Reflecting the strides made by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) over the past decade, the United Nations peacekeeping mission entered a new chapter today, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paying tribute to the commitment demonstrated by blue helmets in bringing peace to the region.
Last month, the Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the withdrawal of up to 2,000 UN military personnel – from an existing strength of 19,815 – by today from areas where security has improved enough to allow their removal.
From today, the UN mission will be known as the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and will stay in the DRC only until 30 June next year.
“The emphasis is on stabilization and consolidating peace,” Mr. Ban said at the unveiling of a plaque during the introduction of the mission’s new phase in the capital, Kinshasa, yesterday.
He vowed that the UN will continue working with the DRC “to guide the progressive withdrawal of military peacekeepers in a way that does not jeopardize the gains the country has made.”
The Secretary-General emphasized the need to continue ensuring protection for civilians, especially women.
He also called on all parties, including Government forces, to put an end to sexual violence, which he called the “most serious denial of fundamental human rights.”
At the event, Mr. Ban recognized the dedication of peacekeepers who have served in the DRC, hailing the 157 men and women who have paid with their lives for the cause.
“Let us honour their memory by ensuring that together we can build the stability that the country needs to realize its great potential.”
Also in Kinshasa yesterday, the Secretary-General met with representatives of civil society, which he said is “critical to stability, to reconciliation in the wake of conflict, to a healthy democracy, and to human rights.”
He expressed his condolences on the death of prominent rights defender Floribert Chebeya, whose body was found on the outskirts of the capital last month after he was summoned to a police station.
So far, the chief of the national police has been suspended and several officers arrested in connection with the murder of Mr. Chebeya, who headed the non-governmental organization (NGO) known as Voix des Sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless).
The slain defender’s work focused on human rights abuses in the DRC, including corruption in the military and the links between militias and foreign political forces.
“His courage was an inspiration for all who are dedicated to upholding human rights and defending public freedoms,” Mr. Ban said at yesterday’s meeting. “I hope his death will be investigated thoroughly, transparently and independently, with full respect for due process and the rule of law.”
The Secretary-General noted that the health of a country can be gauged by its “willingness and ability to carry out its human rights commitments,” stressing the importance of States to provide the conditions necessary to allow rights defenders and journalists to carry out their work, unhindered.
“The United Nations will stand by your side,” he told the civil society representatives. “Our priority is to see Africa achieve its potential.”