Attacks by armed groups operating in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as well as recurring inter-communal violence in various parts of the country, threaten the lives of vulnerable populations. Despite military offensives conducted by the government's armed forces (FARDC) with assistance from the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and its Force Intervention Brigade, attacks by armed groups and inter-communal violence continue. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), over 4.5 million Congolese are internally displaced while more than 854,000 refugees have fled to neighboring countries.
Several provinces in eastern DRC - notably North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri and Tanganyika - have been plagued by recent inter-communal violence and attacks by armed groups. According to the Kivu Security Project, at least 80 armed groups actively operate in the eastern DRC. UNHCR reported that fighting in North Kivu led to the displacement of more than 100,000 people during April. There were reports of rape and sexual violence as well as of children being forcibly recruited into armed groups.
Renewed inter-communal violence in Ituri Province killed more than 117 people between 10-13 June. According to the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the DRC, the majority of victims were from the Hema community who are believed to have been attacked by members of the Lendu community. While investigating several massacres in Djugu and Mahagi territories, UNJHRO documented beheadings and the use of scorched earth tactics to prevent survivors from returning. The violence resulted in more than 300,000 people being displaced by 18 June.
Widespread displacement from Ituri and North Kivu contributes to an already precarious security and humanitarian situation as the international community attempts to confront cholera, measles and Ebola outbreaks that have claimed the lives of thousands of people. Since August 2018 Ebola treatment centers have been subjected to arson attacks by suspected members of the Allied Democratic Forces armed group and forced to close. The World Health Organization has documented more than 42 attacks on health facilities in eastern DRC since January, with at least 85 health workers wounded or killed.
Inter-communal violence also remains a threat elsewhere in the DRC. Deadly clashes erupted between the Batende and Banunu communities in Yumbi territory, Mai-Ndombe Province, from 16-18 December 2018. UNJHRO investigated 59 burial sites in the area and reported that at least 535 civilians were massacred in a series of attacks on four villages. At least 967 homes and other properties, including churches and schools, were looted or destroyed, and at least 16,000 people fled to the Republic of Congo. In addition, despite a decline in armed clashes in the Kasai region since 2017, the Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura militias continue to operate and civilians continue to report rapes, summary executions and arbitrary detentions.
For more than twenty years various armed groups have exploited the weakness of state authority to perpetrate attacks against civilian populations. Widespread violence in eastern DRC is indicative of the enduring challenge of building effective governance and political stability. Competition for control of profitable minerals, as well as unresolved inter-communal conflicts, have enabled the proliferation of militias and other armed groups.
Following intense fighting in Ituri Province that started in the late 1990s, the Hema and Lendu communities have coexisted relatively peacefully since 2007. However, a surge in inter-communal fighting between December 2017 and April 2018 resulted in more than 260 people being killed and 60,000 people fleeing to Uganda. The recent recurrence of inter-communal conflict in Ituri and elsewhere demonstrates the need to hold perpetrators accountable and address the root causes of the violence.
Government repression of the opposition in the lead-up to the December 2018 presidential elections exacerbated political tensions throughout the DRC. The new government has taken steps to reestablish trust between the population and the security sector, but it still needs to demonstrate its institutional commitment to the protection of human rights. Security forces in the DRC have often been complicit in crimes against civilians and have recently been accused of failing to prevent or halt the violence in Ituri Province.
The DRC government has struggled to uphold its responsibility to protect in the past, and government forces have at times been complicit in the perpetration of mass atrocity crimes.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) currently subjects 13 entities and 31 individuals in the DRC to sanctions. Several governments and regional organizations, including the United States and the European Union, have also imposed sanctions on government officials who impeded the election process or were deemed responsible for deadly attacks on peaceful demonstrators. On 26 June the UNSC renewed the sanctions regime for an additional year.
On 29 March the UNSC extended the mandate of MONUSCO until 20 December. The resolution emphasized that the government "bears the primary responsibility to protect civilians within its territory and subject to its jurisdictions, including protection from crimes against humanity and war crimes."
On 8 July the International Criminal Court found former DRC warlord Bosco Ntaganda guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in Ituri from 2002-2003.
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 protection of civilians and health centers in North Kivu must remain an integral part of any strategy to combat the Ebola, cholera and measles outbreaks.
The government and MONUSCO should implement measures to mediate inter-communal tensions in eastern DRC, the Kasaï region and Mai-Ndombe Province. The government should conduct a thorough investigation of the massacres in Ituri and Yumbi and hold the perpetrators accountable.
While protecting populations from the threat of armed groups, the security forces must strictly adhere to International Humanitarian Law. The new government should hold all those who used lethal force against unarmed protesters prior to the 2018 election accountable.
Last Updated: 15 July 2019
The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been featured in the R2P Monitor since the January 2012 issue.