BACKGROUND: 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), the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and various Mayi-Mayi militias – have been operating in the DRC for more than twenty years and continue to attack vulnerable populations.
Since defeating the March 23 (M23) militia in November 2013, the government has engaged in offensives against other armed groups in the eastern DRC with assistance from the UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and its force intervention brigade. Despite the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) and MONUSCO making significant progress against the ADF earlier this year, between 2 and 17 October the group attacked several villages in North Kivu, massacring more than 100 civilians, many of whom were killed with machetes. The ADF killed another 100 people in an attack on 20 November.
Patterns of violence committed by armed groups, including mass killing and abduction, have been witnessed with heightened frequency in North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga and Oriental Province since the FARDC was redeployed to confront M23 in April 2012. Violent clashes between rival armed groups also threaten civilians. On 18 November the UN High Commissioner for Refugees warned of a "humanitarian catastrophe" in Katanga as more than 71,000 people were displaced between August and November by incidents of home burning, torture and forced recruitment into armed groups. There are still more than 2.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the eastern DRC, including 680,000 in Katanga.
In advance of offensive operations, the government and MONUSCO encouraged militias to participate in Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs. In April the FDLR announced plans to voluntarily surrender their weapons and during July the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) established a final 2 January deadline. Despite this, only an estimated 300 combatants surrendered. The UN, African Union (AU), European Union, Belgium and United States envoys (the "Team of International Envoys") to the Great Lakes Region have called upon the government and MONUSCO to now take "all necessary measures to disarm the FDLR."
ANALYSIS: The threat posed by armed groups remains high with populations at ongoing risk of further attack. During earlier offensives the FARDC and MONUSCO have struggled to adequately protect civilians. The FARDC has also been implicated in previous attacks upon civilians, including widespread sexual violence. If military measures are taken against the FDLR, civilians may be at risk of reprisal violence and a region that is already home to 1.6 million IDPs may endure further displacement.
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.
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.
MONUSCO's mandate emphasizes the need to assist the government with security sector reform and DDRRR, increase accountability for mass atrocity crimes and combat the FDLR. The UN Security Counci (UNSC) currently subjects 10 entities and 31 individuals in the DRC to sanctions. [For responses prior to December 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in the DRC.]
On 1 December the Guarantors of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF) for the DRC and the Region held its first meeting to review progress on implementation of the agreement.
On 2 January 2015 the Team of International Envoys condemned the FDLR's failure to comply with the ICGLR-SADC disarmament deadline and called upon the government and MONUSCO to take decisive military action, emphasizing that disarming the FDLR is a regional and international responsibility. The UNSC issued a Presidential Statement on 8 January calling upon the government to initiate joint operations with MONUSCO against the FDLR.
NECESSARY ACTION: The DRC government and MONUSCO must ensure that the protection of civilians remains the primary priority as they address the threat posed by armed groups. Military offensives against the FDLR and ADF must include additional protective measures that mitigate the risk of retaliatory violence against civilians. The FARDC and MONUSCO must increase their capacity to respond to early warnings of attacks on civilians, particularly around Beni and Katanga.
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 to ensure justice for past atrocities.
Together with the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, the AU, ICGLR and SADC must continue to ensure that signatories to the PSCF fulfill their commitments. PSCF signatories must ensure that all perpetrators of mass atrocities, including leaders of M23 and the FDLR, are held accountable.
Last Updated: 15 January 2015