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 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. 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 16 June MONUSCO troops reportedly killed seven members of a Kobo and Nande-affiliated militia that was preventing food deliveries to a primarily Hutu IDP camp. This follows rising tensions between Hutu and Nande militias in Buleusa, including attacks on IDP camps and reprisal killings.
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 fled 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 600 people since October 2014 and has also attacked MONUSCO helicopters and convoys. The ADF is suspected of killing nine people who were found "hacked to death" near Oicha on 5 July.
The UNSC has raised "deep concerns about the risk of instability, insecurity, the potential for violence, human rights violations and abuses and violations of [IHL]" 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 amid reports of growing political repression.
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 failed to adequately respond to early warning 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. Instability caused by disagreements over the country's presidential elections may be further exacerbated by these weaknesses. The government's response to protests leaves populations at risk of potential political violence.
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. While the government has undertaken important reforms, impunity for crimes committed against civilians remains rampant.
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 30 March the UNSC extended MONUSCO's mandate to 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.
The international community has responded with concern to growing repression ahead of the country's elections. On 6 June the 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. On 4 July the AU-led "Support Group for Facilitation of the National Dialogue in the DRC" held its inaugural meeting.
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." The UNSC also reiterated its call for the government to hold presidential elections by the end of 2016.
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.
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 and provide resources necessary to successfully facilitate the National Dialogue.
Last Updated: 15 July 2016