BACKGROUND: Pervasive insecurity in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has allowed armed groups to perpetrate mass atrocity crimes against civilians. Armed groups – such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and various Mayi-Mayi militias – have been operating in the DRC for more than twenty years and continue to attack vulnerable populations. Since defeating the March 23 (M23) militia in November 2013 the government's armed forces (FARDC) have engaged in offensives against other armed groups operating in the eastern DRC with assistance from the UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and its force intervention brigade.
In advance of offensive operations, the government and MONUSCO encouraged militias to participate in Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs. Following an announcement by the FDLR that the group would voluntarily surrender, during July the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) Ministers of Defense established a final 2 January deadline. Despite this, only an estimated 300 combatants disarmed and surrendered with their families.
More than a month after the deadline lapsed and despite repeated calls by the UN Security Council (UNSC), African Union (AU), neighboring states and other international actors for immediate action against the FDLR, the FARDC has still not launched adequate offensive operations. On 10 February MONUSCO suspended its logistical and material support for anti-FDLR operations following the appointment of two generals accused of massive human rights violations to lead the offensive.
Patterns of violence committed by armed groups, including mass killing and abduction, have been witnessed with heightened frequency in North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga and Oriental Province since the FARDC was redeployed to confront M23 in April 2012. Despite the FARDC and MONUSCO making significant progress against the ADF in early 2014, the group attacked several villages in North Kivu between October and December, massacring hundreds of civilians, many of whom were killed with machetes. The ADF has continued intermittent assaults, including killing at least 21 civilians in an overnight attack on 3 February.
The threat posed by armed groups throughout eastern DRC has exacerbated the need for humanitarian assistance as the region now hosts more than 2.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). On 18 November the UN refugee agency warned of a "humanitarian catastrophe" as more than 71,000 additional people were displaced between August and November in Katanga, which already has more than 600,000 IDPs.
ANALYSIS: The threat posed by armed groups remains high with populations at ongoing risk of further attack. During earlier offensives the FARDC and MONUSCO have struggled to adequately protect civilians. The FARDC has also been implicated in previous attacks upon civilians, including widespread sexual violence. If military measures are taken against the FDLR, civilians may be at risk of reprisal violence and a region that is already home to 1.6 million IDPs may endure further mass displacement and atrocities.
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. While the government has undertaken important reforms, impunity for crimes committed against civilians remains rampant. The FARDC has also failed to hold members of its own forces accountable for atrocities committed against populations, and continues to put civilians at risk by allowing individuals accused of crimes to lead strategic operations.
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 violence. The failure to adequately address the root causes of conflict has enabled the proliferation of armed groups, which will continue to emerge and threaten populations even after the eradication of the ADF and FDLR if these issues are not resolved.
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 atrocities.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: The international community has responded to violence in the eastern DRC by taking measures to confront various armed groups.
MONUSCO's mandate emphasizes the need 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 in the DRC to sanctions. [For responses prior to December 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in the DRC.]
On 1 December the Guarantors of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF) for the DRC and the Region held its first meeting to review progress on implementation of the agreement.
On 2 January 2015 a team of international envoys, including the AU, UN, European Union and United States envoys, condemned the FDLR's failure to comply with the ICGLR-SADC disarmament deadline and called upon the government and MONUSCO to take decisive military action, emphasizing that disarming the FDLR is a regional and international responsibility.
The UNSC issued a Presidential Statement on 8 January calling upon the government to initiate joint operations with MONUSCO against the FDLR. On 29 January the UNSC extended the mandate of the DRC Group of Experts to August 2016, stressing the importance of the government holding accountable those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
NECESSARY ACTION: The DRC government and MONUSCO must ensure that the protection of civilians remains the primary priority as they address the threat posed by armed groups. Military offensives against the FDLR and ADF must include protective measures that mitigate the risk of retaliatory violence against civilians. The FARDC and MONUSCO must increase their capacity to respond to early warnings of attacks on civilians, particularly around Beni and Katanga.
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. The government must ensure justice for past atrocities, including through the adoption of legislation establishing specialized mixed chambers in the national judicial system, and remove all FARDC members accused of serious human rights violations from leadership positions.
Together with the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, the AU, ICGLR and SADC must continue to ensure that signatories to the PSCF fulfill their commitments. PSCF signatories must ensure that all perpetrators of mass atrocities, including leaders of M23 and the FDLR, are held accountable.
Last Updated: 15 February 2015