I thank the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General and the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission for their briefings. I welcome the participation of the representatives of the States in the region.
Ten years ago, the countries of the region signed the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework agreement for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region. Today, the facts on the ground stand in stark contrast to the hope for a lasting peace that prevailed at the time of the signing.
The President of the Swiss Confederation saw this for himself during his visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo last week. In the Bushagara camp for displaced persons and at the Panzi Hospital, he observed the extent of the violence, which is affecting the entire region. But above all he saw the extraordinary resilience of the people, their desire to find peace and the need to do everything possible to protect civilians. As Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege said: "We cannot limit ourselves to repairing the consequences of violence, we must treat its causes."
Switzerland is committed throughout the Great Lakes region to promote peace, foster the respect for human rights, and support humanitarian aid and development cooperation. In this spirit, Switzerland has been organising the Great Lakes Regional Retreats with the Office of the Special Envoy since 2016. This forum accompanies actors, including civil society, in developing pathways to address the challenges in the region.
I would like to stress three points which are essential if these pathways are to become reality:
Firstly, cooperation between all states in the Great Lakes region is essential for long-term prosperity and stability. In this context, the deterioration of relations between the DRC and Rwanda is a major concern. We welcome the leadership of the states in the region in encouraging a peaceful solution to the crisis in the eastern DRC. In this regard, we support the Nairobi and Luanda processes. Indeed, we are convinced that dialogue, which includes the active participation of women and youth, and genuine regional collaboration remain the only possible way to promote trust and lasting peace.
Secondly, it is imperative that the attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure be brought to an immediate halt. These attacks constitute gross violations of international humanitarian law as well as violations and abuses of human rights law. We call on all parties to respect their obligations under international law. The intensification of fighting in eastern DRC has aggravated an already precarious humanitarian situation and has led to the forced displacement of more than 900,000 people since March 2022, many of them children. As raised in the Nairobi process, the status of refugees and IDPs is a fundamental issue that requires concerted solutions at the regional level. Switzerland reaffirms its support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the DRC and strongly condemns any support to local or foreign armed groups.
Thirdly, in order to consolidate peace, efforts need to be focused on addressing the root causes of conflict in the region. This means strengthening the rule of law, extending state authority and public services, and ensuring respect for fundamental rights. At the same time, the illegal exploitation and trade in natural resources by armed groups and transnational criminal networks undermine peace in the Great Lakes. There is an urgent need to institute a more sustainable management of natural resources and to tackle illicit financial flows in order to promote sustainable development. Finally, the negative impacts of climate change contribute to regional instability. I am thinking here of the recent floods in the DRC and Burundi, for example, which have caused large-scale displacement and further impacted on already vulnerable populations.
Peace, stability, cooperation: these are the objectives of the Framework Agreement signed by the states of the Great Lakes Region. The ink on this agreement has long since dried, but the guns have not been silenced. We therefore call for more dialogue and confidence-building measures between the states of the region, civil society and international partners. Switzerland stands ready to support these efforts.