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), 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 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 the more than 30 armed groups operating in the DRC continues throughout the eastern regions of the country. Populations in Maniema, Katanga and North Kivu have been particularly affected by recent fighting between various Mayi-Mayi groups and the FARDC.
The ADF attacked several villages in North Kivu between October and December 2014, massacring hundreds of civilians and perpetrating possible crimes against humanity. Despite MONUSCO and FARDC offensives against them, the ADF has continued its assaults on villages, killing more than 500 people since October 2014 and attacking MONUSCO helicopters and convoys. On 28 and 29 November the ADF perpetrated a series of attacks on villages north of Beni, killing 30 people, including a UN peacekeeper, and destroying a hospital.
Following the FDLR's refusal to meet multiple disarmament deadlines, the FARDC launched offensive operations against the group in February 2015. Although the FARDC has reportedly liberated localities previously occupied by the group, the FDLR continues to threaten civilians. On 6 January 14 civilians, including family members of local traditional chiefs, were killed by suspected FDLR members in the village of Miriki. Mayi-Mayi militias, particularly the Raia Mutomboki, have also clashed with the FDLR as the group flees from the FARDC.
ANALYSIS: While military measures are taken against the FDLR, ADF and other armed groups, civilians remain at risk of reprisal violence. The FARDC has also previously been implicated in attacks on civilians, including widespread sexual violence, and has often failed to hold its members accountable for atrocities.
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.
Despite the government and MONUSCO encouraging militias to participate in Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs prior to launching offensives against them, rebel groups continue to perpetrate abuses against populations in eastern DRC. Competition for control of minerals, as well as underlying conflict between communities that consider themselves indigenous and those with alleged Rwandan ancestry, 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 violence and mass 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 2015 the UNSC extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts until August 2016, stressing the importance of accountability for mass atrocities. The UNSC subjects 9 entities and 31 individuals in the DRC to sanctions.
On 26 March the UNSC extended MONUSCO's mandate for an additional year, 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."
On 30 November the UNSC issued a Press Statement condemning "repeated attacks perpetrated against civilians by the ADF" and stressed the ongoing importance of neutralizing armed groups in eastern DRC.
NECESSARY ACTION: The DRC government and MONUSCO must ensure that the protection of civilians remains their primary priority as they address the ongoing threat posed by armed groups. The FARDC and MONUSCO need to agree to conditions for resuming joint operations and increase their capacity to respond to early warning of attacks by these groups.
MONUSCO should also support the government in facilitating local peacebuilding initiatives and encourage civil society to help facilitate DDRRR. The government, with MONUSCO support, should enhance security and protection measures, particularly in eastern DRC, in advance of the 2016 general elections in order to prevent violence.
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, International Conference for the Great Lakes Region and Southern African Development Community should ensure that all signatories to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework continue to fulfill their commitments.
Last Updated: 20 January 2016