Thank you, Mr. President. Special Representative Zerrougui, Special Envoy Djinnit, thank you for your briefings today. We deeply appreciate your updates, especially in these final two months before elections in the DRC.
Following the Security Council’s trip to Kinshasa, our focus remains on the state of elections preparations in the DRC. We were particularly glad that the Council met with the President of the Independent National Election Commission, who had not been able to join us for the August Council briefing.
Mr. President, we agree with the Electoral Commission officials that another electoral delay is not acceptable and appreciate their focus on maintaining the December 23 date. The Congolese people have already waited two years to cast their votes.
With that in mind, we will continue supporting MONUSCO’s efforts to establish contingency plans to distribute voting materials if the Congolese government makes a last-minute request. We would encourage MONUSCO to be transparent with the Congolese government regarding deadlines for requesting this assistance.
However, we recall that it is not MONUSCO’s responsibility to organize Congolese elections. It’s the responsibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although CENI has had an extra two years to organize this election, we remain deeply concerned about the specific choices that the CENI has made – that they are likely to lead to widespread problems on Election Day.
Mr. President, we believe Congolese officials intend to hold elections on December 23, but we are not the people that need to be convinced. The Congolese people need to know that they will have the chance to exercise their vote in a credible election. And now is the time to build that confidence. End the detention of political prisoners and implement fully the December 2016 agreement. Develop a logistics plan to deliver elections materials in time. Release the voter registry in an electronic, searchable format. Build consensus around the electronic voting machines and develop a back-up procedure to ensure voters can still vote even if the machines malfunction or fail to be delivered to all voting stations. Train sufficient poll workers on voting equipment and processes.
These are actions that the Congolese government and the CENI, in particular, could take today to address Congolese voters’ concerns.
The goal for December 23, 2018 is free, fair, and credible elections. One way to safeguard this is through election observers. We encourage the Electoral Commission to speedily begin to welcome and accredit election observers in coordination with the AU, SADC, and Congolese civil society.
Two weeks ago on the floor of the General Assembly, President Kabila called for the end of the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission. We share this goal, but our focus is on the execution and on the timing.
As the Secretary-General’s report documents, MONUSCO is essential for civilian protection in the DRC. Armed groups continue their attacks and human rights violations, especially against civilians in the eastern DRC. We recognize the UN’s efforts to repatriate or relocate former combatants from Rwanda and South Sudan, even as we remain deeply concerned about ADF attacks, which appear to be increasing in frequency and lethality.
In North Kivu and Ituri, MONUSCO is providing life-saving logistics support to the Ebola response, protecting convoys and ensuring that humanitarian workers can operate safely in difficult conditions. This health crisis will require our full attention and ingenuity to halt Ebola’s spread.
Mr. President, when the time is right, we will be the first to celebrate MONUSCO’s closure, as called for by President Kabila in his address, but today, it is too soon to celebrate.
Finally, we note that Congolese authorities have started the trial in the murder of two UN experts, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan, who were killed while investigating human rights violations in the Kasais. We would remind the Congolese authorities of the importance of a thorough investigation and fair trial without pressure of artificial timelines. No one wants to see innocent people convicted for a murder they did not commit or those guilty walk free.
We would encourage the Secretary-General to renew the Follow-On Mechanism to accompany Congolese authorities in seeking justice for Michael and Zaida.