Mary Robinson expresses hope for regional peace on visit to Goma

“I have no agenda except to try and make this work,” says UN special envoy for the Great Lakes

Special UN envoy Mary Robinson who acknowledged there have been multiple failures to bring peace to the troubled region in the past

Special UN envoy Mary Robinson who acknowledged there have been multiple failures to bring peace to the troubled region in the past

Wed, May 1, 2013, 12:25

Louise Williams in Goma


Mary Robinson made an assured start as the UN secretary general’s special envoy for the Great Lakes at her only press conference in a nine-day visit to the region.

In a small portacabin at the UN peace-keeping troops Monusco base at Goma airport in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mrs Robinson answered questions in English and fluent French.

Hopes are high here that her appointment will finally mark an end to the cycles of violence that have continued for almost 20 years and taken an estimated four million lives. The most recent clashes caused at least 200,000 people to flee their homes following violent confrontations with rebel group M23 who eventually reached the provincial capital Goma and held the city for 11 days in November last year.

The atmosphere is still tense in Goma, with many wary that the current security may not last.

Acknowledging that there have been multiple failures to bring peace to this troubled region in the past, Mrs Robinson said that for this reason she has decided to call her strategy as envoy a “framework of hope”.

The strategy lays out actions to end violence, with a focus on measuring these actions which include reform of the army and police in DRC, an end to the provision of assistance to armed groups by neighbouring countries and support for regional economic integration.

“I’m looking for benchmarks,” she said. “I have no agenda except to try and make this work. If it’s not working, I will be very honest about it, very straight and very direct.”

Before the press conference started, Congolese journalists worried she would speak for two or three hours.In fact the press conference lasted just 20 minutes, before Mrs Robinson left in a fleet of UN jeeps to prepare for her next stop-off, in neighbouring Rwanda.


New mandate
Mary Robinson’s appointment coincides with a new mandate for Monusco, a shift from its previous mandate to protect civilians. UN resolution 2098 provides for an “intervention brigade” within Monusco with the responsibility of “neutralising armed groups”. This aggressive military mandate has led to concern that yet more civilians will suffer in the fall-out of Monusco confrontations with militia in eastern DRC.

“The intervention brigade needs to be more deterrent than military solution,” warned Mrs Robinson, adding that she would use her office to ensure a military solution does not take precedence over the political steps of her framework.

As a former UN high commissioner on human rights, Mrs Robinson also took the opportunity to warn that the international brigade would be monitored to ensure it was compliant with humanitarian and human rights law.

Her appointment has broadly been welcomed here, where she is recognised as holding considerable international influence. There were concerns that she might not master French or the complex regional political undercurrents. However, this first press conference seemed to live up to most of the journalists’ high expectations.