Populations at Risk Current Crisis

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Populations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are facing mass atrocity crimes committed by the security forces and various militias, as well as the threat of inter-communal violence.
Armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continue to utilize instability and the weakness of state authority in various parts of the country to attack security forces and perpetrate mass atrocity crimes. Despite military offensives conducted by the government's armed forces (FARDC) with assistance from the UN Peacekeeping Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) and its Force Intervention Brigade, attacks by armed groups and inter-communal violence continue.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 4.5 million Congolese are currently internally displaced and more than 630,000 have fled to neighboring countries. Nearly half of all internally displaced persons in the DRC were forced to flee during 2017. On 13 April the government boycotted a donor conference, accusing the UN of exaggerating the extent of the humanitarian crisis.

On 7 December suspected members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group attacked a UN base in Semuliki, within the Beni region, resulting in the deaths of 15 peacekeepers and five FARDC soldiers. On 28 March suspected members of the ADF killed 11 civilians in Beni city. The FARDC, in cooperation with the Ugandan military, launched an offensive against the ADF during January 2018.

Meanwhile, fighting between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups erupted in Ituri province during December, leading to more than 260 people being killed and 120 villages and towns being pillaged or destroyed. In April MONUSCO discovered five mass graves in Ituri province. More than 60,000 people have fled from Ituri province into Uganda since January. On 20 February UNHCR warned that populations in Tanganyika province were also facing mass displacement as a result of inter-communal violence between the Luba, Twa and other ethnic groups.

Tensions between the government and a local militia, Kamuina Nsapu, have resulted in atrocities perpetrated against populations in Kasaï, Kasaï Central and Kasaï Oriental provinces since August 2016. The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC has identified at least 80 mass graves in the Kasaï region since January 2017, with responsibility for most of these attributed to the FARDC. On 4 August the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report implicating the FARDC and local officials in fomenting ethnic violence in the Kasaï region and supporting the formation of a pro-government militia, Bana Mura.

OHCHR has documented evidence of the FARDC, Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura all committing extrajudicial killings. The UN has also documented children being used as combatants or human shields by Kamuina Nsapu, as well as sexual violence perpetrated against young girls. Bana Mura has also targeted populations based upon ethnicity and destroyed villages of alleged supporters of Kamuina Nsapu.

As a result of a failure to hold elections during 2016, mediation between the government and opposition took place under the aegis of the Conference Episcopale du Congo (CENCO). On 31 December 2016 the negotiations resulted in an agreement for elections to be held during 2017 and for President Joseph Kabila to abstain from seeking a third term. The government is finally preparing to hold presidential elections on 23 December 2018.

Since 31 December 2017 Catholic organizations and opposition groups have held demonstrations to pressure the government to uphold the CENCO agreement and to hold elections. According to the UN 47 people have been killed by the security forces during protests.

Widespread violence in areas that have been relatively calm in recent years, including the Kasaï region, is indicative of the enduring challenge of building effective governance and political stability in the DRC. Competition for control of profitable minerals, as well as unresolved inter-communal conflicts, have enabled the proliferation of Mayi-Mayi militias and other armed groups in the DRC.

Growing government repression and the population's frustration with the unconstitutional delay in elections enhances the risk of further instability. Security forces have repeatedly used disproportionate and deadly force against peaceful demonstrators.

The government of the DRC has struggled to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and its own forces have sometimes been complicit in the perpetration of mass atrocity crimes.

On 31 March the UN Security Council (UNSC) extended MONUSCO's mandate until March 2019, 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."

On 22 June 2017 the Human Rights Council (HRC) established an international team of experts to collect evidence, and investigate alleged human rights violations and abuses within the Kasaï region.

On 22 November the guarantors of the Peace, Security and Cooperation (PSC) Framework for the DRC – including the UN and African Union – welcomed the setting of elections for December and urged the government to fulfill its responsibilities under the CENCO agreement. On 8 December 2017 the UNSC adopted a resolution reaffirming its support for the PSC Framework and calling upon the government to vigorously pursue the "neutralization" of armed groups operating in the eastern DRC.

The UNSC currently subjects 13 entities and 31 individuals to sanctions. Several governments and regional organizations, including the United States and European Union, have also imposed sanctions on government officials who have impeded the election process or are deemed responsible for deadly attacks on peaceful demonstrators.

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 in the Kasaï and eastern regions. The government must halt support for Bana Mura and end the ethnic targeting of civilians.

The government should fully cooperate with the HRC's international team of experts and establish a credible domestic investigative mechanism regarding alleged extrajudicial killings in the Kasaïs. If the government fails to fulfill its promises in this regard, the UNSC should be prepared to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.

The government must urgently address allegations of the security forces using disproportionate and deadly force against peaceful protesters and ensure accountability for the unlawful killing of civilians. The government must continue to take meaningful steps towards holding the December 2018 elections and ensuring a timely and peaceful transition of power.

Last Updated: 15 May 2018

The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been featured in the R2P Monitor since the January 2012 issue.