Populations at Risk Serious Concern

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Populations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remain at risk of mass atrocity crimes perpetrated by various armed groups.
BACKGROUND:Pervasive insecurity in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has allowed armed groups to perpetrate mass atrocity crimes against the civilian population. Armed groups – namely 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 March 23 (M23) rebellion in November 2013 the government has 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. Despite the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) and MONUSCO making significant progress against the ADF earlier this year, between 2 and 17 October the group attacked several villages in North Kivu, massacring more than 100 civilians, many of whom were killed with machetes. Although on 5 November Congolese authorities reportedly arrested 200 people suspected of participation in these attacks, ADF has continued its assaults, killing another 100 people in a gruesome attack on 20 November alone.

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. Violent clashes between rival armed groups also threaten civilians. The government recorded over 15,000 incidents of sexual and gender-based violence in these four regions during 2013. On 18 November the UN refugee agency warned of a "humanitarian catastrophe" in Katanga as more than 71,000 people were displaced between August and November by incidents of home burning, torture, forced labor and recruitment into armed groups. There are still more than 2.6 million IDPs in the eastern DRC, more than 600,000 of whom are in Katanga. The FARDC has also been implicated in previous attacks upon civilians, including widespread sexual violence.

In advance of offensive operations, the government and MONUSCO encouraged militias to participate in Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs. Although the FDLR announced plans to voluntarily surrender their weapons during April, no significant demobilization has occurred. During a 2 July joint meeting of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) Ministers of Defense established a six-month deadline for voluntary surrender of the FDLR before decisive military action would be taken against them.

ANALYSIS: The threat posed by armed groups remains high with populations in North Kivu at ongoing risk of further attack. During their offensives the FARDC and MONUSCO have struggled to protect civilians. The weakness of government structures undermines attempts to prevent atrocities. This is particularly evident in the eastern DRC, where state authority is weak and 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.

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. Without adequately addressing the root causes of conflict armed groups will continue to emerge and threaten populations.

The government of the DRC has struggled to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and its own forces have been complicit in some mass atrocity crimes. The DRC needs ongoing support to prevent atrocities, especially by the FDLR and ADF.

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 September 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in the DRC.]

On 28 March the UNSC extended the mandate of MONUSCO until 31 March 2015. The renewed mandate emphasized 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.

The UNSC issued a Press Statement on 3 October and a Presidential Statement on 5 November noting the FDLR's failure to voluntarily demobilize in keeping with the SADC-ICGLR timeframe. On 24 October the UN and AU envoys to the DRC urged community leaders in North Kivu to support joint operations between FARDC and MONUSCO against the ADF.

On 1 December the Guarantors of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region held its first meeting to review recent developments and progress on implementation of the Framework agreement.

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 the FDLR, ADF and other armed groups. 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 should adopt legislation establishing specialized mixed chambers in the national judicial system to ensure justice for past atrocities.

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 fulfill their commitments.

Last Updated: 15 December 2014