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 dozens of armed groups continues throughout the eastern DRC. Populations in Maniema, Katanga and North Kivu have been particularly affected by recent 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 FARDC has reportedly liberated many localities previously occupied by the group, the FDLR continues to threaten civilians. Mayi-Mayi militias, particularly the Raia Mutomboki, have also fought with the FDLR. Related inter-communal clashes have sparked violence between armed groups affiliated with the FLDR, and those affiliated with ethnic Nandes in Lubero and Walikale, North Kivu.
On 26 January, following a nearly year-long suspension, MONUSCO and the FARDC agreed to resume joint operations against the FDLR. According to OCHA, 35,000 IDPs have been forced to flee camps in North Kivu since 28 March as a result of FARDC clashes with the FDLR and local militias.
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 550 people since October 2014 and has also attacked MONUSCO helicopters and convoys.
The UNSC has raised "deep concerns about the risk of instability, insecurity, the potential for 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 says it lacks the capacity to hold the required elections. Civilians have already been killed in election-related protests in Kinshasa and Goma.
ANALYSIS: 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 both failed to respond to early warnings of attacks, particularly around Beni. 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. 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 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.
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.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: The international community has responded to violence in the eastern DRC by taking measures to confront various armed groups. According to MONUSCO, more than 1,000 people, including both FDLR and their dependents, have participated in DDRRR in Walungu and Kisangani. 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 17 February the UN, AU, EU and International Organization of the Francophonie (IOF) issued a joint statement encouraging political dialogue ahead of the presidential elections and noting the appointment of Edem Kodjo as AU Special Envoy to aid in the DRC national dialogue.
On 30 March the UNSC extended MONUSCO's mandate to March 2017, 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." The following day the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement asserting that the 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation (PSC) Framework remains essential to achieving lasting peace and security in the Great Lakes Region.
The international community has responded with concern to growing repression by the government ahead of the country's elections. On 6 June the AU, UN, EU and IOF issued a statement emphasizing the importance of concluding a national dialogue and emphasizing that the facilitation group, led by Edem Kodjo, needs to assist the government in reaching an elections plan.
NECESSARY ACTION: The DRC government and MONUSCO must ensure that protecting civilians remains a 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 government, with MONUSCO's support, should enhance security and protection measures, particularly in eastern DRC, in advance of the 2016 elections.
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.
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 PSC Framework continue to fulfill their commitments.
Last Updated: 15 June 2016