Populations at Risk Serious Concern

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Populations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remain at risk of mass atrocity crimes perpetrated by armed groups and military forces.
BACKGROUND:Pervasive insecurity in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has allowed armed groups to perpetrate mass atrocity crimes against the civilian population. Armed groups – namely the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and various Mayi-Mayi militias – have been operating in the DRC for more than twenty years, but utilized the security vacuum created by the March 23 (M23) rebellion to attack populations with increasing frequency.

Patterns of violence committed by these groups, including killing, abduction and forced recruitment of civilians, were witnessed in North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga and Oriental Province over the past two years while the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) was redeployed to confront M23. Violent clashes between rival rebel groups also threaten civilians. The government recorded over 15,000 incidents of sexual and gender-based violence in these four regions during 2013. There are currently more than 2.6 million internally displaced persons in the eastern DRC.

The government recently launched a new offensive against armed groups operating in the eastern DRC with assistance from the UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), which includes an intervention brigade. In advance of offensive operations, the government and MONUSCO encouraged militias to participate in Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs. During a 2 July joint meeting of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) Ministers of Defense from states in the region set out a six-month time frame for voluntary surrender of the FDLR before military action would be taken against them. No significant voluntary demobilization has occurred since that date.

The FARDC has also been implicated in previous attacks upon civilians, including widespread sexual violence.

ANALYSIS: Despite M23's defeat, the threat posed by armed groups remains high. FARDC and MONUSCO offensives have resulted in further displacement of vulnerable populations.

The weakness of government structures undermines attempts to prevent atrocities. This is particularly evident in the eastern DRC, where the government has previously lost control of areas to various rebel groups and has historically been incapable of controlling its borders. While the government has undertaken important reforms, such as the recent appointment of a presidential adviser on conflict-related sexual violence and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, impunity for crimes committed against civilians remains rampant.

Competition for control of minerals as well as underlying conflict between communities that consider themselves indigenous and those with alleged Rwandan ancestry contribute to the pervasiveness of armed violence. Although a historic opportunity to eradicate armed groups remains following the defeat of M23, without adequately addressing the root causes of conflict armed groups will continue to emerge and threaten populations.

The government of the DRC has struggled to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and its own forces have been complicit in mass atrocity crimes. The DRC needs ongoing support to prevent atrocities by armed groups, especially the FDLR.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:The international community has responded to violence in the eastern DRC by taking measures to confront various armed groups. [For responses prior to July 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in the DRC.]

On 28 March the UNSC extended the mandate of MONUSCO until 31 March 2015. The renewed mandate emphasized the need for MONUSCO to assist the government with security sector reform and DDRRR, increase accountability for mass atrocity crimes and combat the FDLR. The UNSC currently subjects 10 entities and 31 individuals, including several M23 and FDLR leaders, to the enforcement of travel bans and asset freezes.

On 22 September, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, SADC and ICGLR held the fourth meeting of the Regional Oversight Mechanism of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region. The group issued a joint communique encouraging stakeholders to increase efforts to neutralize armed groups and to restore full state authority in the eastern DRC.

The UNSC issued a Press Statement on 3 October noting the FDLR's failure to voluntarily demobilize at the half-way point of the SADC-ICGLR timeframe.

NECESSARY ACTION: The DRC government and MONUSCO need to ensure that the protection of civilians remains the primary priority as they address the threat posed by the FDLR and other armed groups.

MONUSCO and FARDC troops must actively respond to warnings of imminent attacks against civilians. MONUSCO should 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 IHL.

All perpetrators of mass atrocity crimes in the DRC, including members of the FARDC, need to be held accountable. The government should adopt legislation establishing specialized mixed chambers in the national judicial system to ensure justice for crimes against humanity.

Together with the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, the African Union, ICGLR and SADC must continue to ensure that signatories to the Framework Agreement fulfill their commitments.

Last Updated: 15 October 2014