Populations at Risk Current Crisis

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Populations in the eastern and Kasaï regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are facing mass atrocity crimes as a result of ongoing violence between security forces and various militias.
Armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continue to utilize instability and the weakness of state authority in various parts the country to attack security forces and perpetrate crimes against civilians. In the eastern DRC such groups – including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and various Mayi-Mayi militias – have been operating for more than 20 years. Despite military offensives conducted by the government's armed forces (FARDC) with assistance from the UN Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) and its force intervention brigade, attacks by armed groups and inter-communal violence continue to threaten vulnerable populations.

After a period of relative stability in eastern DRC, several Mayi-Mayi militias have carried out recent attacks on the FARDC throughout South Kivu. These attacks have resulted in more than 400,000 people being newly displaced between July and September. On 23 October the UN declared a "Level 3" humanitarian emergency for South Kivu and Tanganyika provinces, as well as the Kasaï region.

Tensions between the government and a local militia, Kamuina Nsapu, following the killing of their chief has also resulted in atrocities perpetrated against populations in Kasaï, Kasaï Central and Kasaï Oriental provinces since August 2016. The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC (UNJHRO) has found at least 80 mass graves in the Kasaï region since January, with responsibility for most of these attributed to the FARDC. On 4 August the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report implicating the FARDC and local government officials in fomenting ethnic violence in the Kasaï region and supporting the formation of a pro-government militia, Bana Mura. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, of the 3.9 million internally displaced persons in the DRC, nearly 1 million are in the Kasaï region.

OHCHR has documented evidence of the FARDC, Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura all committing extrajudicial killings. MONUSCO has reported hundreds of schools and a number of health centers in the Kasaï region have been destroyed or attacked during fighting. The UN has also documented hundreds of children being used as combatants or human shields by Kamuina Nsapu, as well as sexual violence perpetrated against young girls. Meanwhile, Bana Mura has targeted populations based upon ethnicity, mutilated women and children, and destroyed villages of alleged supporters of Kamuina Nsapu.

Political violence related to the postponed 2016 elections also continues. Security forces have been accused of using excessive force against opposition demonstrators. UNJHRO recorded that 98 civilians were killed during protests in September and December 2016.

As a result of a failure to hold elections during 2016, mediation between the government and opposition took place under the aegis of the Conference Episcopale du Congo (CENCO). On 31 December the negotiations resulted in an agreement calling for elections to be held during 2017 and for President Joseph Kabila to abstain from seeking a third term. Implementation of the agreement was delayed, resulting in CENCO eventually withdrawing from the process. On 5 November the government announced that presidential elections would be held on 23 December 2018, prompting protests by the opposition.

Rising tensions in areas that have been relatively calm in recent years, including the Kasaïs, is indicative of the enduring challenge of building effective governance and political stability in the DRC. Growing violence in the Kasaï region and evidence implicating the government in attacks targeting certain ethnic groups increases the risk of further atrocities.

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 in the DRC. Such groups will continue to emerge even after the eradication of the ADF, FDLR, Kamuina Nsapu and other Mayi-Mayi militias if these issues are not resolved. Mayi-Mayi militias have also been increasingly involved in inter-communal violence in eastern DRC, including between Twa communities in Tanganyika.

Despite diplomatic pressure from the international community, the government has not undertaken a meaningful investigation into allegations that hundreds of people have been killed by the FARDC in the Kasaï region. Growing government repression and the population's frustration with the unconstitutional delay in elections enhances the risk of further instability and conflict.

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 conflict.

On 31 March 2017 the UN Security Council (UNSC) extended MONUSCO's mandate until March 2018, 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 resolution reduced MONUSCO's troop ceiling from 19,815 to 16,215 despite serious security challenges.

On 31 May the European Union imposed sanctions on nine individuals with command responsibility for security forces involved in deadly violence against protestors. The following day the United States issued sanctions against François Olenga for command responsibility of the Republican Guard during violence against the political opposition in Kinshasa. The UNSC also currently subjects 9 entities and 31 individuals connected to armed groups in the eastern DRC to sanctions.

On 23 June the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution mandating the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to appoint a team of international experts to collect evidence and determine responsibility for possible atrocities perpetrated in the Kasaï region. On 29 September UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on technical assistance to the DRC, reminding the government of its responsibility to protect populations.

On 30 October the UNSC issued a Press Statement calling upon parties to the 31 December agreement to remain committed to its implementation. The UNSC also condemned ongoing violence in the DRC. On 7 November the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement reiterating the need to fully investigate the deaths of two members of the UN Panel of Experts who were murdered in the Kasaï region earlier this year.

The DRC government and MONUSCO need to ensure that protecting civilians remains their primary priority as they address the ongoing threat posed by various armed groups in both the Kasaï and eastern regions. The government must halt support for Bana Mura and condemn the targeting of civilians based upon ethnicity.

The government must urgently address allegations of the security forces using disproportionate and deadly force and ensure accountability for the unlawful killing of civilians. The FARDC must not permit individuals who have previously committed atrocities to remain in its forces and should train all recruits in the protection of civilians, respect for human rights and International Humanitarian Law.

The government should fully cooperate with the Human Rights Council-mandated international team of experts, provide access to all relevant sites and establish a credible domestic investigative mechanism. If the government fails to fulfill its promises in this regard, the International Criminal Court and UNSC should be prepared to act to ensure accountability.

The government must take meaningful steps towards holding elections and ensuring a timely and peaceful transition of power in the DRC.

Last Updated: 15 November 2017