BACKGROUND:During 2012 and 2013 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 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 2.7 million IDPs in the DRC. Although M23 surrendered on 5 November 2013, the civilian population still faces grave risks from other armed groups.
Peace negotiations between M23 and the DRC government, led by the International Conference for the Great
Lakes Region (ICGLR), began on 8 December 2012 and formal declarations were signed by both sides on 12 December 2013. The declarations address the official end of the M23 rebellion and demobilization of combatants, as well as government commitments to reconciliation and institutional reform.
Over the past two years many of the approximately 30 other armed groups operating in the eastern DRC 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 utilized insecurity in the east to attack populations with increasing frequency.
Patterns of violence committed by these groups, including killing, 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 (UNHCR) reported a significant increase in sexual violence in North Kivu, noting over 705 registered cases in the first six months of 2013 alone. The UN reported in February on a "humanitarian disaster" in Katanga caused by Mayi-Mayi Kata Katanga perpetrating a scorched earth campaign, leading to hundreds of thousands of people displaced since October 2013. On 13 February the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) reported that more than 70 people had been summarily executed in North Kivu during the end of January and early February. Armed groups allegedly attacked civilians and burned down villages in order to terrorize the population. The UN also reported that an estimated 120,000 people had been displaced by fighting between rebel groups and the FARDC in Oriental Province between August 2013 and February 2014.
Between 14 and 25 December the Allied Democratic Forces-Nalu, an alliance of Ugandan rebel groups who also operate in the DRC, attacked civilians in Beni and Kamango in North Kivu. The attacks reportedly resulted in the death of more than 60 civilians and displacement of 150,000. The FARDC and MONUSCO's intervention brigade retook Kamango on 25 December and the FARDC launched an operation to neutralize the group on 16 January 2014.
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. OCHA 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. On 20 November 2013 a military court began the trial of 41 FARDC soldiers for war crimes, including rape.
The FARDC reclaimed rebel strongholds in North Kivu from M23 forces with the direct military assistance of a UNSC-authorized intervention brigade as part of MONUSCO's enhanced mandate. Although initially focused on M23, the intervention brigade is mandated to combat all rebel groups operating in the DRC. On 9 December the brigade initiated offensive operations in North Kivu against the FDLR.
ANALYSIS: Despite ongoing military offensives and M23's defeat, the threat posed by armed groups remains high. 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 its borders. Rising threats from other armed groups and widespread displacement poses an ongoing challenge to the FARDC and MONUSCO. Refugee flows into northern DRC from conflicts in CAR and South Sudan may increase insecurity in an already volatile region.
Competition for control of minerals as well as 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 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.
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 November 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 and FDLR leaders, to the enforcement of travel bans and asset freezes. On 23 January the UN Group of Experts on the DRC released their final report for 2013, alleging that even after M23's surrender, rebels continue to receive support from neighboring countries. On 30 January the UNSC extended the Group of Experts' mandate through February 2015.
The Regional Oversight Mechanism of the Framework Agreement for Peace, Security and Cooperation in the DRC and the Great Lakes Region held its third meeting on 31 January on the sidelines of the AU Summit.
NECESSARY ACTION: The DRC government 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 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. 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 AU, ICGLR and SADC must continue to ensure that signatories to the Framework Agreement for Peace, Security and Cooperation in the DRC fulfill their commitments. Signatories must use the momentum from the defeat of M23 to help eliminate other armed groups, particularly the FDLR and Mayi-Mayi militias, and continue diplomatic efforts aimed at greater regional cooperation to prevent recurring conflict.
Last Updated: 15 February 2014