In March 2013 Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and UN high commissioner for human rights was appointed special envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes region to bolster implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the region, an accord signed by 11 African countries in February that year.
The envoy’s role is to negotiate with leaders in the region, often highly mistrustful of each other, and find a way to create lasting peace in eastern DRC. During her time, former rebel group M23 surrendered and negotiated a peace agreement with the government, and other armed groups followed suit. Governments also agreed a Regional Plan of Action in January 2014, which included promises to respect national sovereignty, stop supporting armed groups and create better justice mechanisms.
But violence continues in many parts of DRC, and there remain many challenges, including how to facilitate the return of some 365,000 DRC refugees and 2.6 million IDPs.
In mid-June UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Robinson special envoy for climate change. She will leave her role as Great Lakes envoy after she submits her final report to the Security Council on 7 August. Said Djinnit, the former African Union (AU) commissioner for peace and security, will take over her role.
IRIN spoke to her about her time as special envoy.
How can we build on your time as Special Envoy going forward?
Mary Robinson: I expected to be here for many months to come… I am aware that we have made quite a lot of progress and there is some momentum. I think that it’ll be vital that we reinforce and reinvigorate that momentum. I think my successor will hopefully bring a new energy and vision to do that…
I will try to outline to the Security Council what I feel have been some of the gains of the Framework for Peace, Security and Cooperation: The fact that it has structures in place that I think are important, for example the Plan of Action that the heads of state agreed in January of this year; the fact that there is a National Oversight Mechanism in the DRC and both of these have to work well, and work in balance with each other; the fact that there’s a team of envoys who work very closely with each other, and Said Djinnit will form part of that team of envoys in the future; and that civil society and women’s group and youth want to be involved. I think that’s making the difference.
In the agreements in that past, civil society didn’t feel that they were able to engage with leaders and hold them to account, but now with the plan of action for leaders, they can hold them to account.
Is there genuine will to follow through on these agreements?
MR: I would wish that it was even more secure, but I do think that we have put in place good structures for the future, and more importantly there is political will in the region - of that I am convinced - among the leaders of the region, notably in the current chair of the Conference of the Great Lakes, President Dos Santos. He has made it clear and he has repeated it - he wants all negative forces the eastern DRC removed during his time as chair. And it’s quite specific. And we have made progress with the M23, the ADF, and now the FDLR have committed to voluntarily surrendering. If they don’t, they too will face military action.
I think that it’s very important that the Security Council keeps a very close watch on this region; that Civil Society hold their governments to account. When civil society demands that governments do what they promised to do, it can make a difference…
What about some of the more stable countries in the region?
MR: They are the key political leaders; they are part of this Framework. I really do see the Framework as a Framework of Hope - not just peace, security and cooperation, also development. We need a development dividend now for people in the region, that the minerals are exploited on behalf of the people, and that they get the benefits.
I think there are enough structures in place and countries that are committed to seeing that this framework does really translate into irreversible change - irreversible change meaning no going back to armed groups dominating.
I certainly think that it’s important that the commitments that the DRC has made under the Framework are implemented fully. Security sector reform, state authority throughout all of the country - that’s still not fully in place, and the decentralization of reforms that are necessary. At the same time, I see a lot of progress. Every time I go there I see progress.
[DRC] Prime Minister Mtata is doing a very good job in his jurisdiction and I believe that it’s important that countries of the neighbourhood build more trust with the DRC. Particularly, I would like to see relations between the DRC and Rwanda improving at a leadership level.
Has there been steady progress in that area?
MR: I think there has, with some setbacks from time to time. But the fact that it’s possible - if there are issues for them - to be part of a mini-summit between leaders is a good thing, because that will build more trust going forward. These are not easy issues. I have great respect for the fact those who take on the responsibility of leadership in African countries face far more earthy, real problems than those in developed countries…
The Framework is at the centre of real political commitment of 13 countries now, because Kenya and Sudan joined in January, of four guarantor organizations – the United Nations, the African Union, the Conference of the Great Lakes and SADC [South African Development Community], and the structures of oversight at regional level and at national level. The Plan of Action which is very transparent - anybody can see what governments have committed to and hold them to account - and I think that’s very important.
What next for refugees?
MR: My office, OCHA [the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and UNHCR [the UN refugee Agency] are discussing actively, and are part of a task force to discuss how to have safe return of refugees on all sides. Some people are going back who were internally displaced in the DRC to areas - sometimes they’re not as safe as they need to be so we have to plan this very carefully…
Is DRC ready for elections?
MR: That’s a concern that I have, which I will mention to the Security Council to keep a very watchful eye on the region over the next few years. Because we have a cycle of elections - in Burundi next year, in DRC the following year, in Rwanda in 2016, and other elections. But those three are key election periods.
Biggest challenges for the next envoy?
MR: I think there’s a real opportunity to revitalize the Framework for Peace, Security and Cooperation together with the Conference of the Great Lakes Region and other initiatives. That is perhaps all the more necessary because of the electoral cycle that we’re moving into. It’s always a time of heightened tension, so that will have to be watched very carefully.