Since the mid 1990’s, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been plagued with periods of violence and conflict. First through a fight described as Africa’s World War then through continued clashes between the national army, rebel groups, and UN peacekeepers, particularly in eastern DRC.
Millions have been abducted, murdered, raped, or displaced, with abuses reported on all sides. The violence persists today.
Insecurity has persisted in the eastern part of the country, allowing armed groups to commit mass atrocities against the civilian population.
The mass atrocities committed include killings, abductions, and forced recruitment of civilians, particularly children. More than 2.9 million people have been displaced from their homes due to the violence and tens of thousands are without humanitarian assistance.
Atrocities in Eastern Congo
The main armed actors of the conflict are DRC’s national army, the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC), and the various rebel groups in the country including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Mayi- Mayi militias, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
Many of the groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and various May-Mayi militias, have been around for years, but used the security vacuum created by the March 23 (M23) rebellion in 2012 to begin staging new attacks.
A UN Intervention Brigade, the first ever UN force mandated with taking offensive action, helped government forces to defeat M23 rebels in 2013.
The government and UN mission in DRC (MONUSCO) launched initiatives against remaining armed groups, focusing on disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, reintegration, and resettlement programs.
However, efforts have stalled and militia groups continue to elude demands to disarm and disband. Political tensions over constitutional reform and President Kabila’s bid to run for a third term have also led to protests and recent violence.
Working for Peace
In March 2013, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2098, which not only extended MONUSCO’s mandate, but also created an intervention brigade, the first UN mission mandated with offensive action, to strengthen the peacekeeping operation.
The brigade helped to defeat the M23 rebels in 2013 and has had its mandate extended to face the FDLR and other rebels, to reduce the threat armed groups posed to government authority and civilian security, and to stabilize the country.
The U.S. also appointed a Special Envoy for the Great Lakes and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The advisor’s duties include supporting the current ambassadors to the region, devising and coordinating policy on cross border issues such as security, supporting efforts to stop suffering and violence in the region, and strengthening international coordination efforts.
History of Violence
The civilian population in DRC experienced consecutive civil wars between 1996 and 2003 that claimed an estimated five million lives, making it the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II. It has been called “Africa’s World War”, since many surrounding countries were drawn into the conflict.
When the genocide in neighboring Rwanda ended in 1994, Hutu perpetrators of the genocide, or genocidaires, fled from justice into the eastern provinces of the DRC, where they formed FDLR. The presence of genocidaires in eastern provinces prompted an invasion by Rwanda and Uganda, which led to the overthrow of long-standing dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
Laurant Désiré Kabila, who led the rebellion to overthrow Mobutu, declared himself President in May 2007. Despite various peace agreements, violence in DRC is ongoing and civilians continue to be targeted, particularly in the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Orientale.
The ongoing violence takes many forms, including mass killings, rape as a weapon of war, and torture. Both government and rebel forces have been implicated in attacks on civilians.
Lord’s Resistance Army
The people of eastern DRC also continue to be terrorized by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Led by the wanted war criminal Joseph Kony, the LRA has been one of the largest threats to civilians in the DR Congo.
Over the course of the conflict, the LRA has become responsible for more than 100,000 deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. The LRA has continued perpetrating violence and abductions, with over 600 abductions in 2014.
DRC has a wealth of natural resources, including gold, diamonds, tungsten, tin, and tantalum, which has unfortunately been a big reason for the violence in the country. Many of these precious minerals end up in electronics sold to Western countries.
When minerals are gathered in high risk areas, competition over the minerals can fuel conflict and violence. Combined with the revenue these minerals can provide to armed groups, it creates a dangerous situation for civilians in DRC.
Armed groups have also terrorized and forced local civilians into working the mines as slave laborers. In 2010, Amnesty International reported that 43,000 children are working in mineral mines and around 4,000 children have been abducted by armed groups to fight as soldiers.
The systematic sexual violence is so pervasive that the DRC is becoming known as the rape capital of the world.
Women are raped in the eastern portion of the country in front of their families to dehumanize them and to destroy their families. The government recorded over 15,000 incidents of sexual and gender-based violence in four regions in 2013.
In October 2014, Dr. Denis Mukwege won the Sakharov prize from the European Parliament for his work with rape survivors in DRC. He has worked with over 30,000 rape survivors in the last sixteen years.
Justice in the DRC: Bosco Ntaganda and Dominic Ongwen
Bosco Ntaganda is a former Congolese general and is responsible for many of the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in 2002 and 2003 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has been wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes including the use of child soldiers, murder, rape, sexual slavery, and persecution.
Ntaganda was originally a leader of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) rebel group, which was integrated into the Congolese army in 2009. In April 2012, Ntaganda led a revolt that splintered the group, and he became one of the main leaders of the M23 rebel group. Following infighting within M23, Ntaganda turned himself to the U.S. embassy in Rwanda, and in turn to the ICC.
On June 9th, 2014 Pre-Trial Chamber II confirmed Ntaganda’s charges, and he is currently in ICC custody. His trial is scheduled to open June 2nd, 2015.
Another leading LRA commander, Dominic Ongwen, facing war crimes charges was taken into custody and transferred to the ICC in January 2015. Ntaganda and Ongwen’s custody and trials are big steps forward for accountability and atrocity prevention.
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