Democratic Republic of the Congo (1990-first combat deaths)

Ploughshares Africa

 

Summary
Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of the Fighting
Number of Deaths
Political Developments
Background
Arms Sources

Economic Factors  

The Conflict at a Glance

Who (are the main combatants): The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the support of some armed militia groups and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), versus numerous armed rebel factions and foreign armed forces.

What (are the major aims and events): Rebel groups are fighting to gain control over territory and vast mineral wealth. The government seeks to put down insurgents and maintain control. The March 23 Movement (M23), a rebel group that had gained substantial territory through violent means since its creation in 2012, was defeated militarily in 2013. In 2016, protests erupted across the country, demanding that President Joseph Kabila (in office since 2001) respect the constitution and not seek a third term.

The country has never had a peaceful transition between governments.

When (has fighting occurred): The mid-1990s brought ethnic tensions and significant violence after an influx of Rwandan Hutu refugees into Zaire. After a 1997 coup, Zaire was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Civil war began in 1998 and ethnic clashes, protests, and violence against civilians have continued since, with periodic but largely ineffective ceasefires.

Where (has the conflict taken place): Different groups have sought to gain territory in various provinces. North Kivu and Orientale have seen significant conflict in recent years.

Summary

2017 The constitution of the DRC has a two-term limit on the position of president, but President Joseph Kabila remained in office after his second term ended in December 2016. Elections slated for December 2017 were not held and the government postponed elections by another year, scheduling them for December 2018. In 2017, the UN reported 6,497 human rights violations and abuses, a 25% increase from 2016. Conflict was most severe in the Kasaï and North Kivu regions, with many civilians and UN troops killed. Amnesty International reports that violence in Kasaï left nearly 1 million internally displaced and thousands dead. In 2017, the total number of internally displaced peoples rose to 4.5 million, with 1.9 million displaced in 2017. A cholera outbreak resulted in 50,579 suspected cholera cases and 1,083 deaths by mid-December. Over two million children were at risk of starvation.

2016 Fighting between rebel groups and the Congolese military (FARDC) continued, with most of the fighting in North and South Kivu. MONUSCO peacekeepers joined the FARDC in a military strategy to decrease violence against civilians. In June, the political coalition La Rassemblement was founded, comprising major opposition parties, including the G7 and the Union for Democracy and Social Progress/L’Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS). The Independent National Electoral Commission/Commission Électorale Nationale Indéndante (CENI) delayed elections, citing concerns about budget and voter lists. Popular tensions ran high as it seemed increasingly likely that President Kabila would extend his presidency to a third term, despite constitutional limitations. During 2016, the Roman Catholic National Episcopal Conference of the Congo/Conférence Episcopale National du Congo (CENCO) mediated in election negotiations and debates between the government and opposition parties. Anti-Kabila demonstrations across the country were put down with force. The international community condemned the Congolese government’s response to the protests and suspension of rights, including its ban on demonstrations.

2015 Fighting in the eastern DRC continued to slow implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Region. Fighting between FARDC and militia groups was most intense in North and South Kivu, where the ADF and FDLR were active. These two armed groups and other militias continued a strategy of targeting civilian populations. FARDC, with support from MONUSCO peacekeepers, responded by launching major military operations against the ADF, FDLR, and FRPI.

2014 Implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region has been slowed by the lack of trust between neighbouring countries, active militant groups, and the slow implementation of the Nairobi Declaration. Civilian fatalities increased dramatically in the last three months with more than 250 deaths in Beni. But ACLED reported that non-state groups had not made new territorial gains and the government had doubled the amount of restored land. FDLR, the ADF, the LRA and the Burundian FNL militant groups continued to threaten security. Instability grew in Orientale, North Kivu, South Kivu and Katanga provinces. In January the Congolese armed forces dealt a heavy blow to the ADF. A UN report on human rights violations by the Congolese police was rejected by Interior Minister Richard Muyej.

2013 Although violent conflict continued, a significant step toward peace was taken in November with the military defeat of the March 23 Movement (M23) by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). The FARDC was supported by a UN Intervention Brigade deployed earlier in the year to neutralize armed groups. Conflict continued with other armed opposition groups. Despite Rwanda’s continued military support for M23 rebels, progress on peace was made in February with the signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region. All parties, including FARDC, reportedly committed human rights abuses such as rape and direct attacks on civilian populations.

2012 Fresh violence in the eastern regions triggered renewed security fears and widespread population displacement. The March 23 Movement (M23) began in North Kivu, exploiting chronic instability, corruption, and underfunding of the DRC armed forces (FARDC) to gain a territorial foothold. The UN Security Council reported that M23 rebels had received “external support” from Rwanda, including troop reinforcements, tactical advice, and advanced military hardware. In November M23 rebels routed FARDC troops from Goma, capturing the provincial capital of one million inhabitants. Human Rights Watch accused M23 rebels of summary executions, rape, and forced recruitment in North Kivu. A series of regionally mediated talks led to an initial peace agreement between President Kabila and the M23, with talks continuing in 2013. The International Criminal Court found Thomas Lubanga, a former militia leader of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo (FPLC), guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers. Mathieu Ngudjolo Choi, a former militia leader of the Patriotic Resistance Force in Ituri (FRPI), was acquitted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

2011 While government military operations against foreign and domestic armed groups in the east and north of the DRC were on a smaller scale than in previous years, all groups continued to attack civilians and commit other serious human rights abuses, particularly sexual violence against women. In the east, the army maintained  operations against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The government opened secret negotiations with the FDLR to encourage it to disarm and resettle in another part of Congo, but the talks failed. In the north, Congolese forces as well as military forces from Uganda and South Sudan fought the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The United States sent 100 troops in October as advisers. Little progress was made in attempts to apprehend top LRA leaders wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). MONUSCO and FARDC efforts to protect civilians in LRA-affected areas were ineffective. November elections were marred by violence and allegations of fraud. Joseph Kabila was named the winner, but opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi rejected the results. International observers reported numerous irregularities during the voting and counting process. The United States said the election was “seriously flawed.”

2010 Human-rights abuses continued throughout the year, especially in the eastern region. In January, the UN Mission in DRC (MONUC) launched a new military operation called Amani Leo against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in the Kivu provinces. The UN Security Council voted in May to authorize the withdrawal of up to 2,000 peacekeepers by June 30, delaying a decision for full withdrawal of the 20,500 peacekeepers—as requested by President Joseph Kabila in March—to the following year. On July 1, MONUC was renamed the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO). The Security Council decided that MONUSCO would be in place until June 30, 2011 and authorized it to concentrate its military forces in eastern DRC. Between July 30 and August 2, 200 combatants composed of FDLR, Mai Mai militia and former National Council for the Defence of the People (CNDP) fighters carried out mass rapes of more than 300 civilians in the Walikale Territory in North Kivu. FDLR leader Callixte Mbarushimana was arrested in France on October 11 by French police on a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court.

2009 From December 24 until January 17, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conducted waves of attacks against civilians in the northeastern province of Haute-Uele, killing many civilians and abducting children. Also in the northeast, an offensive was launched in North Kivu by the UN mission in DRC (MONUC) against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The offensive ended with reports of abuses against civilians and criticism from human rights groups. It was estimated that 2,000 child soldiers were still in North Kivu. According to the UN, the clashes in the north caused 16,000 refugees to flee to the Republic of the Congo, many of them seeking permanent settlement there. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, the UN-backed Kimia II military operation caused the deaths of more than 1,400 civilians. The UN has defended itself against allegations by rights groups, particularly the International Crisis Group, saying that it did its best to minimize civilian casualties during Kimia II. It stated that a major challenge to the operation was the state of the DRC army, “where poor pay, living conditions, training, morale and command structure are sometimes more conducive to mutiny, rape and pillage than professional soldiering or civilian protection.” During the week of February 5, more than 220 children were rescued from the rebel group National Congress for the People’s Defence (CNDP) and various ethnic groups such as the Mai Mai and PARECO.

2008 The Goma peace accord was signed in January to bring peace to the war-torn province of North Kivu. The accord was primarily between the Kabila government and dissident general Laurent Nkunda of the National Congress for the Defence of the Congolese People (CNDP). Not included were Hutu militiamen still active in the area, casting serious doubt as to whether or not it would be successful. By the end of the year, the accord was in tatters. Fighting continued in North Kivu, Ituri, and the Bas-Congo, but the largest number of deaths occurred in eastern DRC on the border with Uganda. Lord’s Resistance Army fighters from Uganda killed approximately 1,000 civilians and abducted approximately 500 children between September and January 2009. Tensions between Rwanda and the DRC increased as both sides were accused by the UN of supporting various rebel factions in the DRC and fighting a proxy war. The DRC faced a worsening humanitarian crisis by the end of 2008. Sexual violence was on the rise, and the UN reported that all conflicting parties, especially the DRC army and police force, were repeatedly violating human rights. A total of approximately 1,500 conflict-related deaths occurred over the course of the year, a significant increase from 900 in 2007. An additional 250,000 people were displaced,for a total of 1.1-million.

2007 Violence erupted in the Bas Congo region after government troops forcefully suppressed demonstrations in support of opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba. Renewed hostilities throughout the DRC resulted in nearly 900 civilian deaths, a notable increase from 500 in 2006.

2006 Despite continuing hostilities, in August the DRC held its first democratic elections in more than 40 years. An election observer mission was deployed by the European Union to the capital, Kinshasa. Joseph Kabila was elected president, causing renewed tensions between the eastern and western provinces. UN military operations oversaw the surrender of many rebel and militia fighters, although others resolved to continue fighting. Government troops were accused of human rights abuses, including rape and summary execution, and so of jeopardizing any chances for peace. Violent conflict killed between 200 and 300 rebels and approximately 150 government soldiers and 500 civilians.

2005 Fighting continued mainly in eastern DRC among rebel groups and between them and UN and government forces after the UN launched several large-scale operations. The humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate. The International Rescue Committee reported more than 1,000 daily excess deaths due to the malnourishment and disease brought on by the conflict.

2004 Rebel forces made two failed coup attempts in March and June. Although the number of conflict deaths dropped, the east, particularly Bukavu, remained volatile. Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs met with limited success. Many refugees returned from neighbouring countries. The United Nations increased the size of the MONUC force and mandate while the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda established a tripartite commission on peace and security agreements.

2003 An interim government that included rebel and opposition leaders was installed to serve until elections could be held in a few years. Efforts to demobilize, disarm, and—in the case of non-DRC combatants—repatriate former combatants continued, conducted primarily by the United Nations mission to the DRC (MONUC). However, ethnic violence, primarily between Hema and Lendu groups, intensified in the eastern province of Ituri, resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths. A UN-authorized, European Union emergency force provided security to Bunia, the capital of Ituri Province, until September, when it was replaced by a strengthened MONUC force.

2002 Fighting remained intense. Thousands of people, both civilians and combatants, were killed. Peace agreements were forged with Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda.

2001 The warring sides agreed to pull back their forces from front lines. But fierce clashes occurred in the north and south. In January, President Laurent Kabila was assassinated and replaced by his son Joseph, who, in spite of early hopes, did not advance peace negotiations.

2000 All sides were accused of violating an April ceasefire, hampering the planned deployment of 5,500 UN peacekeeping troops. The government and its allies launched new attacks against rebels in early August, pressing on in September and October. President Laurent Kabila refused to allow UN military observers and troops to monitor the ceasefire. At least 1,200 people died in conflict-related incidents.

1999 The conflict widened to include ethnic clashes and fighting between factions of the main rebel coalition. A mid-year ceasefire proved ineffective. At least 5,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed—about the same number of deaths as in 1998.

1998 Renewed fighting broke out in August as the Congolese Rally for Democracy (CRD), an insurgent coalition of rebel factions, attempted to overthrow President Laurent Kabila’s ruling Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL).

Type of Conflict
State control
Failed state

Parties to the Conflict

Government and government-related elements

1. Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo/Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC): The government is currently led by President Joseph Kabila, who is also commander-in-chief of the Congolese military. The armed forces were created in 2003 following the Congo’s 2002 peace accord, the Global and Inclusive Agreement on Transition in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Pretoria Agreement). After the 2006 elections, various insurgent forces were integrated into the FARDC. The new Congolese military brought together the former Congolese army (Forces Armées Congolaises) and prominent former opposition groups, and distributed officer and command positions among them. According to The Military Balance 2015, DRC’s armed forces comprise:

  • Army: 103,000
  • Republic Guard: 8,000
  • Navy: 6,700
  • Air Force: 2,550

The FARDC has been one of the main perpetrators of sexual violence in the DRC, according to Human Rights Watch.

2. Mai Mai militias: Many Congolese communities formed militias to protect themselves from violence, while maintaining local customs. In 2009, there were 22 different groups across the DRC, with a total of 8,000-12,000 combatants (Human Rights Watch). Notable are: the Mai-Mai Yakutumba, Raia Mutomboki, Mai-Mai Nyakiliba, Mai-Mai Fujo, Mai-Mai Kirikicho, and Résistance Nationale Congolaise, as well as the Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Resistance. The militias have fought both against and with the FARDC. In October 2010, Mayele, the Commander of the Mai Mai fighters, was handed over to UN peacekeepers in response to allegations that he encouraged sexual violence. An arrest warrant for crimes against humanity, including mass rape, was issued for militia leader Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, a candidate for the National Assembly in the November 2011 elections. Between July 30 and August 2, 2011, the UN reported, Sheka, his forces, and two other armed groups raped at least 387 civilians in 13 villages along the road between Kibua and Mpofi.

a. Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Resistance/Patriotes Résistants Congolais (PARECO): The largest Mai Mai group, it claims to unite non-Rwandan people and some Rwandan Hutus of North Kivu. Formed in 2007, it integrates the Congolese Hutu, Hunde, and Nande ethnic groups. The Hutu and the Nande PARECO factions have since joined the FARDC. However, a breakaway faction, the Patriotic Alliance for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS), with 1,500 Hunde fighters, has remained outside the official integration process and is allied with the FDLR. The APCLS aims to protect the Hunde people from land grabs by other groups.

3. National Council for the Defence of the People/Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP): This Rwandan-backed armed group seeks to protect and promote Congolese Tutsis. Emerging in Kivu in 2006, it fought the DRC government of General Laurent Nkunda. In January 2009, General Nkunda was arrested by the Rwandan government. He was replaced by Bosco Ntaganda, who announced a peace agreement with the government in March 2009. The CNDP then integrated into the FARDC and became a registered political party. In 2010, CNDP had an estimated 6,000 combatants, according to Human Rights Watch. Dissatisfied with the implementation of the peace deal, Ntaganda later formed the rebel March 23 Movement (see below).

4. Nyatura: Made up of deserters from the FARDC, the Nyatura grew out of fears of marginalization due to the integration of the CNDP into the national army. Nyatura forces total between 550 and 700 men, mainly Hutu.

Versus

Armed rebel factions, past and present

5. March 23 Movement / Mouvement du 23-Mars / Congolese Revolutionary Army (M23): M23 was formed in April 2012 following the organized defection of approximately 300 troops from FARDC. Prior to the March 2009 Peace Accord, these troops had fought for the CNDP. Originally led by Bosco Ntaganda – former CNDP Chief of Staff, later a FARDC General – M23 claimed that its mutiny was motivated by the unwillingness of President Kabila to implement the Accord. Ntaganda was transferred to the International Criminal Court to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2013 after surrendering at the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda. Hundreds of loyalists fled to Rwanda with him, weakening the M23. The M23, composed primarily of Tutsis, actively opposes the Hutu-based FDLR, as well as Mai-Mai militias. The UN Security Council has reported repeatedly that M23 receives “external support” from Rwanda, including troop reinforcements, tactical advice, and advanced military hardware. Human Rights Watch accused M23 rebels of summary executions, rape, and forced recruitment in North Kivu. The M23 declared a ceasefire November 5, 2013 and a peace deal was signed with the government in December; however, the UN alleges that the M23 continues to recruit in Rwanda.

6. Union of Congolese Patriots/Union des Patriots Congolais (UPC): Situated in Ituri province, the UPC protects the interests of the ethnic Hema group. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was the founder and president (see below). This group split into two factions in late 2003: the UPC-L, led by original founder Thomas Lubanga and the new UPC-K, led by Kisembo Bahemuka. The group morphed into a political and militia group in 2003, primarily backed by ethnic Hema politicians and businesses (IRIN News). In 2006, the group won three National Assembly seats.

7. Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo/Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo (FPLC): Founded in 2001, the UPC’s military wing was believed to have a few hundred fighters in early 2017 (International Business Times). Its military operations were run by UPC founder Thomas Lubanga. In 2002, the UPC/FPLC seized control of Bunia and demanded government recognition of Ituri as an autonomous state. By 2003, the Ugandan army had removed the UPC presence in Bunia. While in control, the UPC were accused of human rights violations, such as ethnically based massacres, rape, and use of child soldiers. In January 2009, Lubanga, the former FPLC commander-in-chief, stood trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, including enlisting and conscripting children under 15 and using them in hostilities from September 2002 to June 2003. An arrest warrant was issued in 2006 for the FPLC’s former deputy chief of staff, Bosco Ntaganda, who surrendered to the ICC in March 2013. Ntaganda’s trial began in September 2015 and a year later, he went on hunger strike (Trial International).

8. Mai Mai (or Mayi Mayi) Kata Katanga: Founded in 2011, Kata Katanga is the militant wing of a secession movement in Katanga province. It is led by Kyungu Mutanga, known as Commander Gedeon, who commands approximately 3,000 militants. In 2013 and 2014, Kata Katanga attacks and the FARDC operations resulted in the displacement of 360,000 people (UN Security Council). In 2015, Kyunga announced that it would transform the group into a political party. In October 2016, Kyungu and several hundred rebels surrendered their weapons.

9. Nationalist and Integrationist Front/Front des Nationalistes et Intégrationnistes (FNI): (inactive) FNI was established in 2002 in Ituri, a northeastern province on the border with Uganda. This armed group protected the interests of ethnic Lendu. It was supported by Uganda and carried out joint military operations with Ugandan troops. In November 2009, its former leader Ngudjolo Chui stood trial at the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity, but was acquitted for lack of evidence in 2012 (BBC).

10. Patriotic Force of Resistance in Ituri/Force de Résistance Patriotique en Ituri (FRPI): The FRPI operates in Ituri province, particularly south of the provincial capital, Bunia. The militia opposes FARDC and is composed of members of the Ngiti, a subgroup of the Lendu. The FRPI split from the FNI during 2004 leadership disputes. In November 2009, former FRPI commander Germain Katanga stood on trial at the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity. On May 23, 2014, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The strength of the FRPI substantially diminished following FARDC attacks on FRPI militants in 2013, but they remain active in the Ituri secessionist movement. The FRPI has been accused of using child soldiers.

11. People’s Armed Forces of Congo/Forces Armées du Peuple Congolais (FAPC) (inactive): In 2005, original leader Jerome Kakwavu Bukande was integrated into FARDC as a general. Following Bukande, FAPC rebels surrendered their weapons and joined the national army. In April 2010, judicial authorities in Kinshasa arrested Bukande on charges of rape and torture. He is the first general in the DRC to be arrested for rape (Trial International).

12. Forces des Défenses des Intérets du Peuple Congolais (FDIPC): A small self-defence group of armed Hutu youth under spokesperson Jackson Baharunye, the FDIPC was formed in April 2013 to expel M23 forces from the country in collaboration with the Congolese Army. Human rights organizations have alleged that FDIPC fighters used kidnapping as a strategy. In April 2015, FDIPC commander Jean Emmanuel Biriko, his wife, and other fighters were charged with kidnapping (Human Rights Watch). Despite the commander’s arrest, the kidnapping persisted.

13. Congolese Rally for Democracy/Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD) (inactive): Led by Laurent Nkunda, the RCD was the main rebel group that controlled most of eastern DRC during the second Congo War (1998-2003). There were two main divisions:
a. Congolese Rally for Democracy–National/Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie – National (RCD-National): RCD-National was led by former rebel leader Roger Lumbala, now an MP representing the Rally of Congolese Democrats and Nationalists. It was established in Isiro, the capital of Haut-Uele Province in northeastern DRC, and Watsa territory (about 215km from Isiro, also in Haut-Uele Province).
b. Congolese Rally for Democracy – Liberation Movement/Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie – Mouvement de Libération (RCD-ML):
RCD-ML was established in the North Kivu province in eastern DRC. In 2008, its president and commander-in-chief, Bemba Gombo, was arrested on two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes in the Central African Republic. His trial at the International Criminal Court began in November 2010. In 2016, he was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison. RCD-ML was led by former rebel leader, Mbusa Nyamwisi, now a politician.

14. Raia Mutomboki: Formed in 2011, it began operating mainly in North and South Kivu, and in Maniema provinces. Its main goal is to protect its communities and expel the FDLR (see below). The Raia Mutomboki claim that the Congolese army has not been able to protect the population and that their group should be accepted as a legitimate security force. In 2012, the UN Joint Human Rights Office released a report documenting human rights violation by the Raia Mutomboki, including arbitrary execution and sexual mutilation (IB Times).

15. National People’s Coalition for the Sovereignty of Congo – Coalition nationale du peuple pour la souveraineté du Congo (CNPSC): In the region of South Kivu, a new coalition group formed in 2017 that calls itself the National People’s Coalition for the Sovereignty of Congo (Coalition nationale du peuple pour la souveraineté du Congo, CNPSC).The group aims to bring down President Kabila who is seen as illegitimate in their eyes for his refusal to follow constitutional law and step down after his second term of presidency.

16. Bana Mura: A new militia group called Bana Mura was formed in March 2017 by people from the Tshokwe, Pende, and Tetela ethnic groups. The group is active in the Kasaï region, and has committed vast human rights violations such as mass killings and rape.

Foreign Armed Forces

17. Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda/ Forces Combattantes Abacunguzi (FDLR/FOCA): The FDLR was formed by Rwandan Hutus who fled the Rwandan genocide, regrouping in eastern DRC. Until the defeat of the M23, they primarily promoted armed struggle against the Rwandan Tutsi government. In 1998, under DRC President Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s leadership, the FDLR formed an alliance with the government. This ended when Joesph Kabila became president and permitted Rwandan troops to enter DRC and fight FDLR rebels. It has collaborated with FARDC at the local level, but also opposed it. FDLR is led by Major General Sylvestre Mudacumur, who is wanted by the ICC on war crimes charges. The FDLR was weakened by Congolese military attacks late in 2013. Efforts to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate fighters has reduced their numbers from approximately 9,000 in 2009 to 1,000 to 1,500, according to UN security sources (International Business Times).

18. Allied Democratic Forces (ADF): Founded in 1995 to oppose the Ugandan government, the ADF is based in the mountainous Uganda-DRC border area in northeast DRC. Led by Supreme Leader Jaber Ali Nansa and military commander Hood Lukwago, it operates primarily in the North Kivu province and was estimated to have between 1,200 and 2,500 fighters in 2013. According to the UN Group of Experts ADF became stronger and more aggressive in 2013. In 2014, the Congolese army, FARDC, dealt heavy blows to ADF causing a reduction in troops. In 2015, Jamil Mukulu, the ADF’s leaer, was arrested and extradited to Uganda.

19. Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA): The LRA has waged a brutal, guerrilla war against the Ugandan government since the late 1980s. After the ICC’s 2004 arrest warrants for five LRA commanders, including its leader Joseph Kony, LRA forces relocated to Garamba National Park, DRC. Notable attacks on Congolese communities began in 2008 following a joint UN-army operation against the LRA in the DRC. LRA attacks resulted in the displacement of thousands in the former northeast province of Orientale (divided into Bas-Uele, Haut-Uele and Tshopo provinces and Ituri Interim Administration in 2015). In 2011, Ugandan troops supported by 100 U.S. Special Forces pursued Kony and LRA combatants, encouraging them to defect and return home. Estimates indicate LRA strength fell from 400 fighters in 2010 to approximately 250 by 2013 (Washington Post). Despite defections and Joseph Kony’s increasingly erratic leadership, the LRA remains a grave threat in the region. In early 2016, it abducted 220 civilians – mostly children – in eastern Central African Republic, possibly to train a new generation of fighters. Originating in Uganda in 1986, the LRA operates in the DRC, CAR, and South Sudan. Kony proclaims himself the spokesperson of God. He is currently believed to be in hiding in South Sudan.

20. Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL): The FNL, led by Aloys Nzamapena, operated with approximately 300 combatants recruited from Burundi. At times the FNL collaborated with the FDLR and attacked the DRC government and MONUSCO.

International Actors

21. UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo / Mission de l’ONU pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo (MONUSCO): In November 1999, the UN Security Council created MONUC (Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en République Démocratique du Congo) in Resolution 1279 to monitor the peace process of the Second Congo War. Since then, the UN has reviewed and extended the mission’s mandate on an annual basis through Security Council resolutions.  In July 2010 the UN changed the name of the mission to MONUSCO to reflect a new focus on military forces in eastern DRC, while keeping in reserve a rapid deployment force. In 2013, the UN Security Council passed a resolution permitting a specialized Intervention Brigade to be deployed for an initial one-year period to reduce threats to civilians and national security. The MONUSCO budget 2014-2015 was $1,398,475,300 (U.S.). Its budget for 2016-2017 is $1,235,723,100 (United Nations).  To help develop an exit strategy, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2277 in March 2016, which reduced MONUSCO forces by 1,700 troops. The 2016 authorization includes civilian, judiciary, and correction components, as well as 22,016 uniformed personnel, including:

  • 19,815 military personnel
  • 760 military observers
  • 391 police
  • 1,050 personnel of formed police units (MONUSCO).

22. Government of Rwanda: In 2012 the UN Security Council reported that Rwanda had provided M23 rebels with troop reinforcements, tactical advice and advanced military hardware.  UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous noted that M23 rebels had deployed sophisticated night-vision equipment and indirect-fire artillery pieces. The UN Group of Experts later suggested that “external support” by Rwanda had facilitated the transfer of such military technologies. In 2012 the U.S. State Department announced that it had cut $200,000 in military aid allocations to Rwanda, citing growing evidence of its sponsorship of M23. U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp also suggested that Rwandan authorities – including President Paul Kagame – could subsequently be charged for “aiding and abetting” war crimes in the DRC. The UK decided to withhold $33.6-million in aid to Rwanda because of these allegations. The Government of Rwanda has summarily denied all allegations of M23 sponsorship.

Ethnic Groups

23. Twa (or Batwa) Militias: The Twa are an indigenous ethnic group, known as “Pygmy,” who live in the Lake Kivu area of eastern DRC. They contend that the neighbouring Luba live in better social and economic conditions. The Batwa have traditionally been marginalized by other communities and denied land ownership and access to health and education by local authorities, many of whom are Luba. Tensions between Twa militias and the Luba led to large-scale fighting in 2013. In the first few months of 2015, brutal violence erupted again and MONUSCO deployed peacekeepers to the area.

Versus

24. Luba Militias: The Luba are ethnic Bantu who live in the south-central region of the DRC. Luba-dominated Mai Mai militias have attacked the neighbouring Twa. Reuters considers the violence to be fueled by Luba opposition to Twa calls for social and economic equality (Reuters).

Status of Fighting

2017 Armed group violence was widespread and the overall security situation deteriorated in the first part of the year. In early January, dozens were killed in a clash between security forces and Kamuina Nsapu militia in Kasai-Central province. On January 15, Hutu militia killed six people in an attack on Kyaghala, South Kivu province. January also saw clashes between Pygmy and Bantu militias in Tanganyika province, with 43 killed in two incidents. The Congolese government had warned in January that the former military commander of M23 had crossed over from Uganda accompanied by armed fighters. In February, clashes occurred between M23 rebels and the Congolese army. The army claimed that it killed 20 M23 rebels that month.

In March, violence intensified between the Kamuina Nsapu and government forces in Kasai-Central province. Also in March, two members of the UN Security Council DRC Sanctions Committee’s Group of Experts, Swedish-Chilean citizen Zaida Catalan and U.S. national Michael Sharp, were captured and later executed while on an investigative mission in the Kasaï Central province. The government showed a video of the killing to journalists, who pointed out that local Kamuina Nsapu militia appear in it. From March to June, the Bana Mura militia killed an estimated 251 members of the Luba and Lulua communities, including 62 children—32 under the age of eight.

Clashes followed an attack by rebel group Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) on a prison in Kinshasa. On August 7, 14 members of  the BDK were killed by government forces in Kinshasa; one police officer also died. On September 15, during a protest in Kamanyola, government forces fired at the crowd of Burundian refugees protesting the detention and deportation of four refugees by DRC government agents. as many as 39 people were killed and more than 100 injured. On September 28, MONUSCO deployed troops to Uvira in the province of South Kivu after clashes between various armed groups and FARDC.

On October 30, five civilians are killed and 15 wounded by security forces during protests in Goma. On November 5,, conflict erupted in the city of Bukavu as Congolese troops attempted to disarm Colonel Abbas Kayonga, who had been fired days earlier.

On December 7, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) attacked a MONUSCO base in North Kivu, killing at least 15 UN peacekeepers, all from Tanzania, and injuring many more. This resulted in fighting between rebel forces, MONUSCO, and FARDC. UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the attack  “worst on UN peacekeepers in recent history.”

On December 31, seven civilians were killed and more than 120 arrested by security forces in Kinshasa after anti-government protests calling for Kabila to step down.

2016 Throughout the year, insecurity remained high, especially in the Kivu area. Rebels, opposition groups, and the Congolese army attacked civilians in the Beni and Kivu territories (International Crisis Group). Rebel groups continued to use child soldiers and kidnapped Congolese civilians and 20 humanitarian workers. From January to November, MONUSCO documented approximately 4,600 human right violations in the DRC. Of these, 2,915 violations and 398 civilian deaths were committed by state agents and 1,684 violations and 597 deaths were committed by armed groups (Security Council Report).

Tensions between the Hutu and Nande persisted, with the Nande accusing the Hutu of cooperation with the FDLR (International Crisis Group). Armed rebel groups, such the UDPU and the FDLR, increased their attacks on other ethnic groups, killing at least 170 civilians and burning 2,200 homes (Human Rights Watch). Ongoing offensives by the Congolese army against the FDLR led many more civilians to seek shelter in internally displaced persons camps in the Masisi region. Authorities accused IDP camps of hiding rebels and weapons and closed four of the seven camps in the area.

2015 Militias carried out campaigns of intimidation, with North and South Kivu hit particularly hard. In these two provinces, the ADF and FDLR targeted civilians. According to MONUSCO, the ADF had killed 347 civilians between October 2014 and June 2015 (Report of Secretary General June 26 2015, p. 04). Other militia groups, including Mai Mai militias, the FRPI, and the LRA, also remained active in the eastern region. Increasingly, according to Human Rights Watch, militia groups were turning to kidnapping to instill fear and raise funds. HRW estimated that at least 175 people were abducted this year (Human Rights Watch).

MONUSCO and FARDC launched an offensive entitled Sukola I, which cleared a major ADF camp. FARDC unilaterally launched the Sukola II offensive against FDLR elements. ACLED reported a spike in FDLR violence following the operation, as the militia group fought the FARDC and exacted revenge on civilians (ACLED, Conflict Trend Report No. 42, October 2015 p. 05). In May, four key FRPI commanders and 300 fighters gathered, intending to surrender.  When negotiations broke down in June, FARDC and MONUSCO engaged the group in armed combat. MONUSCO reported that the operation killed 44 FPRI, wounded 56, and disarmed 129 (Report of Secretary-General, 22 September, 2015, p. 02).

Interethnic fighting also occurred. According to MONUSCO, fighting between the Twa and Luba ethnic groups killed 221 people in the first half of 2015 (Report of Secretary General June 26, 2015, 06). The two groups reportedly signed a peace agreement in October.

2014 According to ACLED, non-state groups did not make new territorial gains and the government doubled the amount of restored land. The FDLR, ADF, LRA, Burundian FNL, and FRPI continued to threaten security. Local and foreign armed groups produced more instability in Orientale, North Kivu, South Kivu and Katanga provinces. ACLED reported that armed violence was mainly concentrated in Walikale, Irumu, Oicha, Beni and Gombe. A military operation launched in January by the Congolese armed forces dealt heavy blows to the ADF.

Armed groups continued to recruit child soldiers and commit other grave abuses such as torture, enslavement, and sexual violence, according to the UN. Mai Mai militias were accused of killing more than 70 civilians in North Kivu in February. Thirty-three people, including eight children, were killed in Mutarule, South Kivu in June in an attack that occurred amid heightened tensions between the Bafuliro ethnic group and the Barundi and Banyamulenge ethnic groups. During the last three months more than 250 people were killed in Beni, North Kivu; most reports held the ADF responsible. The passive response of the Force Intervention Brigade of MONUSCO was condemned. The UN reported instances of sexual violence by members of the Burundian army that was deployed in South Kivu to fight FNL. June saw border clashes between Congolese and Rwandan armed forces; each country blamed the other for starting the conflict.

2013 The deployment of the MONUSCO Intervention Brigade helped government forces to restore a measure of stability in eastern DRC. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED) reported that, by the end of the year, all territory in North Kivu province formerly held by M23 rebels had been recaptured by the government.

Deployment of the 3,000 strong Intervention Brigade began in May; it later fought alongside the FARDC. When fighting resumed in spring 2013, M23 and government forces clashed repeatedly over territory around Goma. Rwanda continued to provide M23 with military supplies. After a period of respite, fighting increased in late July and August; the Intervention Brigade and FARDC made significant gains in retaking M23-held territory. On July 30, MONUSCO forces announced the creation of a security zone in Goma and surrounding areas. In August, the government accused Rwanda of firing rockets on Goma in an attempt to strengthen the position of the M23. Negotiations in September between the government and the M23 dissolved and fighting resumed in late October. After a series of successful offences by the FARDC, on November 5 the M23 surrendered and the Government of Uganda reported that hundreds of M23 fighters had crossed into Uganda. In December, the FARDC turned its attention to the FDLR, which also operated in North and South Kivu provinces. As the year came to an end, more than 40 youths were killed when they attacked government bases in Kinshasa.

While most fighting occurred in Kivu provinces, the LRA did maintain operations in Orientale province. High levels of violence were also seen in Katanga province, where Mai Mai militia groups were active.

The Human Rights Watch report for 2013 noted “widespread war crimes” from the M23, including summary executions, rape, and forced recruitment of children. It reported that between March and July 2013 the M23 was responsible for 44 summary executions and the rape of 61 women and girls. Human Rights Watch held Mai Mai fighters and FARDC soldiers responsible for brutal attacks on civilians and crimes of sexual violence.

2012 Citing President Kabila’s unwillingness to implement the March 2009 Peace Accord between the Government of the DRC and the National Congress for the Defence of the People, Bosco Ntaganda – former CNDP Chief of Staff, later a FARDC General – led a mutiny in North Kivu. In April Ntaganda formed the March 23 Movement (M23) with the support of approximately 300 ex-CNDP soldiers who had been formally integrated into the DRC armed forces. Subsequent clashes between M23 rebels and FARDC troops spread panic and displaced thousands in eastern regions. FARDC operations suffered continuous defections in North and South Kivu, Orientale Province and Kasai Occidental. After FARDC forces abandoned entrenched positions and heavier weapons, M23 rebels swiftly advanced across North Kivu, capturing the towns of Bunagana, Rutshuru, Rubare, and Ntamugenga. M23 forces grew from approximately 500 to 3,000. In November M23 rebels captured Goma. The UN Security Council reported that Rwanda had helped M23 with troop reinforcement, tactical advice, and military equipment. MONUSCO troops reportedly repelled attacks on their positions in Goma with helicopter gunships, but did not attempt to repel the hostile takeover of the city. M23 rebels reportedly abducted women and children, intimidated journalists, and destroyed property in and around Goma. MONUSCO troops were permitted to conduct patrols in Goma. Following Ugandan-sponsored talks, M23 rebels withdrew from Goma in early December. The UN Refugee Agency estimated that M23 actions resulted in the displacement of 140,000 inhabitants.

2011 While military operations against foreign and domestic armed groups in the east and north were on a smaller scale than in previous years, all sides in the conflicts continued to attack civilians and commit other serious human rights abuses, particularly sexual violence against women. In the east, the army continued military operations against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. The government opened secret negotiations with the FDLR to encourage it to disarm and resettle in another part of Congo, but the talks failed. According to Congolese and Ugandan officials, LRA leader Joseph Kony returned to the eastern DRC from the Central African Republic in February. Officials believed he was in Orientale Province, although his precise whereabouts could not be confirmed. In the north, Congolese forces as well as military forces from Uganda and South Sudan fought the LRA. The United States sent 100 U.S. troops in October to act as advisors to domestic forces. Little progress was made to apprehend top LRA leaders wanted by the ICC. MONUSCO and Congolese army efforts to protect civilians in LRA-affected areas remained ineffective. Electoral violence, including attacks on supply trucks and at polling stations between November 26 and 28, killed at least 18 and injured hundreds. Ballots were burned and several police officers were killed when gunmen attacked polling stations. Tshisekedi and opposition parties refused to accept the election results declaring Kabila president and called for Kabila’s arrest for tampering with polls. Kabila responded by ordering attacks on protestors and civilians supporting the opposition. In the days after the election results were announced, Kabila’s Republican Guard killed more than 30 opposition supporters.

2010 Fighting was focused: the Enyele rebels in the northwest, Lord’s Resistance Army in the northeast, Rwandan rebels in North and South Kivu, and Hema and Lendu rebels in Ituri. A UN-backed government military operation, Amani Leo, was launched on January 1 to eradicate FDLR rebels within three months in North and South Kivu. While the operation’s primary aim was to protect civilians, it also aimed to regain control of mining sites to end illegal trafficking in minerals and other natural resources. The UN Security Council extended MONUSCO’s mission to June 30, 2011, focusing its military forces in eastern DRC, while keeping a reserve force for rapid deployment. Almost 24 former armed groups joined the national army through the reintegration process. However, reports surfaced of Rwandan troops infiltrating DRC government forces as ex-CNDP fighters. Government troops faced an insurgency by the Enyele ethnic group over local fishing rights in western Equateur Province. The LRA continued attacking civilians in northern DRC. According to a report by Amnesty International, more than 300 women, girls, men, and boys were raped by armed men in Walikale Territory, North Kivu, between July 30 and August 2, 30 kilometres from a UN peacekeepers base. Perpetrators were reportedly FDLR fighters.

2009 In response to a joint offensive by Ugandan, Congolese and South Sudanese security forces, the LRA conducted waves of attacks against civilians in the northeastern DRC province of Haute Yele from December 24, 2008 to January 17, 2009, killing and abducting civilians. Early in the year, a joint Rwandan-Congolese military force began operations against the FDLR in eastern Congo, prompting concerns from the UN and human rights groups about the escalating humanitarian crisis. Human rights groups criticized the UN for not doing enough to protect civilians. In response, the UN head of humanitarian affairs cited the UN’s limited resources in such a vast country. After the joint military operation began in January, increasing numbers of Rwandan Hutu rebels returned to Rwanda–from as few as 30 a week before the operation to 300 a week. Rwandan President Paul Kagame rejected any negotiations that included the recognition of the FDLR as a political party. Clashes occurred in the Equateur province of the DRC between Lobala and Boba people over fishing rights, with more than 100 killed and up to 50,000 fleeing their homes. Unrest grew in the Congolese army when soldiers went unpaid for six months, presumably because commanders were keeping money provided by the UN. Soldiers fired on a UN base in eastern DRC. Some army unrest was attributed to fast-tracking CNDP militia into the army.

2008 The Goma peace accord was signed in January by the CNDP and the government but excluded Rwandan Hutu groups. Fighting continued in North Kivu as the government pledged to forcibly disarm FDLR rebels who refused to disarm voluntarily. The government faced allegations later in the year that it was using FDLR forces against other militia groups, including PARECO and the CDNP. Fighting in the Bas-Congo between the army and the Bundu Kia Kongo increased, as did violence in Ituri between the government and rebel groups. Government and MONUC units were deployed in the east to respond to increased LRA attacks. Civilians periodically attacked UN convoys or compounds throughout the year. Sexual violence grew, with 2,200 cases of rape reported in North Kivu in June alone. Continuing violence forced internally displaced people to move repeatedly. According to the UN, all sides in the conflict continued to commit human rights violations. Women were increasingly vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse, and boys and girls were vulnerable to abduction.

2007 Fighting continued to plague North and South Kivu and Ituri, where government forces clashed repeatedly with rebel factions, most notably the CNDP. Eight UN peacekeepers were reported killed. Recruitment of child soldiers, including those who had been demobilized, reportedly increased. Fighting erupted in Bas-Congo when demonstrations against the previous year’s presidential elections turned violent. According to reports, government troops responded to protests with excessive and indiscriminate force against civilians, including sexual violence.

2006 The provinces of North and South Kivu, Ituri, and Katanga all witnessed continued hostilities throughout 2006. The UN peacekeeping mission, backed by government forces, clashed repeatedly with Mai Mai rebels in central Katanga. Although some Mai Mai reportedly surrendered and began to disarm, many remained in the bush. The Ugandan government continued to back rebels fighting in the Ituri region; the conflict displaced thousands. The Congolese army, underfunded and malnourished, experienced an increase in cases of mutiny and attacks on civilians and UN aid stations, and was accused of human rights abuses, involving rape and summary execution. Rebel forces continued to recruit child soldiers, producing the world’s highest concentration of children involved in conflict. The election led to violence between supporters of Joseph Kabila from the east and those of opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba from the west. Continued fighting, floods, and lack of transportation infrastructure prevented humanitarian aid from reaching conflict zones, sometimes for as long as 12 months, causing many civilian casualties from hunger and disease.

2005 Fighting continued in eastern DRC, particularly South and North Kivu, Katanga, and Ituri. UN and government forces launched a series of major attacks against the FDLR in South and North Kivu provinces in July, destroying an FDLR base. The UN also launched a major operation in Ituri against the Mai Mai, Hema, and Lendu militias. The latter two groups also fought each other, and Mai Mai and RCD-Goma militias clashed in the region. Uganda-based LRA rebels were forced out of the DRC after briefly entering the country to evade Sudanese and Ugandan troops. Fighting also broke out briefly in the capital, Kinshasa, between government troops and former rebels. Tens of thousands of civilians remained displaced both within and beyond the DRC. Disarmament of some militias present in the DRC continued and the FAPC militia was fully disarmed. In Katanga, 4,000 gunmen disarmed in return for bicycles in August. In April, the UPC unilaterally declared an end to fighting after the arrest of its leader.

2004 Fighting occurred primarily in eastern DRC in Katanga and North and South Kivu. Population displacement continued in conflict areas, but a significant number of refugees also returned to their homes from neighbouring countries. Voluntary repatriation of Rwandan Hutu rebels continued with limited success.

2003 Intense fighting in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu and Ituri continued despite the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Congolese territory; UN attempts to disarm, demobilize and repatriate both Congolese and foreign ex-combatants; and the creation of a transitional government. Bunia, the capital of Ituri province, suffered the most devastation as Hema and Lendu militias fought for control of the city after Ugandan forces withdrew in May. These ethnic clashes, along with several civilian massacres—the most significant in the Ituri town of Drodro, where thousands were slain—were characterized as genocide by some analysts. Although the UN mission and the European Union intervention force helped to stabilize Bunia later in the year, they were unable to intervene outside the city, where much of the ethnic violence occurred. In addition to killing civilians, many armed groups employed sexual violence to terrorize local populations. The government and armed groups continued to recruit children as combatants.

2002 Fighting continued despite government efforts to forge peace agreements with rebel factions and foreign troops. All parties were guilty of inciting violence and attacking and brutalizing civilians, and the humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate. Soldiers of the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) executed hundreds of combatants and civilians in retaliation for an attempted mutiny in Kisangani. After Rwanda’s withdrawal from Kindu in the east, in accordance with a July peace deal, heavy fighting between the RCD and the tribal Mai Mai militia broke out.

2001 Some progress was made in implementing the Lusaka Peace Accords in April when the warring sides agreed to pull back their forces 15 kilometres from front lines. Further progress was made when Namibia withdrew its combat troops from the DRC. Hopes for a peaceful settlement were overshadowed by fierce fighting in the north and east throughout the year, with strategic cities and towns falling and being retaken by opposing factions.

2000 All sides—rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda and Congolese government forces supported by Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola—were accused of violating the Lusaka ceasefire, hampering the planned deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission. Intense fighting took place in Kisangani between Rwandan and Ugandan troops in early June. (Both states entered DRC in support of the rebels but failed to agree on which of three factions to support.) The Congolese government and its allies launched a new wave of attacks against rebels in early August, pressing on in September and October. Meanwhile, President Laurent Kabila’s key state allies expressed impatience with his refusal to cooperate with the ceasefire accord.

1999 Fighting continued in 1999 despite a ceasefire signed by the government and the rebels in Lusaka. Several clashes between two factions of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (DRC) led to an August military confrontation between Rwanda and Uganda in Kisangani. Many civilians died in ethnic fighting.  By year’s end, the government had lost control of more than half the country to rebel groups.

1998 Over the New Year holiday, 500 people were massacred in raids by soldiers aligned with the rebels. In November, some Sudanese rebels joined the conflict, raising the total number of outside states involved in the war to six.

Number of Dead and Displaced

Total: The International Rescue Committee estimated that 350,000 deaths occurred as a direct result of conflict violence between 1998 and 2001. In 2010, the International Rescue Committee reported 5.4-million deaths in the DRC directly and indirectly related to the conflict, but cautioned that this figure could be as low as 3-million or as high as 7.6-million (NBC News). The mass displacement, collapse of health systems, and food shortages from the 1992-2002 war all contributed to high mortality (International Rescue Committee).

The UN reported that more than 200,000 women and girls had been documented as victims of rape and sexual violence in the DRC between 1998 and 2013 (UN Outreach Program on the Rwandan Genocide); the total is likely much higher. The Congolese military, the FARDC, and other armed opposition groups have all been accused of gross human rights violations, notably rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Insecurity, malnutrition, disease, and poor healthcare and living conditions in the DRC continue to cause elevated mortality. In conjunction with the Burnet Institute, the International Rescue Committee reported more than 45,000 non-combatant deaths per month in January 2008.

2017 There were approximately conflict-related 1,900 deaths in 2017.

According to estimates, there are roughly 4.5 million internally displaced peoples in the DRC, with nearly 1.9 million displaced since January 2017. The province with the highest level of IDPs is North Kivu, followed by Tanganyika and South Kivu.

In January 2018, there were 540,000 refugees.

2016 According to the ACLED, 1,261 people were killed during the year. This number included military, armed rebel militants, and civilians (ACLED, results filtered for DRC 2016).

Refugees and IDPs: The UNHCR reported 477,682 Congolese refugees living in neighbouring countries, the majority in Uganda (UNHCR). In December 2016, there were 1.9 million IDPs in the DRC (OCHA).

2015 According to ACLED, 1,599 people, including civilians, rebels, MONUSCO peacekeepers, and government forces, were killed in the first 11 months of the year including civilians, rebels, MONUSCO peacekeepers and government forces (ACLED, Realtime Complete All Africa File, results filtered for DR Congo, 2015).

Refugees and IDPs: In June 2015, UHHRC reported that there were 535,323 refugees and 75,350 asylum seekers (UNHCR, 2015 Country Operations Profile), while MONUSCO reported approximately 2.8-million internally displaced people (Report of Secretary General June 26, 2015, p. 07). The peacekeeping force estimated that 237,967 refugees were living in the DRC at the end of May (Report of Secretary General June 26, 2015, p. 07).

2014 According to International Crisis Group, there were more than 408 conflict-related deaths, at least 353 civilian.

Refugees and IDPs: According to the UNHCR, there were 493,494 refugees and 73,934 asylum seekers from DRC and 2,611,558 internally displaced persons in July. Most refugees resided in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. In March 2014 UN Security Council reported that 90,000 people were displaced by ADF militancy in Beni, while approximately 40,000 people were displaced in Orientale, Katanga and Maniema provinces by armed group and military operations.  The report maintained that armed conflict caused 90 per cent of total displacements in DRC.

In May the UN reported that more than 130,000 DRC citizens had been expelled from Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo; there were allegations of ill treatment and human rights abuses. Authorities in Brazzaville claimed that the deportations were intended to improve security. Another 19,961 refugees and 246,547 IDPs had returned by mid-July.

2013 Approximately 335 conflict deaths, including civilians, government forces, opposition forces and international actors, were reported by International Crisis Group. Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) reported 1,337 fatalities for the period January 1 to October 31. A battle in June between the APCLS and a Mai Mai militia group killed 150. In July, International Crisis Group reported clashes between M23 and FARDC that resulted in 120 deaths. In December, 46 armed youths were killed while attacking a state camp in Kinshasa. An attack by the ADF-NALU on a Kamango village in December reportedly resulted in 40 fatalities. ACLED reported that 46 per cent of M23 actions targeted civilians.

Refugees: UNHCR 2013 estimates put the number of Congolese refugees at 490,000 and internally displaced persons at 2.6 million. The DRC also hosts more than 180,000 refugees from other countries, including 50,000 from the Central African Republic who fled conflict in 2013.

2012 Clashes between M23 and FARDC resulted in an estimated 300-400 combatant deaths, although rebel and government press statements provided markedly different figures. M23 rebels were accused by the government of killing more than 60 civilians and wounding 200 more in the capture of Goma, although the UN could not confirm numbers. Approximately 100 civilians, including women and children, were reportedly killed in operations by the FDLR. Fighting between local militia groups in North Kivu resulted in an additional 30-50 deaths. In clashes with rebels one UN peacekeeper was killed, while another six were reported wounded. The UN has accused both FARDC and M23 soldiers of raping and killing civilians in North Kivu.

2011 More than 100 people were killed, most in electoral violence. In October, five aid workers were killed in South Kivu. The LRA reportedly killed more than 35 unarmed civilians, policemen, and military forces and kidnapped hundreds more. On January 1, at least 33 women were raped in South Kivu province.

2010 An estimated 800 people were killed. According to Human Rights Watch, the LRA killed an estimated 600 people and abducted 473; an estimated 105 civilians were killed in western Masisi territory. According to the UN, approximately 100 civilians were killed in clashes between government forces and an insurgency led by the Enyele ethnic group in the western Equateur Province. Three UN soldiers and one human rights worker were killed.

According to UNHCR, 7,685 cases of sexual violence were reported in the first six months of 2010; more than half the victims were under 18. In early August, FDLR soldiers and members of the Mai Mai militia systematically gang-raped 303 civilians in 13 villages in the Walikale territory. Violence in 2010 left more than 2 million people displaced.

2009 An estimated 2,661 civilians, 500 rebels and 58 Congolese soldiers were killed. According to Human Rights Watch, approximately 1,000 civilians were killed in the joint offensive against the LRA by Uganda, DRC and Sudan. HRW reported that the UN-backed Kimia II military operation killed more than 1,400 civilians. According to Reuters news agency, more than 7,000 women and girls were raped and 900,000 people were forced to flee their homes. The LRA killed 815 people between December 2008 and January 17.

2008 An estimated 1,500 civilians and 300 government and rebel fighters were killed. Between September and January 2009, the LRA killed 1,033. Fatalities from heavy guerrilla fighting in remote regions continued to go unreported. Thousands of women were victims of sexual violence. Two aid workers were killed.

2007 Demonstrations in the Bas-Congo killed 134. Intense fighting between the government and rebel groups reportedly killed 600 in March. Hundreds more were displaced and died from malnutrition and disease. According to estimates, 900 civilians, 400 rebels and 100 government troops were killed. Eight UN peacekeepers were killed in early January. Thousands of women continued to be victims of large-scale sexual violence.

2006 According to estimates, between 200-300 rebels, 150 government soldiers and 500 civilians were killed. Thousands of civilians died from hunger and malnutrition. Thousands of women were raped.

2005 At least 300 people were reported killed.

2004 At least 330 people were killed.

2003 According to a U.S. State Department report, more than 8,000 civilians died as a direct result of the conflict. Thousands more died from conflict-related malnutrition and disease.

2002 According to independent media reports, more than 1,000 people died as a direct result of the conflict. A U.S. State Department report cited more than 4,000 fatalities. Thousands more died from conflict-related famine and disease.

2001 Conflicts in remote areas and limited media access made precise fatality figures impossible to obtain. Unsubstantiated reports suggested that thousands were killed.

2000 At least 1,200 people were killed. The International Rescue Committee estimated that 2,600 people died each day from malnutrition and disease.

1999 At least 5,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed.

1998 An estimated 5,000 people, most civilians, were killed.

Political Developments

2017 In March, Catholic bishops withdrew from their mediation role when the government did not meet the agreed-upon election date. In June, an “urgent appeal” by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and nine former African presidents called for a peaceful transition to democracy, warning of future instability if Kabila remained in office. Also in June, the United States imposed sanctions on General François Olenga, the “personal military chief of staff of President Kabila.” On July 26, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, leader of militia group Mai Mai Sheka, surrendered to MONUSCO. An arrest warrant had been out on him since 2011 with charges of mass rape and crimes against humanity.

On November 5, the government announced plans to hold elections in December 2018, even though Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two-term presidency should have ended in December 2016. As of September 2017, an estimated 41-million voters had been registered by the Independent National Election Committee.

2016 Tensions remained high as the possibility of President Joseph Kabila’s breaching the constitution and remaining in office for a third term became more likely. The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) continued to delay elections, citing budget constraints and the need to update voter registers. In May, the constitutional court ruled that Kabila could legally stay in office, if elections were not held. Opposition leaders asserted that it was unconstitutional for Kabila to remain in power past his current term which ends on December 19, 2016 (Security Council Report). Protestors across the DRC demanded Kabila’s resignation. During the year, the central government held several mediated talks, known as a National Dialogue, with civil society groups and the opposition coalition.

Two major demonstrations against President Kabila took place late in the year. In September, protests erupted after the national electoral commission failed to announce a timetable for the presidential election, which had been expected to occur in November. Human rights groups reported 53 deaths (civilians and some police officers), while the Congolese government reported 17 dead (CNN). Human rights organizations and the UN criticized the police response in which teargas and live ammunition were deployed to disperse protesters. In October, the governing coalition and smaller political parties agreed to delay elections until April 2018 (The Guardian). In December, President Kabila remained in power despite the end of his constitutional mandate; popular protests resulted in 40 deaths and 460 arrests (Human Rights Watch).

Throughout the year, the international community criticized the Congolese government for its contempt of human rights. Local authorities in three cities, including Kinshasa, imposed blanket bans on demonstrations (Africa News). Security forces broke up protests with teargas and live bullets; more than 100 activists and opposition leaders were arrested (Human Rights Watch). In May, the justice minister opened a case against the leader of the G7 opposition party, Moïse Katumbi, for allegedly recruiting mercenaries. After being allowed to leave the country for health reasons, Katumbi was convicted in absentia in an unrelated forgery case and sentenced to three years in prison (Human Rights Watch). In December, the leader of the MLP opposition party, Franck Diongo, was sentenced to five years in prison for detaining three soldiers during democracy protests (Reuters). Diongo, reportedly mistreated during his arrest, attended the trial in a wheelchair and on an intravenous drip and was unable to defend himself (Human Rights Watch).

Human rights organizations criticized the government after it closed down several media outlets friendly to the opposition, cut the signal of Radio France International, and temporarily blocked UN-supported Radio Okapi. In November, Communications Minister Lambert Menda issued a decree that made it increasingly difficult for foreign radio and TV stations to operate in the DRC (Amnesty International).

In response to political repression, the United States imposed sanctions on senior DRC officials, including the Congolese intelligence chief, in September and December. The EU also sanctioned seven senior officials who had actively participated in the repression of the democracy protests in December (Human Rights Watch). The travel bans and freezing of asset were intended to deter further repression (France 24). DRC’s opposition parties criticized the sanctions as ineffective and argued for direct sanctions on Kabila (International Business Times).

The International Criminal Court gained historic convictions for war crimes and crimes against humanity and began new trials. In March, Jean-Pierre Bemba, former rebel leader and former Congolese vice-president, was found guilty of mass murder, rape, and pillage in the Central African Republic. This was the ICC’s first trial that focused on the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war (The Guardian). In the same month, the ICC laid 70 charges against Dominic Ongwen for war crimes and crimes against humanity, some of which involved attacks on refugee camps in the DRC. The LRA leader is the first former child soldier to stand trial at the ICC. Observers identify Ongwen as both perpetrator and victim; his trial began in December (The Guardian).

2015 The possibility that Joseph Kabila would run for a third term as President contributed to national unrest. In January, the National Assembly adopted a draft electoral bill delaying 2016 presidential elections until a national census was completed. Opposition politicians claimed that the bill was a means of stalling elections, thus keeping Kabila in power indefinitely (VOA News). MONUSCO noted that at least 27 people died in the subsequent protests in Kinshasa (MONUSCO, Report of the Secretary-General 10 March 2015 p. 02). The discovery of a mass unmarked grave led some observers to speculate that the death toll was higher.

In September, the government excluded the “G7” parties from the ruling coalition after they demanded that presidential elections be held in November 2016 as scheduled. When Kabila called a national dialogue on ongoing electoral issues, the G7 refused to attend. Protestors opposing electoral delays clashed with security forces in Lubumbashi on November 16 and Kinshasa on November 18.

In January and February, MONUSCO refused to cooperate with FARDC in a joint operation because the units of FARDC Generals Fall Sikabwe and Bruno Mandevu  had allegedly committed human rights abuses in North Kivu (IRIN News.org). FARDC then unilaterally launched Sukola II. MONUSCO-FARDC military cooperation continued to be the subject of negotiations (Crisis Watch Database 01 June 2015).

2014 Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programs have made slow progress. On April 12 Mai Mai-Simba leader Paul Sadala and 40 followers surrendered. Two days later Sadala was shot dead in unclear circumstances. In May and June 181 FDLR militants handed over their weapons. In June 83 FDLR militants surrendered and in December 150. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) set January 2, 2015 as the deadline for the FDLR to lay down their weapons. In October MONUSCO and the UN Group of Experts reported that the FDLR continued recruiting and organizing militants. At the end of January 2015 the DRC government announced the start of military operations against FDLR. At least seven local armed groups were established this year, including Raia Mutomboki-Bravo, Cynthia, Kikuni Jurist, Makombo, Ntoto, Nsindo, and Sisawa. Two new Hutu groups with alleged links to the FDLR, Force Populaire pour la Protection des Hutu and Ingobokagihugu, were also created.

In February the government passed an amnesty law for actions involving insurgency, political offences and acts of war that took place between February 18, 2006 and December 20, 2013—excluding crimes against humanity, acts of genocide, war crimes, and acts of treason. By October 193 members of M23 had been granted amnesty, although it reportedly continued to recruit members. An October Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region reported slow progress due to a lack of trust among neighbouring countries, activity by militant groups, and the slow implementation of the Nairobi Declaration. Human Rights Watch raised concerns over the dire living conditions of surrendered fighters from different armed groups and their families which were temporarily placed in the Kotakoli camp. Since the end of 2013, at least 42 demobilized fighters, five women and 57 children had died at the camp.

In August the Congolese government initiated an action plan to address sexual violence perpetrated by soldiers. In December President Kabila announced the formation of a new government that included some members of the opposition. Concerns arose about a proposal to change the constitution to extend limits on the presidential term. On March 28 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2147, which extended the MONUSCO mandate by a year. Relations between the DRC government and MONUSCO were tense after publication of a UN report that detailed human rights violations committed by the Congolese police.  Kabila and other high-ranking officials urged MONUSCO to reduce its forces. On May 23 former FRPI commander Germain Katanga was sentenced to 12 years in prison by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity.   

2013 Negotiations between the government and the M23 rebel group stalled in January, but in February an agreement was reached to recommit to the implementation of the March 2009 peace agreement. On February 24, DRC President Joseph Kabila and representatives from many neighbouring countries and regional organizations signed the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region. The agreement was a pledge by the government to consolidate its authority and work toward reconciliation, democratization and tolerance, and an assurance from regional countries not to interfere in the internal affairs of neighbouring countries or assist armed rebel groups, among other commitments. Signatories implored the international community to support long-term stability in the country and surrounding region and to undertake a strategic review of the MONUSCO mission. On March 18, former M23 leader Bosco Ntaganda turned himself in to the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda and was transferred to the International Criminal Court on March 22 to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. On March 28, the UN Security Council authorized the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade, including three infantry and one artillery battalions, one special force, and a reconnaissance company, for a period of one year, to neutralize armed groups and increase state security, particularly in eastern regions.

A peace agreement, including a Declaration by each side, was signed by the FARDC and M23 on December 12 in Nairobi. Its 11 points included implementation of the March 2009 agreement, amnesty to M23 members for acts of war and insurgency, the return of displaced persons, and demobilization of M23 rebels. The M23 is to transition from an armed insurgent group to a political party.

2012 In February the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) released 2011 election results. The People’s Party for Reconstruction and Development (PPRD) of President Kabila lost significant ground, dropping from 111 to 63 seats in the 500-seat assembly. However, the PPRD is a member of the Alliance of the Presidential Majority, which gives Kabila a majority of seats in the national assembly. The UN Joint Human Rights Office released an anticipated report indicating that forces loyal to President Kabila had killed more than 30 persons during polling. Lt. Col. Idrissa Muradadi, a senior FDLR commander, surrendered to MONUSCO-FARDC forces after a series of military offensives. The operation sparked fears of further civilian displacement and rebel reprisals. The International Criminal Court found Thomas Lubanga, a former militia leader of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo, guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers. Lubanga was the first individual convicted by the ICC. The UN Security Council extended the mandate of MONUSCO to June 2013. A series of UN reports indicated that Rwanda and, to a lesser extent, Burundi and Uganda were backing M23 rebels. The UN Security Council reported that Rwanda’s “external support” facilitated the transfer of arms, information, and personnel to M23. In November, M23 captured Goma, but withdrew following Ugandan-sponsored talks. The International Conference of the Great Lakes Region produced an initial peace deal between the government and M23 rebels, with mediation continuing into 2013. The ICC acquitted Mathieu Ngudjolo Choi, a former militia leader of the National Integrationist Front (FNI) and Patriotic Resistance Force in Ituri (FRPI), of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

2011 In January, in advance of November legislative and presidential elections, the government of Joseph Kabila passed voting reforms that scrapped the possibility of a run-off vote. Critics accused Kabila of making the change to improve his own chances. According to Human Rights Watch, politically motivated human rights violations increased as elections approached; the UN reported 188 cases before the official campaign began in October. The elections were marred by violence and allegations of fraud. Kabila was proclaimed the winner, but opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi rejected the results. International observers reported numerous voting and counting irregularities. The United States called the election “seriously flawed.” Hundreds of thousands of votes were tampered with and 1.3 million ballots went missing.

2010 In July, the World Bank approved a debt relief plan that would save the DRC $12.3-billion. U.S. President Barack Obama signed legislation on May 24 that committed the United States to the creation of a comprehensive strategy to protect civilians from LRA attacks. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict visited the DRC twice in response to the extensive use of sexual violence in the conflict. In April, under pressure from the UN Security Council and human rights groups, judicial authorities in Kinshasa arrested DRC General Jerome Kakwavu for war crimes, including rape and torture; he became the highest-ranking officer so far charged. In October, Callixte Mbarushimana, a leader in the FDLR, was arrested in France on an International Criminal Court warrant. In October, Mayele, the commander of the Mai Mai militia fighters, was handed over to UN peacekeepers. Also in October, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report documenting 617 serious violations of international humanitarian law between 1993 and 2003. The report proposed the establishment of a mixed chamber in DRC to pursue justice for the crimes.

2009 FDLR forces began to leave North Kivu and return to Rwanda. On March 23, the DRC government and the CNDP signed an agreement transforming the rebel group into a political party. CNDP soldiers were to be integrated into the Congolese national army and the police force. A nine-month UN-backed government offensive against the FDLR, called Kimia II, was criticized for causing heavy civilian causalities. In November 2009, FDLR leaders Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni were arrested in Germany. The LRA continued to refuse to sign a final peace treaty until ICC arrest warrants against its leaders were dropped. Senior LRA commander Charles Arop surrendered in the DRC. In April, 18 rebel and armed groups signed an agreement to dissolve.

2008 The Goma Peace Accord, signed in January, was routinely violated. Numerous armed groups withdrew from the accord and later signed individual ceasefire agreements with the government. The Rwandan-backed CNDP agreed to a ceasefire in October. The FDLR refused to disarm and tensions between Rwanda and the DRC grew toward the end of the year. Rwanda was again accused of supplying aid and child soldiers to the CNDP. The Congolese army was accused of working with the FDLR. President Joseph Kabila refused to negotiate further with CNDP leader General Laurent Nkunda. At the end of 2008, the UN Security Council approved the deployment of 3,100 more troops to the DRC. The current mission, MONUC, with 18,000 troops, was stretched thin as violence continued to erupt throughout the country. The International Criminal Court stayed the trial of former Union des Patriotes du Congo leader Thomas Lumbanga over disputed evidence. Two other former DRC leaders were arrested by the ICC and an arrest warrant was issued for a third.

2007 There was renewed violence throughout the country, including the capital, Kinshasa, Although 2006 elections were declared largely free and fair by international observers, supporters of opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba continued to complain of fraud and corruption. According to international observers, the national army and police forces perpetrated some of the DRC’s worst human rights violations. In May, the head of the state intelligence department was killed; in July, Floribert Bwana Chui Bin Kositi, provincial secretary of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), was found slain in Goma. DRC militia chief Germain Katanga was arrested by the ICC on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from massacres in villages and hospitals in the Ituri region.

2006 In August, the DRC held its first democratic elections in 40 years. The polls were mostly peaceful. The runoff between President Joseph Kabila and rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba divided the country, with the east supporting Kabila and the west Bemba. Clashes between Kabila and Bemba supporters were reported. Kabila was sworn in as President on December 6. Bemba urged his supporters to accept the outcome. Kabila began the enormous task of overseeing the reintegration of thousands of ex-combatants and child soldiers into a unified national army and society. A German-led European Union election monitoring mission, supported by 1,500 troops, was deployed to the area surrounding Kinshasa. The international community spent a reported $480-million (U.S.) to oversee the elections. Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga was arrested and brought to the International Criminal Court, where he was awaiting trial for war crimes committed as leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots.

2005 The UN Security Council extended MONUC’s mandate to September 2006 and granted the UN peacekeeping force an additional 300 troops. The Security Council also extended an arms embargo on the DRC to July 2006. Voters approved a new constitution in a December referendum, opening the way for 2006 elections.

2004 The period of transitional government was marred by two coup attempts and the withdrawal of a former rebel group, the Congolese Rally for Democracy, from the government. Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs continued with limited success. The UN increased the MONUC force to 15,000, extended its mandate by a further six months and set up a committee to monitor an arms embargo. The International Criminal Court began investigations into war crimes. A tripartite commission was set up to ensure the implementation of peace and security agreements among DRC, Uganda and Rwanda.

2003 The Congolese peace process, initiated by the 1999 Lusaka Accord, continued to make gains. These included the creation of a two-year transitional government, led by President Joseph Kabila and four vice-presidents drawn from the political opposition and the main rebel groups, and the creation of a unified army comprising rebel, militia and government fighters. Kabila also granted amnesty to those fighters who had sought to overthrow the Congolese government. In the eastern provinces, warring rebel groups and local militias agreed to a variety of ceasefires, none of which ended the violence. In April, Uganda withdrew its troops from Bunia–the last foreign forces in the DRC. UN mission MONUC undertook the demobilization and repatriation of Congolese-based foreign combatants; its mandate was strengthened and extended as it shifted its focus, along with most of its personnel, to the conflict-ridden east. In September, the UN Security Council authorized Operation Artemis, a European Union interim emergency force led by France. Thereafter, a contingent of 3,400 MONUC troops, authorized to use force to protect civilians, was deployed in Bunia.

2002 The “Inter-Congolese dialogue” held in Sun City, South Africa, brought together representatives of government, rebel factions, tribal militia, opposition parties and civil society to discuss the creation of an interim government and the restoration of peace. However, the parties could not reach consensus on the composition of a transitional government; talks ended in April with only partial agreement. In January, the Burundian Foreign Minister claimed Burundian troops would soon be withdrawn from the DRC. In August, President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kigame signed a peace agreement in South Africa requiring Rwandan forces to withdraw from the DRC once former Interhamwe militia and former Rwandan Armed Forces were disarmed and repatriated. Kabila and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed an accord in early September in Angola for the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from eastern DRC.

2001 In January, President Laurent Kabila was assassinated; son Joseph Kabila became the new President. Despite hopes that the new President would support peace initiatives, in October, DRC government representatives left peace negotiations in Ethiopia.

2000 In February, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to authorize a peacekeeping force of up to 5,537 to monitor the ceasefire in the DRC and supervise the withdrawal of foreign troops and disarmament of the Rwandan Hutu militia. Although he agreed to the ceasefire in April, President Laurent Kabila refused to cooperate in its implementation. Continuous ceasefire violations and increased fighting forced the UN to delay the deployment of military observers. In September, Kabila called for a revision of the ceasefire agreement.

1999 The DRC rebel group broke into two factions in May. The breakaway group established headquarters in Kisangani with help from Uganda. Between July and August, the government, rebels and countries with forces in the DRC (except Burundi) signed a peace agreement in Zambia known as the Lusaka Accord. It discussed the termination of fighting, establishment of a joint military commission and the organization of Congolese elections in July 2000. The UN promised to establish a two-phased peacekeeping force, the United Nations Observer Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC).

1998 Despite South African efforts to broker a peace settlement, in October, foreign states turned the conflict into a de facto regional war. Presidents of Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, vowing not to “allow Kabila to be defeated,” agreed to take the war into the rebels’ eastern stronghold. (The governments of Chad and Sudan had earlier intervened on behalf of Kabila.) A month later, a limited number of Sudanese rebels joined Uganda and Rwanda in supporting anti-Kabila groups.

Background

Until 1995 fighting over land and economic and political power in what was then called Zaire, under President Mobutu Sese Seko, was mostly between the resident Hutu ethnic group and local Nyanga, Nande and Hunde groups in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu. In 1993, 7,000 people were reportedly killed in fighting, followed by several hundred more deaths in 1994 and 1995.

In 1994 an eruption of violence in neighbouring Rwanda led to the influx of more than one million Hutu refugees, altering the ethnic makeup of the region significantly. The sympathy of the Mobutu government was with the Hutu. A decree was passed expelling all ethnic Tutsi from the army and civil service. Tutsi property was looted in riots in Kinshasa.

In September 1996 the deputy governor of South Kivu province issued an ultimatum to the Tutsi Banyamulenge to leave the region. In response, the Banyamulenge began an active rebellion against the Hutu militias and government forces in the Kivu area, which grew into a larger insurrection that came to be known as the First Congo War. The rebel groups formed a coalition, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, under the leadership of local politician Laurent Kabila. In May 1997, after 32 years in power, the Mobutu regime fell to Kabila’s forces. Kabila became president, taking full executive and military powers, and renamed Zaire the Democratic Republic of the Congo, its name at independence.

Soon the Tutsi of Kivu, largely responsible for Kabila’s rapid rise to power, accused Kabila of “corruption, nepotism and failure to bring about democratic reforms, ethnic harmony and regional stability.” In 1998 the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), a coalition of rebel groups, was formed to depose Kabila. The RCD included the Banyamulenge, members of the national opposition and a few former government leaders.

At first, it looked as though the new rebellion would be as successful as its 1997 predecessor; conflict developed rapidly into the Second Congo War. Kabila was aided by neighbours Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, while Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi supported the rebellion.

In January 2001 Kabila was assassinated. His son Joseph became President. Although faltering for years, the 1999 Lusaka Accord peace agreement culminated in 2003 with the withdrawal of all foreign troops and a transitional government and unified army drawn from government and opposition forces.

In August 2006 the DRC held its first democratic elections in 40 years. The European Union deployed an election observer mission of 1,500 troops to the capital of Kinshasa and the vote was deemed relatively peaceful. Kabila was declared the winner in December 2006, after a runoff election between Kabila and rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba. After initial violence, Bemba advised his supporters to support the results and Kabila was sworn into office on December 6.

In 2004 the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for five LRA leaders from neighbouring Uganda, including Joseph Kony. To evade ICC prosecution, the LRA forces relocated to Garamba National Park in northeastern DRC.

In response to LRA attacks on Congolese communities that began in 2008, a joint offensive by UN and Congolese troops called Operation Lightning Thunder was launched against the LRA. UN troops came from Sudan, the DRC and Uganda. The joint force did not apprehend Kony or his top commanders, but LRA fighters were forced to disperse across northeastern DRC. In retaliation, the LRA murdered more than 400 people in northeastern Congo on and around Christmas day in 2008.

In January 2008 the Goma peace agreement was signed between government forces and dissident general Laurent Nkunda, who represented the Tutsi National Council for the Defence of the People (CNDP). Hopes were high for sustainable peace in the North Kivu region, but the exclusion of Hutu militia groups active in the area from the accord detracted from its legitimacy.

In 2009 Kabila approved an amnesty to armed groups. To protect civilians from attacks by the LRA and the FDLR, especially in the east, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of MONUC and renamed it MONUSCO in 2010. Attacks by the LRA remained a major threat in 2010; 70 per cent of their attacks in DRC occurred in Bas-Uele, Haut-Uele and Ituri districts in Orientale province. At year’s end, there were four outstanding ICC warrants for LRA leaders.

In 2011 MONUSCO increased patrols in the northern and eastern provinces of the DRC in response to increased rebel warfare and further instability.

In 2012 a new militant group called the March 23 Movement (M23), allegedly supported by the Rwandan government, began military advancements against the FARDC and captured Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu. The rebel group was accused of summary executions, rape and forced recruitment of children. At the end of 2012 they agreed to withdraw from Goma after a 10-day occupation. Following a series of successful offences by the FARDC, on November 5, 2013 the M23 surrendered and signed a peace agreement with the government.

The year 2013 also marked the signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Region. In this document, 11 countries acknowledged that stability in the eastern DRC is necessary for peace in the Central African region. The document outlined national, regional, and international measures to be taken to bring about peace in the DRC. However, continued fighting in the eastern DRC in the following two years hindered progress on these action points.

In late 2016, Kabila failed to organize presidential elections following the end of his second term as President on December 19. Protests erupted, as the Constitution officially limits a President to two terms in office. Observers worried that Kabila would attempt to amend the constitution to allow him to stay on as President, as had occurred in Rwanda and the Central African Republic.

Arms Sources

During the Mobutu regime, Zaire procured military equipment from China, France, North Korea, and the United States, among others. The rebels were supplied by Rwanda and Uganda. Some of these governments also imported weapons from former Soviet bloc countries such as Georgia and Ukraine.

Neighbouring countries have directly supported rebel groups in the DRC with cash and weapons. According to the UN, rebels also support themselves through illegal taxation and trading in natural resources, including minerals, cannabis, and other cash crops. According to the UN Group of Experts, the Congolese military is another main source of weapons for the FDLR and other armed groups. In January 2014, it reported on the difficulties experienced by the FARDC in securing arms and ammunition stocks. Rebels often loot army barracks during attacks and, in some cases, are allegedly able to buy weapons and ammunition from individual FARDC soldiers. The LRA has sustained itself by pillaging and looting. According to local media sources, M23 rebels acquired a number of heavier weapons that FARDC troops had abandoned, including field artillery and anti-aircraft systems.

In 2003, the UN Security Council imposed a one-year arms embargo on armed groups and militias operating in the eastern DRC, which was later extended until 2007. However, the country’s porous borders, an absence of international monitors on the ground, and the proliferation of arms made the embargo difficult to enforce. Known violators of the embargo include firms in the UK and eastern Europe, and neighbouring African countries, including Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda. In 2014, the UN Security Council renewed the embargo until 2015. In July 2016, the UN extended the DRC arms embargo, allowing firms to make arms transfers to the Congolese government, but banning sales to non-governmental groups. The Security Council called on the DRC to continue to enhance stockpile security, accountability, and arms and ammunition management (United Nations).

In 2012, the UN Security Council reported that Rwanda had supported M23 rebels with troop reinforcements, tactical advice, and sophisticated military hardware. The UN Group of Experts suggested that Rwanda had facilitated the transfer of such weapons systems and delivered ammunitions to M23 rebels in June, July, and August 2013. Rwanda’s support of M23 declined after October 2013, after the United States and the United Kingdom put pressure on the Rwandan president. In August 2016, Riek Machar, South Sudan’s opposition leader, was accused of importing military equipment for Congolese rebel forces (Voice of America).

The defence budget of the DRC has more than doubled since 2011. According to The Military Balance, defence spending rose from $229-million (U.S.) in 2012, to $427-million in 2013, $461-million in 2014, $738-million in 2015, and $875-million in 2016 (The Military Balance, 2016, 440; 2017, 507). The DRC has the largest military in central Africa, but its equipment has degraded over many years of fighting. Most military strength lies in the DRC’s land forces as aircraft are largely from the Soviet era; the navy functions as a riverine force. The Congolese army is also divided in its loyalties, comprised of former troops from different non-state armed groups.

The DRC’s defence budget for 2017 was U.S.$586-million. Many neighbouring countries continue to supply the DRC with arms.

 

Economic Factors

The DRC is considered one of the wealthiest countries in the world in terms of untapped natural resources.

Competition for minerals contributes to conflict. The country is rich in diamonds, gold, cobalt, coltan, copper and such rare minerals as niobium and tantalum. The illegal exploitation of resources serves as both a cause of conflict and a way to finance its continuation. The FRPI and the NDC were allegedly financed by the exploitation of gold. The UN Group of Experts estimated that 98 per cent of the gold produced in the DRC is smuggled out of the country. Much of the Congolese mineral wealth is illegally exported to Uganda, diminishing tax revenue.

A special 2008 UN Security Council report tentatively drew a link between resource extraction and persistent conflict, suggesting that profits generated through the exploitation of resources were used to fund both government and rebel troops. Other sources claimed that foreign troops deployed in the DRC were heavily engaged in illegal resource extraction.

The final report of the UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the DRC, presented to the Security Council in 2003, accused many high-ranking officials from states involved in the conflict of exploiting Congolese resources over the course of the war.The 2008 Goma peace agreement did not include any stipulations regarding resource extraction.

In April 2013, the government imposed a ban on the export of non-processed copper and cobalt concentrates, which was rejected by Katanga province. In 2016, UN experts found that gold remains a key income source for DRC rebels, who continue to smuggle it out through neighbouring countries (Voice of America). In mid-2016, illicit gold from the DRC was discovered in Burundi, Uganda, and Dubai (UN Security Council).

The Security Council Committee concerning the DRC stated in 2015 that the illegal trade in wildlife products such as ivory continued to be a key concern. Groups involved include armed factions, members of the Congolese army, poachers, as well as militant groups from South Sudan. The report further maintained that FDLR and some army elements continued to produce and trade charcoal and wood resources in North Kivu.

In 2011 concerns mounted over the 2007 Sicomines minerals-for-infrastructure deal between the Congolese government and a group of Chinese companies. The $9-billion deal would see the DRC trade millions of tons of copper, cobalt and other minerals in return for a large increase in infrastructure, including railways, schools and hospitals. Congolese civil society groups and other opponents, along with diplomats, international observers and environmentalists, have expressed concerns about the opacity of the deal and fear that China will not honour environmental protocols.

In 2014 Human Rights Watch documented abuses against Virunga National Park rangers and activists, including threats and arbitrary detentions, after they protested against oil exploration plans by British oil company SOCO International. The protesters expressed concern that oil production in the national park and world heritage site would cause pollution, negatively affect traditional livelihoods and have adverse effects on the park’s diverse wildlife. International Crisis Group further warned that new oil could exacerbate conflict in the region. In June it was announced that SOCO would halt oil exploration in the park.

The M23 rebellion triggered a new wave of insecurity in the volatile eastern regions, prompting noticeable price fluctuations in key food staples. This instability was compounded by an informal checkpoint taxation of food supplies, as well as a decline in agricultural productivity by farmers unable to access land holdings. Aid organizations noted that fighting in and around Goma in 2012 made camps for approximately 140,000 displaced persons periodically inaccessible to humanitarian officials.

In April 2013 the government imposed a ban on the export of non-processed copper and cobalt concentrates, which was rejected by Katanga province.

The main trading partner of the DRC is China, which receives 77 per cent of its exports and provides 16 per cent of its imports according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity. DRC’s 2014 budget was $9-billion (US), which incorporated funds for measures under the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework and the National Dialogue recommendations. In 2014 DRC ranked 186 (second-last) on the Human Development Index. According to reports in 2012, 71.3 per cent of the population was living below the poverty line. GDP growth was 8.5 per cent in 2013, 9.5 per cent in 2014, 6.9 per cent 2015, and 3.9 per cent in 2016 (Central Intelligence Agency).

The year 2015 witnessed a spike in kidnappings for ransom by armed groups. On December 16, 2015 Human Rights Watch reported at least 175 kidnapping victims for the year (Human Rights Watch).

In September 2016, Och-Ziff Capital Management, a large U.S. hedge fund, was found guilty of paying over $100-million in bribes to government officials in multiple countries, including the DRC, to acquire natural resource deals (New York Times). The firm was fined $413-million (Reuters).

Prices increased for both copper (by 15.8%) and iron (87.9%), which contributed to the DRC’s economic growth. Despite bountiful natural resources, the DRC remains one of the world’s poorest countries, with high levels of poverty, unemployment, and widespread corruption. The inflation rate increased by 50% in 2017.

map: CIA Factbook

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