BACKGROUND:Insecurity in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) caused by fighting between the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) and a group of army defectors known as the March 23 (M23) rebel movement has allowed various armed groups to perpetrate mass atrocity crimes against the civilian population. More than 967,000 civilians have fled their homes since the mutiny started during April 2012, contributing to the more than 2.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the DRC.
Peace negotiations between M23 and the DRC government, led by the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), began on 8 December, but a formal agreement has not yet been reached. Although M23 surrendered on 5 November 2013, the civilian population still faces risks from other armed groups.
During the conflict M23 committed human rights violations against civilians, including summary executions, gender-based violence and use of child soldiers, actions which may amount to crimes against humanity. M23 also indiscriminately shelled civilian areas in Goma while launching offensives against the FARDC. Sporadic fighting that started in August continued until 4 November as M23 and the government of the DRC alternated between fighting in North Kivu and negotiating with the ICGLR in Uganda. In a series of clashes that started on 25 October, the FARDC, with assistance from a UN Security Council (UNSC)-authorized intervention brigade, reclaimed rebel strongholds in North Kivu from M23 forces. On 5 November the government announced that M23 combatants were surrendering, signifying an end to their rebellion. Later that day, M23's political leader issued a statement requesting that M23 troops prepare for "disarmament, demobilization and reintegration on terms to be agreed with the government of Congo."
However, many of the approximately 30 other armed groups operating in the eastern DRC have increased their activities in the security vacuum created by redeployment of FARDC troops to confront M23. Some of these groups – namely the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and various local Mayi-Mayi militias – have been operating within the DRC for more than a decade, but have utilized insecurity in the east to attack populations with increasing frequency. Several groups have been implicated in targeting specific ethnic groups while perpetrating atrocities.
Patterns of violence perpetrated by these groups, including killing, sexual violence, abduction and forced recruitment of civilians, have been witnessed in North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga and Oriental Province over the past year. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has reported a significant increase in sexual violence in North Kivu, noting over 705 registered cases in the first six months of the year.
Clashes between the FARDC and the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front during September and August resulted in the displacement of more than 80,000 people. On 26 October the UN stabilization mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) condemned atrocities perpetrated in Masisi by the Mayi-Mayi Cheka group, which has killed more than 34 civilians in attacks committed in collaboration with another armed group, Raia Mutomboki.
The FARDC has also been implicated in attacks upon civilians, including 135 documented cases of rape committed in Minova as M23's forces occupied Goma during November 2012. Office of the UN Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs has received allegations of FARDC troops threatening civilians on the basis of their ethnicity and perpetrating crimes against populations in reprisal for alleged collaboration with Mayi-Mayi groups.
As part of the Framework Agreement for Peace, Security and Cooperation in the DRC (Framework Agreement), the government held a three-week national dialogue during September. While the dialogue produced recommendations for government reform, key figures from the political opposition and representatives of groups perpetrating violence in the east did not participate.
ANALYSIS: Despite ongoing mediation and M23's defeat, the threat posed by ex-rebels and other armed groups remains high. Failure of the ICGLR's mediation process may still result in renewed violence around Goma, threatening the more than 100,000 IDPs residing in nearby camps. Other armed groups in the region continue to target civilians while populations also face a grave risk as rival militias continue to compete for territory and resources.
The weakness of government structures undermines attempts to prevent atrocities and protect civilians. 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 movement of people and resources across its borders. Rising threats from other armed groups and widespread displacement poses an ongoing challenge to the ability of the FARDC and MONUSCO to comprehensively protect civilians in the eastern DRC.
Competition for control of minerals and underlying conflict between communities that consider themselves indigenous" and those with alleged Rwandan ancestry contributes to the pervasiveness of armed violence. Without adequately addressing the root causes of inter-communal conflict in the eastern DRC, armed groups will continue to emerge and threaten populations residing there.
FARDC troops have routinely committed crimes against populations they have been deployed to protect. The FARDC also continues to incorporate local militias into its ranks, a practice that exacerbates divisions within the military and potentially puts civilians at risk. M23 has reportedly placed reintegration into the military on their list of demands during negotiations.
The government of the DRC has struggled to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and its own forces have at times been complicit in mass atrocity crimes. Following the military defeat of M23 the DRC needs ongoing support in order to halt atrocities committed by other armed groups, especially the FDLR.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: The international community has responded to the violence in the eastern DRC by taking diplomatic, political and military measures to confront the operations of armed groups. [For responses prior to September 2013, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in the DRC.]
MONUSCO is responsible for more than 19,000 UN personnel operating under a civilian protection mandate. Since 2002 the UN has facilitated a reduction in membership of various armed groups through its Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement program.
The UNSC currently subjects 9 entities and 31 individuals, including several M23 leaders, to the enforcement of travel bans and asset freezes. The group of experts for the DRC briefed the UNSC on 22 July, addressing further allegations of outside support to M23 and FARDC support to the FDLR.
The Regional Oversight Mechanism of the Framework Agreement held a meeting on 23 September on the sidelines of the opening of the UN General Assembly. Participants adopted a communiqué condemning the commission of crimes by "all negative forces" in the DRC and the recent shelling of Rwandan territory.
On 24 September the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning acts of sexual violence perpetrated in the DRC and encouraging states to provide ongoing support so the government can meet its obligations under international law.
The UNSC visited the DRC between 4 and 7 October to meet with government officials, MONUSCO and civil society in Kinshasa and Goma. During the meetings the UNSC assessed the implementation of reforms that the government committed to under the Framework Agreement and also evaluated the progress of MONUSCO's intervention brigade.
On 4 and 5 November South Africa hosted a joint Southern African Development Community (SADC)-ICGLR summit, which UN Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson, noted was an "important opportunity to build consensus on ending the immediate security crisis and for moving forward with full implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework."
Various world leaders and senior UN officials welcomed the defeat of M23 and called for renewed efforts to defeat other armed groups in the eastern DRC.
On 14 November the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement welcoming the end of the M23 rebellion and stressing the need to neutralize all armed groups operating in the DRC, particularly the FDLR.
NECESSARY ACTION: The government of the DRC and MONUSCO need to ensure that the protection of civilians remains a priority as they address the military threat posed by various armed groups.
The government and M23 should continue to pursue a political solution through the ICGLR negotiations in order to avoid any resumption of armed violence. The FARDC must not permit individuals who have previously committed atrocities to join its forces and should immediately train all recruits in the protection of civilians, respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.
All perpetrators of mass atrocity crimes in the DRC, including members of the FARDC, need to be held accountable. Neighboring countries should not provide sanctuary for M23 leaders and should hand them over to the proper authorities in the DRC. MONUSCO should support the DRC government in facilitating local peacebuilding initiatives.
Together with the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, the African Union, ICGLR and SADC must ensure that the signatories to the Framework Agreement fulfill their commitments. Signatories must use the momentum from the defeat of M23 to help combat and eliminate other armed groups, particularly the FDLR and Mayi-Mayi militias.
Last Updated: 15 November 2013