BACKGROUND:During 2012 and 2013 insecurity in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) caused by fighting between the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) and a group of army defectors known as the March 23 (M23) rebel movement allowed various armed groups to perpetrate mass atrocity crimes against the civilian population. More than 967,000 civilians have fled their homes since the mutiny started during April 2012, contributing to the more than 2.9 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in the DRC. Although M23 surrendered on 5 November 2013, the civilian population still faces grave risks from other armed groups.
The government of the DRC estimates that there are approximately 52 armed groups committing abuses in eastern
DRC, many of which increased their activities in the security vacuum created by redeployment of FARDC troops to confront M23. Some of these groups – including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and various local Mayi-Mayi militias – have been operating within the DRC for more than a decade, but utilized insecurity in the east to attack populations with increasing frequency. Patterns of violence committed by these groups, including killing, abduction and forced recruitment of civilians, have been witnessed in North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga and Oriental Province over the past two years. The UN reported during February 2014 on an ongoing "humanitarian disaster" in Katanga caused by Mayi-Mayi Kata Katanga perpetrating a "scorched earth" campaign, leaving hundreds of thousands of people displaced since October 2013.
The government has recently launched several offensives against groups operating in eastern DRC with assistance from the UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), which operates with a protection of civilians mandate and includes an intervention brigade. In response to attacks on civilians by the Allied Democratic Forces-Nalu (ADF-Nalu), an alliance of Ugandan rebel groups who also operate in the DRC, in Beni and Kamango in North Kivu, the FARDC initiated an offensive in early January and declared victory over the group on 14 March. The government announced that following the defeat of ADF-Nalu it would direct the FARDC's attention towards combatting the FDLR. On 31 March the FARDC also launched operations against the Patriotic Force of Resistance in Ituri (FRPI), which has historically perpetrated crimes against humanity against the civilian population. In advance of these offensives, the government and MONUSCO encouraged militias to surrender and participate in Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs.
The FARDC has also been implicated in attacks upon civilians, including 135 documented cases of rape committed in Minova as M23's forces occupied Goma during November 2012. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has received allegations of FARDC troops threatening civilians on the basis of their ethnicity and perpetrating crimes against populations in reprisal for alleged collaboration with Mayi-Mayi groups. On 20 November 2013 a military court began the trial of 41 FARDC soldiers for war crimes, including rape.
ANALYSIS: Despite ongoing military offensives and M23's defeat, the threat posed by armed groups remains high. The weakness of government structures undermines attempts to prevent atrocities and protect civilians. Rising threats from other armed groups and widespread displacement poses an ongoing challenge to the FARDC and MONUSCO. Ongoing offensives between the FARDC and various rebel groups have also resulted in further displacement of vulnerable populations and existing IDPs.
This is particularly evident in eastern DRC, where the government has previously lost control of areas to various rebel groups and has historically been incapable of controlling its borders. Refugee flows into northern DRC from conflicts in Central African Republic and South Sudan may increase insecurity in an already volatile region.
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 armed violence. Without adequately addressing the root causes of conflict in the eastern DRC, armed groups will continue to emerge and threaten populations residing there.
FARDC troops have routinely committed crimes against populations they have been deployed to protect. The FARDC also continues to incorporate local militias into its ranks, a practice that exacerbates divisions within the military and potentially puts civilians at risk.
The government of the DRC has struggled to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and its own forces have at times been complicit in mass atrocity crimes. Following the military defeat of M23 the DRC needs ongoing support in order to halt atrocities committed by other armed groups, especially the FDLR.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: The international community has responded to violence in eastern DRC by taking diplomatic, political and military measures to confront the operations of armed groups. [For responses prior to January 2013, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in the DRC.]
MONUSCO is responsible for more than 21,000 UN personnel operating under a civilian protection mandate. Since 2002 the UN has facilitated a reduction in membership of various armed groups through its DDRRR program. MONUSCO is currently redeploying personnel to eastern DRC where it expects more than two thirds of its staff will be operational by July 2014. On 28 March the UNSC extended the mandate of MONUSCO to 31 March 2015 by adopting Resolution 2147. The mandate renewal emphasized the need for MONUSCO to assist the government with security sector reform and DDRRR, to facilitate expanded accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity and to combat the FDLR.
The UNSC currently subjects 9 entities and 31 individuals, including several M23 and FDLR leaders, to the enforcement of travel bans and asset freezes. On 23 January 2014 the UN Group of Experts on the DRC released their final report for 2013, alleging that despite M23's surrender, the rebels continue to receive support from neighboring countries. On 30 January the UNSC extended the Group of Experts' mandate until February 2015.
The Regional Oversight Mechanism of the Framework Agreement for Peace, Security and Cooperation in the DRC and the Great Lakes Region held its third meeting on 31 January on the sidelines of the African Union (AU) Summit. The International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) held a Mini Summit on 25 March to discuss the situation in the eastern DRC, addressing efforts undertaken to eliminate the FDLR, ADF-Nalu and M23.
On 7 March the International Criminal Court found Germain Katanga, former leader of the FRPI, guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ituri during 2003.
On 25 March the Human Rights Council held a high-level dialogue on combatting sexual violence in the DRC, during which High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay asserted that sexual and gender-based violence remains "alarmingly prevalent" in the DRC.
NECESSARY ACTION: The DRC government and MONUSCO need to ensure that the protection of civilians remains the primary priority as they address the military threat posed by various armed groups. MONUSCO troops redeployed to eastern DRC must actively protect civilians within and outside their bases from the threat of armed groups. MONUSCO should support the DRC government in facilitating local peacebuilding initiatives and encourage civil society to participate in DDRRR initiatives.
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 international humanitarian law.
All perpetrators of mass atrocity crimes in the DRC, including members of the FARDC, need to be held accountable. The government should adopt legislation establishing specialized mixed chambers in the national judicial system to ensure justice for crimes against humanity and war crimes. The government must increase efforts to restore state authority in eastern DRC.
Together with the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, the AU, ICGLR and Southern African Development Community must continue to ensure that signatories to the Framework Agreement for Peace, Security and Cooperation in the DRC fulfill their commitments. Signatories must use the momentum from the defeat of M23 to help eliminate other armed groups, particularly the FDLR and Mayi-Mayi militias, and continue diplomatic efforts aimed at greater regional cooperation to prevent recurring conflict.
Last Updated: 9 April 2014