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 committed by the security forces and various militias.
BACKGROUND:
After two years of unconstitutional delays, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) held elections on 30 December. Despite widespread irregularities, including vote tampering and voter suppression, opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in as president on 24 January 2019. Throughout the delayed election process Congolese security forces were widely accused of using disproportionate and deadly force against protesters and arbitrarily arresting opposition supporters.

The elections took place amidst increasing violence and instability as various armed groups have exploited the weakness of state authority in various parts of the country. 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 825,000 refugees have fled to neighboring countries.

Several provinces in eastern DRC - notably North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri and Tanganyika - have been plagued by a rise in inter-communal violence and attacks by armed groups. Suspected attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces and other militias in North Kivu have hampered efforts to confront an Ebola outbreak since August 2018. Ebola treatment centers have been subjected to arson attacks and forced to close due to kidnapping and the targeting of health workers.

Deadly clashes erupted between the Batende and Banunu communities in Yumbi territory, Mai-Ndombe province, from 16-18 December 2018. The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC (UNJHRO), which investigated 59 burial sites in the area, reported that at least 535 civilians were massacred in a series of attacks on four villages. According to the UNJHRO, "the attacks were conducted in an organized and planned manner, and were extremely violent and fast." At least 967 homes and other properties, including churches and schools, were also looted or destroyed in the violence, and UNHCR reported that at least 16,000 people fled to the Republic of Congo.

ANALYSIS:
Government repression of the opposition over the past two years has exacerbated political tensions throughout the DRC. The new government needs to demonstrate a commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights and reestablish trust between the population and the security sector.

Widespread violence in the east 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 other armed groups. Attacks on health centers and waves of displacement caused by militia violence threatens to exacerbate the Ebola epidemic.

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.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:
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 impeded the election process or were deemed responsible for deadly attacks on peaceful demonstrators.

On 30 October the UNSC adopted Resolution 2439 condemning attacks by armed groups that have hampered the response to the Ebola outbreak. 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."

Regional organizations, including the Southern African Development Community and the AU, deployed observer missions to the DRC during the election.

NECESSARY ACTION:
The security forces must refrain from using disproportionate force against civilians and respect the universal human rights of all Congolese, including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The new government should undertake measures to hold all those who used lethal force against unarmed protesters prior to the 2018 election accountable.

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 epidemic. 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 Yumbi and hold the perpetrators accountable.

Last Updated: 15 March 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.