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) and various Mayi-Mayi militias – have been operating in the DRC for more than a decade, but utilized the security vacuum created by the March 23 (M23) rebellion to attack populations with increasing frequency.
Patterns of violence committed by these groups, including killing, abduction and forced recruitment of civilians, were witnessed in North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga and Oriental Province over the past two years while the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) was redeployed to confront M23. Violent clashes between rebel groups also threaten civilians. The government recorded over 15,000 incidents of sexual and gender-based violence in these four regions during 2013. There are currently more than 2.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the eastern DRC.
The government has recently launched offensives against armed groups operating in the eastern DRC with assistance from the UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), which includes an intervention brigade. In advance of these offensives, the government and MONUSCO encouraged militias to participate in Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs.
During April leaders of the FDLR announced the group's intention to submit themselves to the DDRRR process, but only an estimated 89 of approximately 1,500 FDLR members surrendered by the 31 May deadline. On 11 and 12 June, amid ongoing tensions regarding armed groups operating in eastern DRC, FARDC troops and the Rwandan defense forces exchanged fire, resulting in the death of five FARDC soldiers.
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. Only two soldiers have been convicted for these crimes.
ANALYSIS: Despite ongoing military offensives and M23's defeat, the threat posed by other armed groups remains high. Ongoing FARDC and MONUSCO offensives have resulted in further displacement of vulnerable populations.
The weakness of government structures undermines attempts to prevent atrocities and protect civilians. This is particularly evident in the 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 neighboring Central African Republic (CAR) 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.
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 to halt atrocities committed by other armed groups, especially the FDLR.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: The international community has responded to violence in the eastern DRC by taking diplomatic, political and military measures to confront various armed groups. [For responses prior to January 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in the DRC.]
On 28 March the UN Security Council (UNSC) extended the mandate of MONUSCO until 31 March 2015. The renewed mandate emphasized the need for MONUSCO 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, including several M23 and FDLR leaders, to the enforcement of travel bans and asset freezes.
On 3 June the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson, together with the Special Envoys of the United States, European Union and African Union (AU), initiated a formal review of progress on benchmarks set in the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region.
On 9 June the International Criminal Court confirmed 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Bosco Ntaganda for crimes committed in Ituri during 2003. Prior to his surrender Ntaganda was considered one of the leaders of M23.
On 2 and 3 July the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) held a joint ministerial conference on the situation 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 and FARDC troops must actively respond to warnings of imminent attacks against civilians. 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 IHL.
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.
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 for Peace, Security and Cooperation in the DRC fulfill their commitments.
Last Updated: 15 July 2014