BACKGROUND: Pervasive insecurity in the eastern 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 20 years and continue to attack vulnerable populations. Since defeating the March 23 (M23) militia in November 2013, the government's armed forces (FARDC) have conducted 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) established a final 2 January 2015 deadline. Despite this, only an estimated 300 combatants disarmed and surrendered.
On 10 February MONUSCO suspended its logistical and material support for impending anti-FDLR operations following the government's appointment of two generals accused of serious human rights violations to lead the offensive. More than a month after the 2 January deadline lapsed and despite repeated calls by the UNSC and AU for immediate action against the FDLR, the FARDC finally launched military offensives without MONUSCO support on 24 February. The FARDC has reportedly captured several FDLR bases, neutralizing several hundred rebels and killing 13 as of 9 April.
Patterns of violence committed by armed groups, including mass killing and abduction, continue in North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga and Oriental Province. 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 its assaults, including killing at least 21 civilians in an attack on 3 February. Mayi-Mayi militias have also reportedly engaged in clashes with the FDLR as the group flees FARDC offensives.
ANALYSIS: While military measures are taken against the FDLR, civilians remain at risk of reprisal violence. A country that is already home to 2.7 million IDPs may endure further mass displacement and atrocities. During earlier offensives against the FDLR and other rebel groups the FARDC and MONUSCO have struggled to adequately protect civilians. The FARDC has also been implicated in previous attacks on civilians, including widespread sexual violence.
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 often failed to hold its members accountable for atrocities and continues to put populations at risk by allowing individuals accused of grave human rights abuses 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. [For responses prior to January 2015, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in the DRC.]
On 29 January the UNSC extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts to August 2016, stressing the importance of the government holding accountable those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UNSC subjects 10 entities and 31 individuals in the DRC to sanctions.
The AU Peace and Security Council issued a Communiqué on 23 February welcoming offensives against the FDLR and ADF as well as agreements recently signed by the DRC government with Uganda and Rwanda regarding disarmament and repatriation of M23 fighters.
On 26 March the UNSC extended MONUSCO's mandate for an additional year, reducing its troop capacity by 2,000 and emphasizing that the government of the DRC "bears the primary responsibility to protect civilians within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including protection from crimes against humanity and war crimes." 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.
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 other groups need to include protective measures that mitigate the risk to civilians. The FARDC and MONUSCO must increase their capacity to respond to early warning of attacks by these groups.
MONUSCO should support the government in facilitating local peacebuilding initiatives and encourage civil society to help facilitate DDRRR. MONUSCO's new mandate should emphasize the mission's role in assisting the state in upholding its responsibility to protect populations from atrocity crimes perpetrated by 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. The government should adopt 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 should ensure that signatories to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework continue to fulfill their commitments. Perpetrators of mass atrocities, including leaders of M23 and the FDLR, must be held accountable.
Last Updated: 15 April 2015