BACKGROUND: Pervasive insecurity in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has allowed various 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 sporadically 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 with assistance from the UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and its force intervention brigade.
Since February 2015, following the FDLR's refusal to meet multiple International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) deadlines to disband, the FARDC launched offensive operations against the group. Although the FARDC has reportedly liberated more than 35 localities previously occupied by the group, the FDLR continues to threaten civilians. Mayi-Mayi militias, particularly the Raia Mutomboki, have also reportedly clashed with the FDLR as the group flees from the FARDC.
Violence committed by the more than 30 armed groups operating in the DRC, including sporadic killings and abductions, continue throughout the eastern regions of the country. Populations in Maniema, Katanga and North Kivu have been particularly affected by recent fighting between various Mayi-Mayi groups and the FARDC. Inter-communal fighting between ethnic Twa and Luba in Katanga during early May also resulted in dozens of civilian deaths. The FARDC and MONUSCO engaged in military operations directed at the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Force (FRPI) following attacks on villages, including reported mass rapes committed during May, and failed peace talks with the group in early June.
The ADF attacked several villages in North Kivu between October and December, massacring hundreds of civilians and perpetrating possible crimes against humanity. Despite MONUSCO and FARDC offensives against them, the ADF has continued its assaults on villages, killing more than 100 people since January and reportedly attacking MONUSCO helicopters and convoys. After several months of relative calm the ADF attacked two villages in Beni in the first week of September, killing nine civilians.
ANALYSIS: While military measures are taken against the FDLR, ADF, FRPI and other armed groups, civilians remain at risk of reprisal violence. A country that is already home to 2.9 million IDPs may endure further displacement. During earlier offensives against rebel groups the FARDC and MONUSCO have struggled to adequately protect civilians. The FARDC has also previously been implicated in 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 own members accountable for atrocities.
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. Despite the government and MONUSCO encouraging militias to participate in Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs prior to launching offensives against them, rebel groups continue to perpetrate abuses against populations in eastern DRC. 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 armed conflict and 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 until August 2016, stressing the importance of accountability for mass atrocities. The UNSC subjects 9 entities and 31 individuals in the DRC to sanctions.
On 26 March the UNSC extended MONUSCO's mandate for an additional year, emphasizing that the 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."
During a 14 July UNSC briefing, the Head of MONUSCO, Martin Kobler, announced that MONUSCO was negotiating terms for the resumption of joint-operations with the FARDC against the FDLR.
On 2 September the ICC opened the trial of Bosco Ntaganda for war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo between 2002 and 2003 in Ituri. Ntaganda was also a former FARDC deputy commander and a senior leader within M23.
NECESSARY ACTION: The DRC government and MONUSCO must ensure that the protection of civilians remains their primary priority as they address the ongoing threat posed by armed groups. The FARDC and MONUSCO must increase their capacity to respond to early warning of attacks by these groups. MONUSCO should also 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 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 all signatories to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework continue to fulfill their commitments. Perpetrators of mass atrocities, including leaders of M23, ADF and FDLR, must be held accountable.
Last Updated: 15 September 2015