BACKGROUND: Pervasive insecurity in the eastern DRC has allowed 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 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.
In advance of offensive operations, the government and MONUSCO encouraged militias to participate in Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs. Following an announcement by the FDLR that the group would voluntarily disband, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) established a final 2 January 2015 deadline. Despite this, only an estimated 300 combatants disarmed and surrendered.
On 10 February MONUSCO suspended its support for impending anti-FDLR operations following the government's appointment of two generals accused of serious human rights violations to lead the operation. The FARDC finally launched military offensives without MONUSCO support on 24 February. Although the FARDC has reportedly captured some of their bases, the FDLR allegedly kidnapped as many as 40 civilians near Virunga National Park on 16 April. Mayi-Mayi militias have also reportedly engaged in clashes with the FDLR as the group flees from the FARDC. On 7 May the UN announced that MONUSCO was planning to launch its own offensive against the FDLR.
Patterns of violence committed by armed groups, including mass killing and abduction, continue in North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga, Maniema and Oriental Province. Despite the FARDC and MONUSCO making significant progress against the ADF in early 2014, the group attacked several villages in North Kivu between October and December, massacring hundreds of civilians, many of whom were killed with machetes. On 13 May the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC released a report on the October-December attacks, noting that the ADF was responsible for more than 250 civilian deaths during that period and perpetrated violations which may amount to crimes against humanity. The ADF has continued its assaults, including killing at least 24 civilians in two attacks in Beni on 13 May. Suspected ADF fighters also attacked a MONUSCO helicopter near Beni on 4 May and ambushed a convoy on 5 May, killing two peacekeepers.
Populations in Maniema have been affected by recent fighting between various Mayi-Mayi groups and the FARDC, resulting in more than 34,000 new IDPs in the first four months of the year. Inter-communal fighting between ethnic Twa and Luba in Katanga during early May also resulted in dozens of deaths.
ANALYSIS: While military measures are taken against the FDLR and ADF, civilians remain at risk of reprisal violence. A country that is already home to 2.7 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 been implicated in previous 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 members accountable for atrocities and continues to put populations at risk by allowing individuals accused of grave human rights abuses to lead strategic operations.
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. 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 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 to August 2016, stressing the importance of accountability for those responsible for mass atrocities. The UNSC subjects 10 entities and 31 individuals in the DRC to sanctions.
On 26 March the UNSC extended MONUSCO's mandate for an additional year, reducing its troop capacity by 2,000 and emphasizing that the government of the DRC "bears the primary responsibility to protect civilians within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including protection from crimes against humanity and war crimes."
NECESSARY ACTION: The DRC government and MONUSCO must ensure that the protection of civilians remains their primary priority as they address the 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 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 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 May 2015