Populations at Risk Imminent Risk

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Populations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to face an imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes committed by the security forces and various militias, as well as the threat of inter-communal violence.
Various armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continue to utilize instability and the weakness of state authority in various parts of the country to sporadically attack security forces and perpetrate mass atrocity crimes. Despite military offensives conducted by the government's armed forces (FARDC) with assistance from the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and its Force Intervention Brigade, attacks by armed groups and inter-communal violence continue.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 4.5 million Congolese are currently internally displaced and more than 735,000 have fled to neighboring countries. Nearly half of all internally displaced persons in the DRC were forced to flee during 2017.

Several provinces in eastern DRC - notably North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri and Tanganyika - have been plagued by a recent rise in inter-communal violence and attacks by armed groups. Recent clashes over access to land and water between the Banyamulenge and Bafuliro ethnic groups and affiliated militias near Uvira, South Kivu, have displaced more than 76,000 people. On 7 July militias in Uvira burned 10 people to death. UNHCR has also warned that populations in Tanganyika province are facing mass displacement as a result of inter-communal violence between the Luba, Twa and other ethnic groups. UNHCR has reported evidence of potential atrocities in the province, including torture, murders, forced labor, and rape.

Fighting between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups that erupted in Ituri province last year led to more than 260 people being killed and 120 villages and towns being pillaged or destroyed between December and March. MONUSCO discovered five mass graves in Ituri province during April. More than 60,000 people have fled from Ituri province into Uganda since January.

Tensions between the government and a local militia, Kamuina Nsapu, have also resulted in atrocities in Kasaï, Kasaï Central and Kasaï Oriental provinces since August 2016. The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC identified at least 80 mass graves in the Kasaï region during 2017, with responsibility for most of these attributed to the FARDC. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has accused the FARDC and local officials of fomenting ethnic violence and supporting the formation of a pro-government militia, Bana Mura. The UN has also documented children being used as combatants or human shields by Kamuina Nsapu, as well as sexual violence perpetrated against young girls. Bana Mura has also targeted populations based upon ethnicity and alleged support for Kamuina Nsapu.

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 2016 the negotiations resulted in an agreement for elections to be held during 2017 and for President Joseph Kabila to abstain from seeking a third term. The government is finally preparing to hold presidential elections on 23 December 2018.

Since 31 December 2017 Catholic organizations and opposition groups have held demonstrations to pressure the government to uphold the CENCO agreement and to hold elections. The UN has reported that security forces have shot and killed at least 100 people during protests.

Candidates are required to register for the election by 8 August. Since President Kabila has not publicly confirmed that he will not run for a third term, church leaders have announced plans to mobilize protests from 12-14 August.

Widespread violence in areas that have been relatively calm in recent years, including the Kasaï region, is indicative of the enduring challenge of building effective governance and political stability in the DRC. Competition for control of profitable minerals, as well as unresolved inter-communal conflicts, have enabled the proliferation of militias and armed groups.

Growing government repression and the population's frustration with the unconstitutional delay in elections enhances the risk of further political instability. Security forces have repeatedly used disproportionate and deadly force against peaceful demonstrators and perpetrated more than 1,100 extrajudicial and arbitrary executions during 2017. Rumors of President Kabila's intention to run for a third term have led to additional protests.

The government of the DRC has struggled to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and its own forces have sometimes been complicit in the perpetration of mass atrocity crimes.

The UN Security Council (UNSC) currently subjects 13 entities and 31 individuals in the DRC to sanctions. Several governments and regional organizations, including the United States and EU, have also imposed sanctions on government officials who have impeded the election process or are deemed responsible for deadly attacks on peaceful demonstrators.

On 31 March the UNSC extended MONUSCO's mandate until March 2019, 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."

During a 13 April Humanitarian Conference on the DRC, co-hosted by the European Union and UN, donors pledged $528 million. The government boycotted the conference, accusing the UN of exaggerating the extent of the humanitarian crisis.

On 22 June 2017 the Human Rights Council (HRC) established an international team of experts to collect evidence and investigate alleged human rights violations and abuses within the Kasaï region.

The DRC government and MONUSCO must ensure that protecting civilians remains their primary priority as they address the ongoing threat posed by various armed groups. The government should implement measures to mediate inter-communal tensions and address structural issues of land access, resource allocation and poor governance.

The government should undertake measures to ensure accountability for crimes perpetrated in the Kasaï region, as recommended by the HRC's international team of experts. The government must also halt support for Bana Mura and end the ethnic targeting of civilians.

The government must continue to take meaningful steps towards holding the December 2018 elections and ensuring a timely and peaceful transition of power.

Last Updated: 16 July 2018

The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been featured in the R2P Monitor since the January 2012 issue.