Populations at Risk Imminent Risk

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Populations in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo remain at imminent risk of possible mass atrocity crimes perpetrated by armed groups. Disagreements regarding the country's presidential election timeline have also resulted in political violence.
There is an increasing risk of deadly political violence as a result of tensions surrounding postponed presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). On 19 September more than 50 civilians were killed during demonstrations and several political opposition offices were burnt down in Kinshasa. On 21 October the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC reported that during the protests police and armed forces used "excessive, lethal force" and were responsible for 48 of the resulting deaths.

President Joseph Kabila's term is constitutionally mandated to end in 2016, but the government lacks the capacity to complete voter registration and hold the required elections. On 1 September a national dialogue was launched to ensure a peaceful political process, but most opposition groups refused to participate. Following the September violence the DRC's election commission announced a new timetable, indicating local and legislative elections would be held during 2017 while the presidential election would be postponed until 2018. The national dialogue resulted in an agreement that allows for the creation of a transitional government with Kabila serving as President until elections are held in April 2018.

Pervasive insecurity in the eastern DRC has allowed armed groups to perpetrate mass atrocity crimes against civilians. Armed groups – such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and various Mayi-Mayi militias – have been operating in the DRC for more than 20 years and continue to sporadically attack vulnerable populations in a region that is home to 1.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Despite offensives conducted by the government's armed forces (FARDC) with assistance from the UN's stabilization mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and its force intervention brigade, violence committed by dozens of armed groups continues throughout the eastern DRC. Populations in Maniema, Katanga and North Kivu have been particularly affected by fighting between various Mayi-Mayi groups and the FARDC. Several armed groups have also been implicated in kidnapping humanitarian workers.

The FARDC launched offensive operations against the FDLR in February 2015. Although the offensive has significantly weakened the FDLR, the group continues to threaten civilians. Inter-communal clashes have also sparked violence between armed groups affiliated with the FLDR, and those affiliated with ethnic Nandes in Lubero and Walikale, North Kivu. Elsewhere in North Kivu the ADF and other armed groups have been sporadically attacking villages near Beni, massacring civilians and perpetrating possible crimes against humanity. The ADF is suspected of killing more than 700 people since October 2014.

Growing repression and the population's increasing frustration with the unconstitutional delay in elections enhances the risk of more political violence. Although the African Union (AU), International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) have welcomed the agreement reached through the national dialogue, opposition figures may continue to contest President Kabila's leadership after his formal term ends in December. Instability caused by disagreements over the presidency may be further exacerbated by the weakness of government structures throughout the country.

Meanwhile, military measures taken against the FDLR, ADF and other armed groups continue to leave civilians at risk of reprisal violence. The FARDC and MONUSCO have failed to adequately respond to early warning of attacks, particularly around Beni, and vulnerable civilians have sometimes responded by forming their own self-defense groups. The FARDC has also been implicated in attacks on civilians, including widespread sexual violence, and often fails to hold its members accountable for human rights violations.

Competition for control of profitable minerals, as well as underlying conflict between communities that consider themselves indigenous and those perceived as outsiders, has enabled the proliferation of armed groups, which will continue to emerge even after the eradication of the ADF and FDLR if these issues are not resolved. While the government has undertaken important reforms, impunity for crimes committed against civilians continues.

The government of the DRC has struggled to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and its own forces have been complicit in some previous mass atrocity crimes. The DRC needs ongoing international support to prevent recurring violence.

On 30 March the UN Security Council (UNSC) extended MONUSCO's mandate until March 2017, emphasizing that the DRC government "bears the primary responsibility to protect civilians within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including protection from crimes against humanity and war crimes." The following day the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement reiterating that the 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation (PSC) Framework remains essential to peace and security in the Great Lakes Region.

The UNSC currently subjects 9 entities and 31 individuals in the DRC to sanctions. On 23 June the UNSC passed Resolution 2293 extending the sanctions regime until 1 July 2017 and including for the first time individuals found to be "planning, directing or committing acts that constitute human rights violations."

The UNSC, the Secretary-General's Special Representative in the DRC, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have all raised concerns regarding the risk of further instability and violence due to the disputed election process.

On 22 September the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for accountability for the killing of civilians and other human rights violations during the Kinshasa protests. Since September five UN Special Rapporteurs have issued statements condemning the security forces' response to protests and urging the government to lift bans on public assembly.

On 28 September the United States Treasury imposed targeted sanctions on General Gabriel Amisi and John Numbi, a former national police inspector, for crimes perpetrated against civilians in the DRC.

The UNSC conducted a mission to the DRC from 10 to 14 November to discuss elections and the PSC Framework.

The DRC government and MONUSCO must ensure that protecting civilians remains the primary priority as they address the ongoing threat posed by various armed groups. The FARDC and MONUSCO need to increase their capacity to respond to early warning of inter-communal violence and attacks by armed groups. MONUSCO should also support the government in facilitating local peacebuilding initiatives and encourage civil society to help facilitate DDRRR.

The FARDC must not permit individuals who have previously committed atrocities to join its forces and should train all recruits in the protection of civilians, respect for human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL). The government should remove all FARDC members accused of serious human rights violations from leadership positions.

The government, with MONUSCO's support, should enhance security and protection measures, particularly in eastern DRC and Kinshasa, in advance of 19 December when President Kabila's term was constitutionally mandated to end. The security forces must respect international standards on the use of force during demonstrations. The government and opposition should engage in genuine dialogue regarding the election process and actively discourage political violence.

The UN, AU, ICGLR and SADC should ensure that all signatories to the PSC Framework continue to fulfill their commitments.

Last Updated: 15 November 2016