Attacks by armed groups operating in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as well as recurring inter-communal violence, threaten the lives of vulnerable populations. Despite military offensives conducted by the government’s armed forces (FARDC) with assistance from the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and its Force Intervention Brigade, attacks by armed groups and inter-communal violence continue. According to the UN Refugee Agency, over 4.8 million Congolese are internally displaced while more than 886,000 refugees have fled to neighboring countries.
Several provinces in eastern DRC – notably North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri and Tanganyika – as well as the Kasaï region, have been plagued by recent inter-communal violence and attacks by armed groups. The UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the DRC documented 3,521 human rights violations during the first seven months of 2019. In conflict-affected provinces more than 200 people were extrajudicially executed by government security forces while 500 were killed by non-state armed groups. UNJHRO also documented more than 450 cases of conflict-related sexual violence.
The violence contributes to an already precarious security and humanitarian situation as the government and international community attempt to confront cholera, measles and Ebola outbreaks that have claimed the lives of thousands of people. Since August 2018 Ebola treatment centers have been subjected to arson attacks by suspected members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group and forced to close. The World Health Organization documented more than 390 attacks on health facilities in DRC during 2019.
On 30 October the FARDC launched an offensive against the ADF. Since then the ADF has carried out a series of retaliatory attacks against villages in the Beni region of North Kivu, massacring more than 200 civilians. Increasing casualties prompted violent protests in Beni by locals demanding greater protection. The government and MONUSCO have subsequently deployed additional troops to the region.
For more than 20 years various armed groups have exploited the weakness of state authority to perpetrate attacks against civilians. Widespread violence in eastern DRC is indicative of the enduring challenge of building effective governance and stability. Rampant impunity, competition for control of profitable minerals, as well as unresolved inter-communal conflicts, have enabled the proliferation of militias and other armed groups.
The ADF has a history of attacking villages in North Kivu, perpetrating potential war crimes and crimes against humanity, and is accused of massacring more than 700 civilians in the Beni region between October 2014 and January 2017. In response to previous military offensives by the FARDC and MONUSCO, the ADF has engaged in retaliatory attacks on isolated villages.
UNJHRO has reported that the FARDC continues to perpetrate crimes against civilians. Security forces have also recently been accused of failing to intervene or halt violence against civilians in Ituri and North Kivu provinces.
The DRC government has struggled to uphold its responsibility to protect in the past, and government forces have at times been complicit in the perpetration of mass atrocity crimes.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) currently subjects 13 entities and 31 individuals in the DRC to sanctions. On 2 August the UNSC adopted a Presidential Statement on the Ebola outbreak, condemning all attacks against medical personnel and facilities.
On 8 July the International Criminal Court found former DRC warlord Bosco Ntaganda guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in Ituri from 2002-2003. On 8 November Ntaganda was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.
On 19 December the UNSC extended the mandate of MONUSCO for one year. The resolution emphasized that the government “bears the primary responsibility to protect civilians within its territory and subject to its jurisdictions, including protection from crimes against humanity and war crimes.”
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. During their offensives against the ADF and other armed groups, the security forces must strictly adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law.
The government should cooperate with UNJHRO monitoring and ensure all state agents found responsible for extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and other human rights violations and abuses are held accountable.
The government and MONUSCO should implement measures to mediate inter-communal tensions in eastern DRC, the Kasaï region and Mai-Ndombe Province. The government should conduct a thorough investigation of the 2018 and 2019 massacres in Ituri and Yumbi and hold the perpetrators accountable.
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