Pervasive insecurity in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (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), Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and various Mayi-Mayi militias – have been operating in the DRC for more than 20 years and continue to sporadically attack vulnerable populations in a region that is home to 1.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Despite offensives conducted by the government's armed forces (FARDC) with assistance from the UN's stabilization mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and its force intervention brigade, violence committed by dozens of armed groups continues throughout the eastern DRC. Populations in Maniema, Katanga and North Kivu have been particularly affected by fighting between various Mayi-Mayi groups and the FARDC. Several armed groups have also been implicated in kidnapping humanitarian workers.
The FARDC launched offensive operations against the FDLR in February 2015. Although the offensive has reportedly significantly weakened the FDLR, the group continues to threaten civilians. Inter-communal clashes have also sparked violence between armed groups affiliated with the FLDR, and those affiliated with ethnic Nandes in Lubero and Walikale, North Kivu. Elsewhere in North Kivu the ADF and other armed groups have been sporadically attacking villages near Beni, massacring civilians and perpetrating possible crimes against humanity. The ADF is suspected of killing more than 700 people since October 2014, including a 13 August attack where more than 50 people were hacked to death in a village outside Beni.
There is also an increasing risk of political violence as a result of tensions surrounding the DRC's presidential elections, originally meant to be held during 2016. On 19 September more than 50 civilians were killed during political demonstrations and several opposition headquarters were burnt down in Kinshasa amid growing reports of repression throughout the country. The UN Security Council (UNSC), the Secretary-General's Special Representative in the DRC, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have all raised concerns regarding the risk of instability, violence, human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law ahead of presidential elections.
President Joseph Kabila's term is constitutionally-mandated to end in 2016, but the government lacks the capacity to complete voter registration and hold the required elections. On 1 September a national dialogue was launched to ensure a peaceful political process, but most opposition groups refused to participate while others walked out. Following the September violence the DRC's election commission announced a new timetable, indicating local and legislative elections would be held in 2017 while the presidential election would be postponed until November 2018.
While military measures are taken against the FDLR, ADF and other armed groups, civilians remain at risk of reprisal violence. The FARDC and MONUSCO have failed to adequately respond to early warning of attacks, particularly around Beni, and civilians have responded with protests or by forming their own self-defense groups. The FARDC has also been implicated in attacks on civilians, including widespread sexual violence, and often fails to hold its members accountable for human rights violations.
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 vast areas to various rebel groups. Instability caused by disagreements over the country's presidential elections may further exacerbate by these weaknesses and leave populations at risk of potential political violence. Growing repression and the population's increasing frustration with the government's failure to respect the constitution risk more political demonstrations resulting in violence.
Despite the government and MONUSCO encouraging militias to participate in disarmament programs prior to launching offensives against them, various armed groups continue to perpetrate abuses against civilians. Competition for control of minerals, as well as underlying conflict between communities that consider themselves indigenous and those perceived as outsiders, has enabled the proliferation of armed groups, which will continue to emerge even after the eradication of the ADF and FDLR if these issues are not resolved. While the government has undertaken important reforms, impunity for crimes committed against civilians continues.
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 violence.
The international community has responded to violence in the eastern DRC by taking measures to confront various armed groups. The UNSC currently subjects 9 entities and 31 individuals in the DRC to sanctions. [For responses prior to March 2016, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in the DRC.]
On 30 March the UNSC extended MONUSCO's mandate until March 2017, 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." The following day the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement reiterating that the 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation (PSC) Framework remains essential to peace and security in the Great Lakes Region.
On 6 June the African Union (AU), UN, EU and International Organization of the Francophonie issued a statement emphasizing the importance of concluding a national dialogue and that the facilitation group, led by Edem Kodjo, needs to assist in finalizing an elections plan. Despite the efforts of Edem Kodjo, the national dialogue failed to reach any outcomes before opposition parties withdrew.
On 23 June the UNSC passed Resolution 2293 extending the sanctions regime until 1 July 2017 and including for the first time individuals found to be "planning, directing or committing acts that constitute human rights violations." On 17 August the UNSC issued a Press Statement condemning the attack on civilians in Beni.
On 23 September the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and on Summary executions issued statements condemning the security forces' response to election protests in Kinshasa. The day before the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for accountability for the killing of civilians and other human rights violations during the Kinshasa protests. On 28 September the United States Treasury imposed targeted sanctions on General Gabriel Amisi and John Numbi, a former national police inspector, for crimes perpetrated against civilians in the DRC.
The DRC government and MONUSCO must ensure that protecting civilians remains the primary priority as they address the threat posed by armed groups. The FARDC and MONUSCO need to increase their capacity to respond to early warning of inter-communal violence and attacks by armed groups. MONUSCO should also 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 remove all FARDC members accused of serious human rights violations from leadership positions.
The government, with MONUSCO's support, should enhance security and protection measures, particularly in eastern DRC and Kinshasa, in advance of crucial moments in the election process, including on 19 December when Kabila's term was originally set to end. The security forces must be trained to respect international standards on the use of forces during demonstrations. The government and opposition must engage in genuine dialogue regarding the presidential election process and actively discourage political violence.
The UN, AU, International Conference for the Great Lakes Region and Southern African Development Community should ensure that all signatories to the PSC Framework continue to fulfill their commitments.
Last Updated: 14 October 2016