WASHINGTON, November 7, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Special Briefing
Russell D. Feingold, Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo
November 6, 2013
MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. We’re pleased today to have Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo Russ Feingold, who will brief us on the Kampala talks and the situation in the Great Lakes region. Just a reminder that this is an on-the-record briefing. Special Envoy Feingold will open with a few introductory remarks, and after that point we’ll be ready for your questions and answers. With that, Special Envoy Feingold, if you’ll start us off.
MR. FEINGOLD: Good morning, everybody, and thank you for your interest and your participation. I’ll just make a few comments and then, of course, will be happy to answer any questions.
I started this position in July, but I’ve been trying to follow events in this region throughout my career in the Senate, where I was either a member or chairman or ranking member of the Africa subcommittee in the Senate. So when Secretary Kerry contacted me and asked me to take this position, I already realized that this was one of the most serious crises in the world, as you – many of you already know. Some five to six million people have died in the course of 20 years of this conflict. There is unspeakable violence, sexual violence against women and children, children being conscripted into the military, and there continues to be something like dozens of – as many as 40 to 45, perhaps – armed illegal groups in eastern Congo.
So it’s one of the greatest crises in the world, but it’s easy for people to confuse what’s really happening in terms of the attempt to try to turn this around. There are really two different processes that are in place and they are unconnected to each other formally, but are related to each other. One is the framework agreement, which is the agreement that was signed in Addis Ababa by 11 nations from the region, including the critical ones – DRC – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda. But these agreements were signed also under the auspices of the African Union and the United Nations. And that is where the significant international involvement in trying to resolve this problem under the Framework for Peace, Security and Cooperation really started in its most recent phase last – and that’s just this past February. So that’s one part of the process, and in my view, and I think the view of the international community and the envoys, that’s the most important avenue for trying to resolve the fundamental problems. So that’s one of the processes.
The other one, though, is what you’ve been hearing about in the last few days that has a significant relationship to this, and that’s the so-called Kampala talks. Before the framework, last year in December, after the M23 rebel group had taken over Goma and had further roiled the situation in eastern Congo, independently of the United Nations, President Museveni, the President of Uganda, tried to broker talks between the M23 and President Kabila and Democratic Republic of Congo. These, sponsored by the so-called ICGLR, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, are what are known as the Kampala talks being held in Kampala, Uganda.
These have sort of sputtered over the last few months. They were only supposed to take a couple weeks, and contemplated that the result would be the elimination of this one group, the M23, that that would somehow be negotiated. This really sputtered until late July, late August, when fighting broke out and the group of special envoys that had been appointed to take on this issue – Mary Robinson of the UN, myself, a representative of the European Union, a representative of the African Union, and Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary General – when all of us decided that it was urgent to stop the fighting, to go to Kampala and try to re-stimulate the process. So we made a first trip there and there were negotiations going on at the time that we observed and tried to support. They were going to take care of getting rid of the M23 and making arrangements for that within 14 days in September, but that didn’t happen.
And so we went back for another round just two, three weeks ago. And I was personally involved in five different evenings of negotiations that greatly narrowed the difference between the Democratic Republic of Congo and then – and the M23. Much of the question was resolved at that point, but there didn’t seem the will on the part of the M23 to actually sign. That led to a final round of negotiations this past weekend that also went late in the night in Kampala, and the result of that is what you’ve been reading about, that after all these negotiations, it was agreed that a first step to resolve the M23 issue was the M23 would announce that it is disbanding, that it is renouncing its rebellion. They have made that statement. The second is that the Democratic Republic of the Congo would say they would stop military action against the M23. Those two steps have essentially happened.
The third step, though, has to occur yet, and that is the actual signing of an agreement or engagement that has been worked out in great detail. It’s not like this has to be negotiated; it’s already negotiated. It’s ready to be signed. And I and the other special envoys are standing by, ready to return to Kampala for that sort of a ceremony or meeting as early as tomorrow or early next week. Again, though, this would only resolve one aspect of the issue, the very serious problem of the M23. It does not deal with the root cause – all the other root causes of the problem, does not deal with the so-called FDLR and the ADF and other armed groups and all the issues about what the Democratic Republic of the Congo has to do in order to reform itself. That is part of the broader framework. But we believe this signing would not only solve this one problem; it would lead and give momentum to the broader effort where, we hope, through a broader mediated dialogue, the actual countries involved would be at the table. Not the M23, per se, or that kind of a group, but the people and the entities at the table would be Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and perhaps other countries from the region.
So I hope I didn’t get too deep into the weeds with that, but the distinction between the Kampala talks and the framework is important for understanding exactly what’s going on here.
Okay. Happy to take questions.
MODERATOR: Hi, Cynthia. If you could just again read the instructions to our callers for how they would ask a question, and then we’ll stand by for a moment for those first ones to come in.
OPERATOR: Certainly, and once again, for any questions or comments, press * and then 1. That’s * and then 1 for your questions or comments. And one moment, please, while we order the queue.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Cynthia. I think we can start with our first question in queue, Michele Kelemen from NPR.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Thanks for doing this. I’m wondering if you can – can you hear me?
MR. FEINGOLD: Yes, I can.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay, sorry. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the role of this more assertive UN force in Congo and how much that is working and whether or not that can be translated to other conflicts as you look across the continent.
MR. FEINGOLD: That’s a very important question and important part of this.
First of all, the effort of the intervention brigade, which is a part of the MONUSCO UN operation force, is one of a series of major signs that the international community is giving unprecedented – I like to call it sustained attention to this problem. So it should be looked at not only in terms of strengthening the abilities and the capacity and the mandate of MONUSCO, but also it is combined with this framework under the auspices of the United Nations, the special envoys being appointed, the fact that the World Bank pledged over $1 billion if this process can be successful.
All of this occurred, and then in addition to that, this intervention brigade was given the ability to take offensive action to disarm and demobilize these armed groups, and as I indicated, the estimates vary, but there are certainly dozens of these groups. Most people believe this is an exceptional approach, some would say unprecedented, but in any event, it’s a very strong approach that stands in great contrast to, frankly, often criticized role of the UN forces in this region in the past which did not have this capacity.
So how does it work? Well, the IB, and in fact, the MONUSCO itself stand in support of the efforts of the federal army of the Congo. So this does not lead – they do not lead and take the – make the decisions unilaterally to decide who to go after or when, but they do provide coordination. Sometimes it’s more in the form of a backup such as making sure that civilians are protected. In some cases, it’s direct action. This occurred both at the end of July – excuse me, at the end of August – and also just recently, where in some cases, the FARDC was in the lead, in some cases it was in cooperation, and sometimes this intervention brigade or MONUSCO itself, with the intervention brigade as a part of it, do this.
So it’s a creative mechanism. I think your question really goes to the central issue, as not only is this very important for the confidence of the Congolese military and going after these illegal groups, but this may have long-term consequences for what people believe could happen if United Nations peacekeeping forces were given a stronger capacity to deal with violence and threats to civilians. This has exciting potential and the initial signs are that this is a very successful operation under the leadership of Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary General, and General dos Santos Cruz, who is a commander who had good, strong experience in Haiti. And I met with him and seeing that they are – these two are an exceptionally strong combination for this effort which certainly will be pointed to, whether for good or bad, as to whether this kind of an operation can work. The initial signs are that it is successful, so far is a good concept, and is working well, at least in this context.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Just a reminder to our callers, to ask a question, you dial *1. Again, *1 to ask a question. Cynthia, I believe our next caller is Deb Riechmann from AP, if you can open her line. Thank you.
OPERATOR: And Deb, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, I have several questions. Do you have any information about the whereabouts of some of the M23 leaders who are wanted for serious abuses? Any information on that that you could offer? And is there any details about how they will go – they will now go about disarming the rebels? And how can you ensure that the M23 won’t disappear across the border, regroup, and reemerge?
MR. FEINGOLD: I do not at this point have specific information about where some of the top leaders of M23 might be at this point. What I have seen is press speculation. I expect to get some more information in the near future, but that is something that is not clear at all.
In terms of how the process will work – disbanding the M23 and demobilizing them, disarming them – the agreement that is yet to be signed has very specific provisions that provide for the sequencing of how the group will be disarmed; where, for example, they would be in a cantonment zone, which is important because they need to be protected from other armed groups. To disarm them and not provide them protection would be obviously unreasonable and not something they would sign on to. So there is a very carefully worked out sequence of steps.
It also raises the question of groups of those who cannot get amnesty. You were sort of referring to some of those individuals. There is also an important step that has to be taken, which is the passing of a national amnesty law by the Congolese Government. That amnesty law will not provide amnesty for war crimes or crimes against humanity for people who have committed those crimes. It will only – if this agreement goes through the way I hope it will and believe it will – it will only provide amnesty for the – sort of the rank-and-file members of M23 for purposes of having been part of a rebellion. In other words, they’re forgiven for having started or been involved in a rebellion as long as they pledge individually to not rebel again. And if they do rebel again or participate in rebellion, they lose their amnesty, but no amnesty for the type of people who have committed crimes against humanity and international crime.
So that’s a major distinction between this and the 2009 agreement, actually the March 23 – M23 agreement in 2009 that did give that kind of amnesty to people who committed major crimes. In fact, they allowed them to come back into the Congolese military. That is not happening in this case if this agreement goes through the way I believe it will go through, and certainly, the international community and the United States would not support such an agreement. I also believe that the Congolese Government would never sign such an agreement this time.
So there has to be accountability. There’s no impunity in this this time.
QUESTION: So there will be some accountability for crimes committed, then?
MR. FEINGOLD: There has to be. And in fact, the United States –
QUESTION: But not rank-and-file guys. How do they determine who is held – which ones are held accountable? Does it depend on what they –
MR. FEINGOLD: They have a very good sense –
QUESTION: — or – depending on what the crime was, or depending on who they were?
MR. FEINGOLD: Yeah. Sure. Well, of course, it’s based on evidence that they committed war crimes –
MR. FEINGOLD: — whether it be crimes of rape or crimes of conscripting child soldiers or any of the sort of acts – there’s plenty of information out there, and the ability to indict individuals, some of whom have already been indicted by Congolese justice system. There’s plenty of information to identify, and we have a very good sense of the people who would be subject to that kind of a process.
So, yes, there has to be accountability. The accountability would be most likely through the Congolese justice system, and that is going to need some help. One of the ideas that is out there that the United States believes is a good idea, and the international community, is a piece of legislation that is currently pending before the Congolese parliament for what’s called mixed courts. Mixed courts provide – it’s a model that’s been used, I believe, in other places, where a court is composed of some Congolese judges but also international judges with experience in these sorts of things, probably from other African countries, so to sort of upgrade and improve the quality of the process so there can be appropriate indictments and prosecution and punishment. This will be one of our very top priorities, for the special envoys and for the Congolese Government, so that this has a very different face than what happened with – on the previous two occasions, where this – an agreement was made but it essentially just set up a system where this would happen again. The goal here is to make sure this can’t happen again.
MODERATOR: Cynthia, I believe our next caller in line is Arshad Mohammed from Reuters. Can you please open Arshad’s line?
OPERATOR: And Arshad, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for doing the call. Two things: Can you explain to us how you hope the Kampala Declaration, once it is signed, may help pave the way to addressing some of the root causes of the conflict in eastern Congo, and notably, how it might over time help address questions such as the return of Tutsi refugees from Rwanda? And secondly – and guarantees of land for Tutsi pastoralists in eastern Congo.
MR. FEINGOLD: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And then, secondly, do you anticipate any change in the U.S. position on defense assistance to Rwanda in the light of the current situation on the ground?
MR. FEINGOLD: Your question goes right to the heart of this matter and what I started the conversation about, the distinction between the Kampala talks and the broader talks – hopefully, mediated talks – that need to happen under the framework agreement. The Kampala talks preceded and were not directly related to the framework, but it was our judgment as special envoys that it would be extremely important to resolve the M23 issue to get on to those root causes. In other words, if it was still actively, with its military capacity at the time, causing war in eastern Congo, it would be extremely hard to get the parties to sit down and talk about the broader context. So that’s why we put so much focus on trying to get what we hope is the resolution, conclusion of the talks, and the disbandment of the M23. But it is only a series of talks that have to do with M23 and its rebellion. It does not go to the root cause of the problem.
So how do we get to the next step? The next step is to get the parties in the region, hopefully with the help of the African Union and others, to agree on actual talks and an agenda for talks – mediated talks, I would hope – under African leadership, where the items on that agenda are not just the M23 but are things exactly what you just described. How can refugees be returned? And that’s just not a problem of how do you – where do you return them to. The question is, have you resolved and given protection for ethnic tensions, Rwandaphone populations that live in eastern Congo, land tenure issues, and others? In so doing, you have to be careful to not get into matters that are purely or largely matters within the context of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There needs to be some sensitivity to those issues that are properly within the sphere of that government and our work with them, and then some issues are international and some are regional. The framework agreement contemplates that because it has benchmarks, separate benchmarks, for international, regional, and national progress in these areas.
My belief is the only way you get those benchmarks enforced and integrated with each other is by having actual talks where countries like Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo are represented at the table, and probably other countries in the region who have an interest in this matter, because as the summit in Pretoria that I just returned from illustrates, the entire continent, particularly the SADC region and the ICGLR region, are extremely concerned about this instability in Congo and see it as threatening the entire continent, not just the specific Great Lakes region.
The other – only other point I would make is that, in the somewhat narrower context of being able to deal with other armed groups in the area, the successful disbandment of the M23 clearly opens the door for the absolute necessity to go after groups like the FDLR, which, of course, is associated with the Rwandan genocide in the past, and the ADF, which is a group that has been antagonistic to the Ugandan Government over the years and is largely operating in eastern Congo, as well as other groups. So Kampala is a jumping off point to get more serious about those other armed groups, but also fundamentally to have a series of negotiations that actually get at some of the issues that have led to this extremely complicated situation in eastern Congo.
QUESTION: How – as I understand it, there are no such additional negotiations scheduled. How quickly do you think that may happen, and what are the impediments to that happening once the M23 issue is substantially resolved, if it is?
MR. FEINGOLD: It will require the political will of the countries in the region. These countries have all signed the framework agreement in which they pledged no support for these armed groups, in which they agreed that issues about reform within the Democratic Republic of Congo and issues about the return of refugees and all – and as well as positive opportunities in terms of economic development. There’s already this piece of paper that talks about that and benchmarks. But in the end, there’s no requirement in any of that, that this be a face-to-face process where there’s a mediator who actually encourages them to come to serious agreements that can be enforced and watched over time. That is something that all of us have been working on. I have discussed this myself with President Kagame, President Kabila, Mrs. Zuma, the head of the African Union, and there’s a healthy conversation going on about whether such talks could occur, what they would look like, who might be involved in those talks.
But in the end, if the African leaders do not want such talks, they won’t happen. There’s nothing in the framework itself that mandates that that particular process occurs. It’s my belief as a special envoy that, without that, this is not likely to be a successful effort at getting at the root causes. They’re too complex to simply do by sort of a shuttle diplomacy approach.
QUESTION: Lastly, can you comment on the U.S. posture on military assistance to Rwanda?
MR. FEINGOLD: Yes. The United States has chosen this year to be firm with regard to our concern that there is a credible body of reporting that Rwanda has given support to the M23, at least in the past. Rwanda is a friend and an ally, and we have a lot of admiration for what they’ve accomplished; but any such support for the M23, of course, is inconsistent with our views, with international law, and in particular, Rwanda’s own position as a signatory to the framework.
So we have been candid with our friend. We have, in some cases, put sanctions because of a concern – concerns about, for example, the support – the recruitment or assistance in terms of children soldiers for the M23 and involvement of Rwanda in that. If it turns out that Rwanda is no longer involved in such activities, if it turns out that their role here has been a positive one and there is much that they have done during this process to be positive, with President Kagame issuing a statement that he wanted these talks concluded – if that bears out that there is a different approach here than the one we have believed is happening, then we would certainly review whether it’s appropriate to continue these sanctions. They are based specifically on certain actions that we believe occurred, and if those actions cease, there would certainly be a serious review of whether it’s appropriate to continue.
QUESTION: And do you believe that they have ceased?
MR. FEINGOLD: We don’t know for sure. This is just like the questions about where some of these individuals might be. That is still up in the air. And I think it’s going to be a fact-based investigation with the sincere hope that we find out that that support has terminated, and certainly with an open mind in that regard.
MODERATOR: I think we have time for a couple more questions here. Next in line we have Nicolas Revise from AFP. Cynthia, can you open up his line?
OPERATOR: And Nicolas, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you for doing that. A follow-up on Arshad’s question: Is it correct to say that the surrender of M23 is partly due to huge U.S. pressures put on Rwanda to cut off ties with M23 rebellion, and especially thanks to very recent phone call between the Secretary Kerry and President Kagame? Thank you.
MR. FEINGOLD: I would say, first of all, that the United States has taken a much more involved role in this entire region, that that has included efforts to try to bring the Kampala talks to a successful conclusion. And a part of that has been Secretary Kerry’s willingness to call not once but more than once to suggest to all the leaders in the region that this process must conclude.
In addition, the United States has shown tremendous interest in this by allowing me to work full-time as the first full-blown special envoy, and I have traveled to the region now three times since early September to work with the other special envoys. This is a level of engagement that is probably unprecedented for the United States. So it clearly – the decision by President Obama and Secretary Kerry to make this one of their leading priorities in Africa, and frankly, one of the leading priorities in their national policy, is really significant. And when Secretary Kerry – in addition to his phone call, when Secretary Kerry had an opportunity to chair the United Nations Security Council for the first time in his tenure as Secretary of State, he could have chosen a lot of topics to discuss, to make the topic. He chose this.
And that was an important moment to signal the very intense American involvement in this, which is continuing on a daily basis. So I am proud to be part of that effort. The leadership shown by this Administration and the engagement, I think is being noticed. In fairness, it is combined, of course, with the rest of the international community. The fact that the United Nations chose Mary Robinson, a distinguished former president of Ireland, to be an envoy, to have the full-time envoy from the European Union, an envoy from the African Union, and Mr. Kobler’s involvement.
These are levels of diplomatic sustained attention combined with the United States efforts that are unprecedented. And what’s really striking is that we are there all the time. It is not as if we have a meeting in New York or we go to Africa every once in a while. The leaders, and particularly the people at the Kampala talks, noticed that we were around even at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning on occasion to observe the proceedings. I believe all of that, including, of course, Secretary Kerry’s phone calls, were helpful in making it clear that we would not go away until this was resolved.
MODERATOR: I believe we have time for that one last question, and the last question here is from Dana Hughes from ABC. Cynthia, can you open up Dana’s line?
OPERATOR: Dana, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you again for doing this. Just a couple of follow-up questions. One, I was interested in what you were talking about with the accountability and the international sort of justice with Congolese judges and international judges as well. Can you talk a little bit about getting to the heart of the problem of the security sector reform and what role the United States is playing in that? Are – is the United States providing trainers? Are there still military trainers on the ground?
MR. FEINGOLD: Well, first of all, the accountability issue and justice issues is one of the three aspects of security sector reform. Number one, of course, is the military. Number two is police. And number three is the justice system. So I’ve already talked about the way in which perhaps mixed courts legislation could assist in that part of the process.
But there needs to be a greater reform of the military itself. Now, some steps have been taken, and I think the success of the Congolese military is an indication in its recent actions that those steps are helping. For example, they put in new, more effective commanders, they have better logistical actions.
On the other hand, there’s much more that has to be done to modernize the military. In fact, the soldiers are not even paid in an effective way. There needs to be a much better system for making sure that this is a professional army where people are paid, and aren’t encouraged to sort of get their payment by abusing local citizens, which is something that has happened in the past. We have to make sure that this army is one that would no longer take advantage of a military situation to take reprisals against citizens, or take advantage of people in a community just because they happen to be in an area that they’ve successfully taken over during a military operation.
The United States is prepared to assist, through the United Nations and through our own programs, with a wide range of reform measures involving the military. That’s one of the things I’m working with various donor communities about how we might help with something like that. An example might be sort of the online, cell phone type of bank account that’s available. Mobile banking is a way to pay a soldier, rather than having a bag of money go to a commander and being sent that way.
These are innovative ways that we can help with the process, and I think that those kinds of things to modernize the military might be among the things we can do in the near term. True reform of a military like that is going to take many years – five to 10 years. And we need some signs of confidence building to build on the other things that the Congolese military has done to make it clear to people that this military is reforming itself. And so I think those kinds of modernization things would be high on the list. We’re not looking here to provide bricks and mortar for the Congolese military. We’re looking more to modernizing it.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you very much. I want to thank Special Envoy Feingold for his time today in doing this call, and to all of you for your participation.