The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been strife with civil war conflict throughout much of the past twenty years. The armed groups currently operating in the DRC are the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and various Mayi-Mayi militias and they have been committing mass atrocity crimes for the past twenty years.
The origins of the FDLR stretch back to the end of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 when the Hutu perpetrators fled from their crimes in Rwanda and relocated to the DRC where the FDLR was shortly formed. Their presence led to invasions of the DRC by both Rwanda and Uganda with the goal to overthrow then dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko. Following Mobutu’s fall, Laurant Desire Kabila, who led the rebellion, declared himself President and turned around and declared war on his former allies of Rwanda and Uganda, continuing a conflict that drew in many other countries, was called “Africa’s World War,” and lasted until 2002.
Since this extremely violent period of upheaval, the atrocities and violent acts have persisted. The civilians in the DRC have been victims of civil unrest and the violence that comes with it for over two decades. Areas of the country such as North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga, and Oriental Province are areas of frequent violence that none of the attempted peace agreements have been able to stop. Massacres have occurred in villages which have also resulted in kidnapping, forced labor, forced recruitment into the armed forces, rape as a weapon of war, home burning and torture to those not killed in the initial wave of violence. To date over five million people have been killed in the DRC as a result of the conflict from 1996-2002 and more than 2.7 million people are internally displaced in the eastern DRC and another 680,000 in Katanga. In addition to these chilling statistics, the DRC is rapidly becoming known as the ‘rape capital of the world’ with a 2011 study indicating that over 1,000 women are raped daily.
Peace agreements as well as other programs have been attempted in the DRC. The government, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Conge (MONUSCO), which is the largest international peacekeeping force made up of almost 19,000 personnel, and the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC), have been making some progress against the ADF in recent years. The Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) program was one attempt to get armed militias to surrender their weapons. However, in the end only 300 combatants surrendered. One of the largest problems contributing to the continuation of the violence civilians are experiencing is the lack of strength in DRC government structures and previous implications that even the FARDC were part of previous attacks. Another risk is that any military force used by the government will result in retaliation against civilian populations.
Going forward, there are many things the DRC government and MONUSCO must do if there is any hope of beginning to put an end to the atrocities being committed. Civilian protection needs to be of utmost importance with any military offensives taken also including a protection detail for the general populace against armed militia retaliation. A better system of responding to early warnings of violence must also be created and implemented and international agencies must aid in facilitating peace-building initiatives. Another key detail is to prevent individuals who have committed atrocities from joining the government’s forces in the hope of preventing one of the problems before it can even happen. Above all, perpetrators must start answering for their crimes and no longer be granted impunity.