Populations at Risk Imminent Risk

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Populations in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo remain at risk of possible mass atrocity crimes perpetrated by armed groups. Postponed presidential elections have also resulted in political violence and increased instability.
Despite the signing of a political agreement on 31 December, there is an ongoing risk of deadly political violence as a result of tensions surrounding postponed presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Security forces have been accused of using excessive force during demonstrations on 19 September and 20 December – the day after President Joseph Kabila's constitutional mandate ended. The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC (UNJHRO) recorded 48 civilians killed by security forces during the September demonstrations and more than 40 people killed in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Boma and Matadi during December.

As a result of a failure to hold elections during 2016, on 1 September a national dialogue was launched to ensure a peaceful political process, but most opposition groups refused to participate. On 18 October participants in the national dialogue reached an agreement mandating the creation of a transitional government with Kabila continuing as President until elections are held in April 2018. Additional mediation between the government and opposition took place under the aegis of the Conference Episcopale du Congo (CENCO).

On 31 December the CENCO negotiations resulted in a deal calling for elections to be held during 2017 and for President Kabila to abstain from seeking a third term. Negotiations on implementation of the deal have met several complications, including the 1 February death of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi who was due to lead the implementation council.

Pervasive insecurity in the eastern DRC has also allowed armed groups to perpetrate mass atrocity crimes against civilians. Armed groups – such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and various Mayi-Mayi militias – have been operating in the DRC for more than 20 years and continue to sporadically attack vulnerable populations in a region that is home to 1.9 million internally displaced persons.

Despite offensives conducted by the government's armed forces (FARDC) with assistance from the UN's stabilization mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and its force intervention brigade, violence committed by dozens of armed groups continues throughout the eastern DRC. Inter-communal clashes have sparked violence in North Kivu, particularly between armed groups affiliated with the FDLR, and those affiliated with ethnic Nandes. Elsewhere in North Kivu the ADF and other armed groups have been sporadically attacking villages near Beni, massacring more than 700 civilians since October 2014 and perpetrating possible crimes against humanity.

On 6 January the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that violence resulting from tensions between DRC authorities and a local militia following the killing of their chief, Kamuina Nsapu, had resulted in over 150 people killed in Kasaï, Kasaï Central and Kasaï Oriental provinces since August 2016. On 9-13 February renewed fighting broke out between the Kamuina Nsapu militia and the FARDC, resulting in the army reportedly killing over 100 people, including 39 women. The government has stated that it will investigate videos showing FARDC forces shooting men and women who allegedly belonged to a militia in Muenza Nsapu village.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) condemned the clashes, noting that Kamuina Nsapu had perpetrated atrocities against civilians and that the FARDC had reportedly used disproportionate force in its response to the militia. On 8 March the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, said that at least three mass graves have been discovered in the area.

Additional armed groups have also utilized the ongoing instability to attack security forces and perpetrate crimes against civilians. Fighting near Bunagana between security forces and M23 rebels, who have reportedly returned to the DRC from Uganda, resulted in the deaths of several FARDC soldiers. During February armed militias also perpetrated violent attacks on facilities belonging to the Catholic Church in Kinshasa, Haut-Katanga, Kasaï Central and Kasaï Oriental.

Growing government repression and the population's frustration with the unconstitutional delay in elections enhances the risk of political violence. The CENCO agreement provides an opportunity for a peaceful transition of power in the DRC if all parties swiftly agree to an implementation strategy.

Competition for control of profitable minerals, as well as underlying conflict between communities that consider themselves indigenous and those perceived as outsiders, has enabled the proliferation of armed groups in the DRC. Such groups will continue to emerge even after the eradication of the ADF and FDLR if these issues are not resolved.

Military measures taken against armed groups continue to leave civilians at risk of reprisal violence. The FARDC has also been implicated in attacks on civilians, including widespread sexual violence, and often fails to hold its members accountable for human rights violations.

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 violence.

On 30 March 2016 the UN Security Council (UNSC) extended MONUSCO's mandate until March 2017, emphasizing that the DRC government "bears the primary responsibility to protect civilians within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including protection from crimes against humanity and war crimes."

OHCHR has called for accountability for the killing of civilians during the September and December protests. Five UN Special Rapporteurs have issued statements condemning the security forces' deadly response to protests and urging the government to lift bans on public assembly.

On 12 December the United States announced targeted sanctions against two high-ranking government officials while the European Union imposed sanctions on seven individuals with "command and control" responsibility for security forces involved in deadly violence. The UNSC also currently subjects 9 entities and 31 individuals connected to armed groups in the eastern DRC to sanctions.

On 11 February MONUSCO condemned the atrocities perpetrated by Kamuina Nsapu and the FARDC's disproportionate use of force, pledging to deploy a mobile monitoring response team to the area to "possibly prevent, investigate, and document human rights violations." MONUSCO and CENCO issued a joint statement on 24 February condemning attacks on Catholic churches and facilities.

On 20 February High Commissioner Zeid called for the immediate halt to widespread human rights violations by the armed forces. High Commissioner Zeid condemned the "blunt military response" that does not tackle the root causes of conflict but "instead targets civilians on the basis of their presumed links to militias." The UNSC issued a Press Statement on 24 February calling for an immediate investigation into violence in the Kasaï provinces, noting that the reported violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) may constitute war crimes.

The DRC government and MONUSCO must ensure that protecting civilians remains their primary priority as they address the ongoing threat posed by various armed groups. The FARDC and MONUSCO need to improve their capacity to respond to early warning of inter-communal violence and attacks by armed groups.

The security forces must respect international standards on the use of force. The government must urgently address allegations of the security forces using disproportionate force against protestors and ensure accountability for the unlawful killing of civilians. 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.

Parties to the CENCO political agreement should ensure its swift implementation as a means of avoiding any further deterioration of the political situation.

Last Updated: 15 March 2017