towards ensuring effective humanitarian assistance to those in need, whilst addressing key structural and longer-term needs to enable the effective transition from conflict to stability, and to sustainable development.

Recent attacks on the civilian population in Lubero and Beni areas challenges the rhetoric that the situation is getting better and that the past year has brought significant improvements to people’s well being. In South Lubero, over 50,000 people have been internally displaced and face ongoing threats. In North Beni, a series of attacks on the civilian population has been characterised by brutal physical violence and killings. There is urgent need to support efforts for stability in the region, and to support those who had been forced to flee ongoing conflict.
Therefore, as the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, we urge you to prioritize two issues: effective implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF) which is inclusive, transparent and accountable, and facilitation of voluntary, safe and dignified returns of displaced persons and refugees in the region.

1) Effective implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework

In the September 2014 report of the UN Secretary General on the status of implementation of the PSCF, it was recognized that there has been “limited progress” on national pledges, including in such key commitments as security sector reform, consolidation of state authority, decentralization, economic development, reconciliation and democratization. Regional initiatives have developed some to sustaining momentum on the PSCF, but the government ofDRC must also be held accountable for making its commitments a reality. Despite consultation sessions and the development of national benchmarks, a key challenge to progress has been poor communication on these benchmarks with wider civil society and affected communities. Without this, communities in DRC lack the information needed to hold their government accountable for progress which can translate into real security. Additionally, without clear milestones or markers for how the mission can support the government, MONUSCO has struggled to implement this critical part of their mandate. We look to your office for ensuring support to a mass communications campaign which would raise awareness of the PSCF amongst the population, and to continue to engage with MONUSCO senior leadership on how the mission should support progress.

Furthermore, if the PSCF is to be as effective and sustainable as possible, it must be reflective of and respond to the lived experiences of Congolese people, connecting to existing bottom-up peace initiatives undertaken by non-governmental actors. Continued efforts to actively engage with civil society, and ensuring the voices of women and youth are represented, should be prioritized. Specifically, it would be useful to hold regular meetings with a broader, more representative cross-section of civil society where comprehensive updates are provided, with an opportunity for open dialogue on progress and challenges. Greater contact with and input from civil society from the more remote, conflict-affected parts of eastern Congo will be important for understanding better the challenges they are facing in building peace. Civil society involvement should go beyond consultations with organizations based in provincial capitals, and should enable independent civil society actors to monitor the implementation of the PSCF.

2) Voluntary, safe and dignified returns of displaced persons and refugees

While we welcome positive steps towards peace and stabilization, we urge you to ensure that all support for returns of displaced persons is preconditioned on ensuring that such movement is voluntary, safe and dignified. In the Great Lakes region, this has been a contentious and highly-charged political issue, the resolution of which requires serious commitment from all relevant regional actors, including state authorities.

As the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, you are in a unique position to support adequate discussions and planning for returns, which consider all implications on regional relationships and local community dynamics. Many conflicts in this region find their origins in disputes relating to access to land, interwoven with questions around identity and power politics. Population that left as many as twenty years ago may return and find that the land they expected to come back to has been occupied, and that they have nowhere else to go. Adequate and effective mediation of land conflict is vital in the short term, as well as investment into livelihood solutions, including alternative sources of livelihoods. In the long term, land-related issues as the duality between customary land rights and state-based land laws must be addressed to ensure truly sustainable refugee returns, as well as launching processes of community dialogue and, eventually, reconciliation.
We would welcome the opportunity to discuss these and other issues with you during your next visit to DRC. Collectively, we bring a diverse range of experiences and perspectives to this complicated context, and remain available to support you in your work to promote peace and stability in the region.