Populations at Risk Serious Concern

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Populations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to face a risk of mass atrocity crimes committed by security forces and various militias, as well as the threat of inter-communal violence.
Various armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continue to utilize instability and the weakness of state authority in various parts of the country to sporadically attack security forces and perpetrate mass atrocity crimes. 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), 4.5 million Congolese are currently internally displaced and more than 735,000 have fled to neighboring countries. Nearly half of all internally displaced persons in the DRC were displaced during 2017.

Several provinces in eastern DRC - notably North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri and Tanganyika - have been plagued by a recent rise in inter-communal violence and attacks by armed groups. Recent clashes over access to land and water between the Banyamulenge and Bafuliro ethnic groups and affiliated militias near Uvira, South Kivu, have displaced more than 76,000 people.

UNHCR has also warned that populations in Tanganyika province have faced torture, murder, forced labor and rape as a result of inter-communal violence between the Luba, Twa and other ethnic groups. Fighting between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups that erupted in Ituri province during 2017 also led to more than 260 people being killed, 120 villages and towns being pillaged or destroyed, and more than 60,000 people fleeing to Uganda.

Tensions between the government and a local militia, Kamuina Nsapu, have also resulted in atrocities in Kasaï, Kasaï Central and Kasaï Oriental provinces since August 2016. The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC identified at least 80 mass graves in the Kasaï region during 2017, with responsibility for most of these attributed to the FARDC. OHCHR has accused the FARDC and local officials of fomenting ethnic violence and supporting the formation of a pro-government militia, Bana Mura. The UN has documented children being used as combatants or human shields by Kamuina Nsapu, while Bana Mura has targeted populations based upon their ethnicity.

As a result of a failure to hold elections during 2016, mediation between the government and opposition took place under the aegis of the Conference Episcopale du Congo (CENCO). On 31 December 2016 the negotiations resulted in an agreement for elections to be held during 2017 and for President Joseph Kabila to abstain from seeking a third term. The government is finally preparing to hold these presidential elections on 23 December 2018.

Since 31 December 2017 Catholic organizations and opposition groups have held demonstrations to pressure the government to uphold the CENCO agreement and proceed with elections.

On 8 August President Kabila announced that he would not run for re-election. The ruling coalition nominated as its candidate former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari, who has been on the European Union sanctions list since May 2017 for his alleged role in human rights violations committed by the security forces in the Kasaï region and violence against the political opposition.

If the conduct of the upcoming presidential election is not seen as credible and legitimate it could generate a new political crisis with dangerous consequences for the DRC and its neighbors.

Widespread violence in eastern DRC is indicative of the enduring challenge of building effective governance and political stability in the DRC. Competition for control of profitable minerals, as well as unresolved inter-communal conflicts, have enabled the proliferation of militias and armed groups. Security forces have repeatedly used disproportionate and deadly force against peaceful demonstrators and perpetrated more than 1,100 extrajudicial and arbitrary executions during 2017.

The government of the DRC has struggled to uphold its Responsibility to Protect 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 EU, have also imposed sanctions on government officials who have impeded the election process or are deemed responsible for deadly attacks on peaceful demonstrators.

On 31 March the UNSC extended MONUSCO's mandate until March 2019, 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."

On 3 July 2018 the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue with the International Team of Experts mandated to investigate alleged human rights violations and abuses within the Kasaï region. The team reported on violations that may constitute crimes against humanity and 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 government should implement measures to mediate inter-communal tensions and address structural issues of land access, resource allocation and poor governance.

The government should undertake measures to ensure accountability for crimes perpetrated in the Kasaï region, as recommended by the HRC's International Team of Experts. The government must also halt support for Bana Mura and end the ethnic targeting of civilians.

The African Union and the Southern African Development Community should ensure rigorous oversight of the DRC election process.

Last Updated: 15 September 2018

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.