UN Security Council extends arms embargo on armed groups in volatile Congo

UN Security Council extends arms embargo on armed groups in volatile Congo
A French-drafted resolution maintains an arms embargo on rebel groups as well as asset freezes and travel bans on individuals and entities until 1 July 2023.
3 min read
The UN Security Council adopted the resolution by a vote of 10-0, with five abstentions [Getty-file photo]

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Thursday extending an arms embargo on armed groups in Congo, which is facing an upsurge in violence in the mineral-rich east, with Russia, China and its three African members abstaining.

Congo's government has repeatedly called for the lifting of a requirement that it give advance notice of any shipments of arms and military supplies as well as military assistance it receives to the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions on the country.

The requirement was eased in the French-drafted resolution that was adopted by a vote of 10-0.

The five countries that abstained backed Congo and wanted the requirement lifted.

The resolution maintains the arms embargo on rebel groups as well as asset freezes and travel bans on individuals and entities until 1 July 2023.

It also extends the mandate of the panel of experts monitoring sanctions until 1 August 2023.

France's UN ambassador, Nicolas De Riviere, said Congo's request to lift the notification procedure had been heard and the resolution adopted Thursday "significantly eases this procedure" in order to support Congolese armed forces reforms.

But it doesn't end the requirement.

"France regrets that this step forward, which is admittedly partial but reflects the balance of positions in the Security Council, was not unanimously supported," he said.

"We hope that the measures remaining in force can evolve in the future in line with national efforts to combat arms trafficking and the spread of arms."

The resolution was adopted a day after the UN special envoy for Congo warned that the M23 rebel group has increasingly acted as a conventional army during escalating military action in the volatile east and could threaten the UN peacekeeping force responsible for protecting civilians.

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Bintou Keita urged the Security Council to fully back regional efforts to defuse tensions between Congo and Rwanda over M23 rebels and other armed groups that have raised fears of war between the neighboring countries.

Congo has accused Rwanda of supporting M23, which Rwanda has long denied.

Each country has accused the other of recent incursions.

Eastern Congo, which borders Rwanda, lives with the daily threat from dozens of armed groups that jostle for a piece of the region's rich mineral wealth, which the world uses for electric cars, laptops and mobile phones.

M23, one of the most notorious rebel groups, surged into action this year and captured a key trading town in eastern Congo this month.

The resolution expresses concern "at the continued presence of domestic and foreign armed groups" in eastern Congo "and the suffering they impose on the civilian population of the country, including from human rights abuses".

It says the situation in Congo "continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security in the region".

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun told the council after the vote that 18 years after sanctions were imposed seeking to curb the violent activities of armed groups, those groups "remain rampant" in the east while the government’s "security capacity has been constrained".

In the face of deteriorating security and the M23 insurgency, he said, Congo's security forces, facing an arms embargo and other factors, "do not have adequate security capacity" to respond.

Zhang said China and the African members of the council – Kenya, Gabon and Ghana – supported lifting the notification requirement for government military supplies but faced opposition from some members.

Despite the easing of notifications in the resolution, he said, "the resolution will continue to subject the great majority of the weapons and equipment needed by the [Congolese] security forces to mandatory notification".

At Wednesday's council meeting, the three African members issued a joint statement supporting the Congolese government's request, arguing that "the current notification requirement remains an unnecessary bureaucratic impediment that infringes on the sovereignty" of Congo.