The United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy Huang Xia has told the Security Council that there are good grounds for hope and optimism in the Great Lakes region despite persistent security and socio-economic concerns.

Xia was presenting the Secretary General’s latest report on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework.

The report notes the positive developments in the region including the peaceful transfer of power in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the recent rapprochement between Rwanda and Uganda but also flags continued concerns related to human rights, humanitarian needs and security challenges that persist in eastern Congo and some neighbouring states.

Xia sounded an optimistic note for the region. This is in large part due to the positive political momentum in the DRC and a reduction in regional tensions between Rwanda and Uganda.

“The Great Lakes region is more than ever before in recent history resolutely committed to pursuing stability for itself. Important steps have been taken in the implementation of the framework agreement, thanks in particular to the peaceful transfer of power that we saw in the DRC and thanks also to the reaffirming by the leaders of the region of their determination to tackle together the existing obstacles standing in the way of the desired stability.”

However, challenges remain in the east of the country due to continued threats by armed groups, an Ebola outbreak further complicated by the prevalence of cholera and measles in the region and human rights and humanitarian concerns both within the DRC, but also in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Burundi – a country situation raised by United States Ambassador Kelly Craft.

“In Burundi, we remain concerned about continued restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression as well as attacks on opposition political parties. We remind the government of Burundi that peaceful, free, fair and transparent election in 2020 are the basis for normalization of relations with the United States and other members of the international community.”

South Africa’s Ambassador Jerry Matjila pointed to the recent face-to-face meeting between President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar in South Sudan as a step in the right direction.

“There is a need for continued dialogue as it will aide in unlocking the political impasse, which has stalled the implementation of the Revitalised Peace Agreement. It is our view and experience that a region that is politically stable serves as a foundation for regional economic integration. We, thus, reiterate our position on the need to curb persistent illicit exploitation and trade in natural resources, which undermines the proper management of these resources. In addition, it is critical to ensure that there is increased cooperation amongst Great Lakes countries in eliminating armed groups by focusing on an inclusive and coordinated SSR and DDR process.”

Several council members highlighted the need for economic development as key to stability, but warned that investments must be accompanied by other actions.

“Economic development is really key as is highlighted in the report, but of course, it should also be accompanied by good governance, respect for human rights and of course, peace and security. So, there should be a new effort to be made in order to tackle the violence, especially of DRC,” says Belgium’s Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve.

In the Central African Republic, the Secretary-General’s report expresses concern about the commitment of some of the 14 armed groups that signed the Political Peace Agreement on 6 February to implementing the said accord while almost 2 million people suffer from severe food shortages there.