Populations at Risk Imminent Risk

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Populations in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo remain at risk of possible mass atrocity crimes perpetrated by armed groups. Postponed presidential elections have also resulted in political violence and increased instability.
Pervasive insecurity in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has allowed armed groups to perpetrate mass atrocity crimes against civilians. Violence resulting from tensions between DRC authorities and a local militia following the killing of their chief, Kamuina Nsapu, has resulted in over 400 people killed in Kasaï, Kasaï Central and Kasaï Oriental provinces since August 2016. The UN human rights office in the DRC (UNJHRO) reported on 31 March that it is investigating 23 mass graves found in the Kasai region. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has noted that Kamuina Nsapu has perpetrated atrocities against civilians and that the government's armed forces (FARDC) has used disproportionate force in its response to the militia. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, of the 2.2 million internally displaced persons in the DRC, over 1 million are in the Kasaï region.

Populations in the region have witnessed increased clashes during February and March. On 9-13 February the army reportedly killed over 100 people, including 39 women, during clashes with the group. The government has stated that it will investigate videos showing FARDC soldiers shooting men and women who allegedly belonged to a militia in Muenza Nsapu village. Following clashes in mid-March Kamuina Nsapu reportedly ambushed and killed 40 police officers on 24-25 March. In addition, on 28 March the bodies of two members of the UN's Panel of Experts for the DRC were found in Kasaï Central province.

Other armed groups continue to utilize ongoing instability and the absence of state authority in eastern DRC to attack security forces and perpetrate crimes against civilians. Such groups – including 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 1.9 million internally displaced persons.

Despite offensives conducted by the 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. Inter-communal clashes have sparked violence in North Kivu, particularly between armed groups affiliated with the FDLR, and those affiliated with ethnic Nandes. Elsewhere in North Kivu the ADF and other armed groups have been sporadically attacking villages near Beni, massacring more than 700 civilians since October 2014 and perpetrating possible crimes against humanity.

Despite the signing of an agreement regarding DRC's presidential elections on 31 December, the risk of deadly political violence as a result of tensions surrounding the postponed 2016 elections remains high. Security forces have been accused of using excessive force during demonstrations on 19 September and 20 December – the day after President Joseph Kabila's constitutional mandate ended. UNJHRO recorded 48 civilians killed by security forces during the September demonstrations and more than 40 people killed in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Boma and Matadi during December.

As a result of a failure to hold elections during 2016, on 1 September a national dialogue was launched to ensure a peaceful political process. Additional mediation between the government and opposition took place under the aegis of the Conference Episcopale du Congo (CENCO). On 31 December the CENCO negotiations resulted in a deal calling for elections to be held during 2017 and for President Kabila to abstain from seeking a third term. Negotiations on implementation of the deal met several complications, resulting in CENCO withdrawing from further negotiations. As part of the agreement, on 7 April President Kabila appointed Bruno Tshibala as the new Prime Minister, but opposition parties protested with marches in Kinshasa and elsewhere.

Growing government repression and the population's frustration with the unconstitutional delay in elections enhances the risk of political violence. The government must take meaningful steps towards ensuring a timely and peaceful transition of power in the DRC, including implementation of the CENCO agreement.

Competition for control of profitable minerals, as well as underlying conflict between communities that consider themselves indigenous and those perceived as outsiders, has enabled the proliferation of armed groups in the DRC. Such groups will continue to emerge even after the eradication of the ADF and FDLR if these issues are not resolved. Rising tensions in areas that have been relatively calm in recent years, particularly Kasaï, is indicative of the government's inability to address the competing challenges of ending the political crisis and preventing the growth of violent armed groups.

Military measures taken against armed groups continue to leave civilians at risk of reprisal violence. The FARDC has also been implicated in attacks on civilians, including widespread sexual violence. While the government has recently charged several FARDC soldiers with war crimes committed in the Kasai region, it has customarily failed to hold members of the security forces accountable for widespread and systematic human rights violations and has not adequately addressed allegations of disproportionate force during protests.

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.

On 31 March 2016 the UN Security Council (UNSC) extended MONUSCO's mandate until March 2018, 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 resolution also reduced MONUSCO's troop ceiling from 19,815 to 16,215 despite the mounting security challenges in the country.

On 12 December the United States announced targeted sanctions against two high-ranking government officials while the European Union imposed sanctions on seven individuals with "command and control" responsibility for security forces involved in deadly violence. The UNSC also currently subjects 9 entities and 31 individuals connected to armed groups in the eastern DRC to sanctions.

OHCHR has called for accountability for the killing of civilians during the September and December protests. On 20 February High Commissioner Zeid called for the immediate halt to widespread human rights violations by the armed forces. High Commissioner Zeid condemned the "blunt military response" that does not tackle the root causes of conflict but "instead targets civilians on the basis of their presumed links to militias."

On 11 February MONUSCO condemned atrocities perpetrated by Kamuina Nsapu and the FARDC's disproportionate use of force, pledging to deploy a mobile monitoring response team to the area to "possibly prevent, investigate, and document human rights violations." The UNSC issued a Press Statement on 24 February calling for an immediate investigation into violence in the Kasaï provinces, noting that the reported violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) may constitute war crimes. The African Union, European Union, MONUSCO and International Organisation for the Francophonie issued a joint statement on 28 March condemning on Kamuina Nsapu's attack on DRC police.

The DRC government and MONUSCO must ensure that protecting civilians remains their primary priority as they address the ongoing threat posed by various armed groups. The FARDC and MONUSCO need to improve their capacity to respond to early warning of inter-communal violence and attacks by armed groups.

The security forces must respect international standards on the use of force. The government must urgently address allegations of the security forces using disproportionate force against protestors and ensure accountability for the unlawful killing of civilians. 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.

Parties to the CENCO political agreement should ensure its swift implementation as a means of avoiding any further deterioration of the political situation.

Last Updated: 17 April 2017