Is DRC being prevented from defending its own territory?

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala

Posted on Monday, 21 November 2022 16:42
A Senegalese MONUSCO peacekeeper in Goma on November 9, 2022. ©Photo by ALEXIS HUGUET / AFP

DRC is blaming the UN for having placed it on a "blacklist" that would prevent it from arming itself to fight against rebel groups. But what is really going on, with the M23 a few kilometres from Goma?

In November 2012, it took the M23 less than five days to capture Goma. That was 10 years ago, almost to the day. Active in the East again since November 2021, are the rebels hoping to retake the provincial capital of North Kivu, which they conquered at the time without much difficulty?

In any case, they are getting closer. On 15 November, the front line was established barely 17km from the city.

Congolese authorities are taking the threat seriously, convinced that they are being prevented from responding to the “aggression”. Their target – apart from Rwanda, which they have accused for months of supporting the M23 – the United Nations.

“Today there is no objective reason to keep our country bound to a mortgage of distrust. There are banks, transporters and even arms manufacturers who do not want to deal with us because of the United Nations. They say we are on the blacklist,” said Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula at a press briefing on 11 November.

In other words, according to Lutundula, the UN is preventing the DRC from buying the arms, ammunition and military equipment it needs to defend its territory.

‘Flagrant injustice’

The minister did not stop there. “As I speak, we are faced with a situation where purchases […] were coming here but, en route, the transporter said no, that cannot be delivered to the DRC,” he said, continuing, “[This is a] flagrant injustice.”

His comments provoked a substantial reaction on social networks, with some going so far as to call for demonstrations in front of the embassies of Western countries.

The minister eventually tried to calm things down on Twitter.

Tweet translated: The request to lift the obligation to declare the sale of a category of arms to the drc has already been submitted to the sanctions committee and is under review. any demonstrations against institutions/units or external partners will only benefit the DRC’s enemies.

But is the DRC under any kind of sanctions? If not, where does the confusion come from? The controversy has become so widespread that it generated a response from Security Council Sanctions Committee chairman Michel Xavier Biang.

On 9 November Biang said Resolution 1807, adopted in March 2008, gave “the DRC the freedom to purchase all kinds of arms, ammunition, aircraft and other military equipment to defend its territory”.

That year the UN lifted all restrictions on the government but maintained those against armed groups – of which there are now nearly 120, according to the Kivu Security Barometer (BSK).

Resolution 1807 was adopted unanimously by the members of the Security Council. “The DRC is not under the embargo regime, which only concerns armed groups,” said Biang.

Prior notification

In any case, the Congolese government is not affected by any sanctions. On the other hand, the same Resolution 1807 placed the DRC under the “prior notification” regime. This means that suppliers must inform the Sanctions Committee in advance of orders placed with them for arms, ammunition, and, more generally, military equipment.

“The supplier alone has to make the notification, not the government,” the Sanctions Committee chairman said.

But Kinshasa was not convinced. On 14 November, Senate President Modeste Bahati Lukwebo, who had met a few days earlier with Biang, denounced “a sort of international plot against the DRC” and demanded an explanation of the notification system from Lutundula.

The minister will have to carry out the same clarification work with the National Assembly.

The DRC has formally requested the lifting of this notification requirement, arguing that it is a bureaucratic burden.

The supplier alone has to make the notification, not the government.

The request was considered in June by the Security Council, which did not issue a complete decision. But it did remove the notification requirement established in Resolution 1807 for shipments of arms and related material.

It also created an exception for weapons listed in an annex. These include 14.5mm-calibre weapons, 82mm-calibre mortars, grenades and rocket launchers up to 107mm and their respective ammunition, as well as portable air defence systems and anti-tank guided missile systems.

Notification lifting process

Notification has also been removed for the supply of non-lethal military equipment for humanitarian or protective purposes.

“Given the resurgence of criminal attacks by the M23 in recent weeks, the signal of a total lifting of the notification process would probably have been stronger,” Jean-Marc Châtaigner, the European Union’s ambassador to the DRC, recently conceded.

“The UN should above all work to change the perception that arms market operators have of the situation in the DRC in order to support the government,” a security source told us.

For the moment, the risk is that arms dealers subject to this notification regime are reluctant to deliver goods to the DRC for fear that equipment will one day end up in the hands of armed groups subject to an embargo and be used against civilians.

They worry that this would damage their credibility and harm their business. This is not a far-fetched hypothesis.

The army has been known to provide logistical support to certain armed groups. According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, the DRC’s armed forces have recently concluded an alliance with some of these groups to fight the M23.

Groups that have managed to receive their arms, despite being under sanctions.

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