DR Congo

DR Congo: renewed fighting, killings, rapes slow down IDP return and cause new displacements


Since the mid-1990s, millions of Congolese have fled their homes to escape fighting between rebel groups and the national government in a complex conflict which has, at times, involved as many as nine neighbouring states. Close to four million people are believed to have died as a result of the conflict which was accompanied by widespread human rights violations. Displacement peaked in 2003, with an estimated 3.4 million people forced from their homes, most of them in eastern DRC. The UN estimated that over 2.3 million people remained displaced as of mid-2005.
Hundreds of thousands of IDPs returned home in the wake of the establishment of a transitional power-sharing government in June 2003 and following the strengthening of international peacekeeping operations. The situation deteriorated in the second part of 2004, however, when clashes among armed groups and against civilians escalated in eastern DRC. Large numbers fled their homes, particularly in Ituri District and in the Kivu Provinces, and the return process slowed down. Displacement has been accompanied by the killing of civilians, widespread sexual violence against displaced and other women, child recruitment and looting and burning of IDP possessions. Aid organisations have responded to the renewed crisis by bringing assistance to the displaced, but fighting and attacks on aid workers and peacekeepers by armed groups have prevented access to the most vulnerable. According to the UN Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, by the number of lives lost, the humanitarian crisis in eastern DRC is the most serious in the world.

Background of displacement and recent developments

While the eastern province of North Kivu was the location of ethnic clashes and the displacement of thousands in the early 1990s, internal displacement spread throughout the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire) during fighting in 1996 and 1998. The underlying causes of displacement have been the disintegration of the state, which started long before the 1996 demise of President Mobutu Sese Seko's regime, and the subsequent competition among various ethnic groups for political and economic power in their respective provinces. A series of rebel groups, more or less closely linked to outside powers such as Uganda and Rwanda, have competed to control large areas of eastern DRC. These groups have repeatedly clashed among themselves, as well as with the Kinshasa government and foreign troops.

Civilians have borne the brunt of the violence, often being targeted for ethnic or political reasons. Their meagre resources have been seized, children have been conscripted into armed forces, and women and girls have been used as sex slaves by combatants. Displacement peaked in 2003, with an estimated 3.4 million people forced from their homes, most of them in eastern DRC.

Following an upsurge of violence by militias in Ituri in mid-2003, the UN Security Council authorised the MONUC (UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo) peacekeeping force, under "Chapter VII" of the UN Charter, to use all necessary means to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence in Ituri and in the Kivus. MONUC was also tasked with monitoring compliance with the arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council in July 2003 on armed groups operating in eastern DRC. With the establishment in mid-2003 of a Transition Government, which included the main armed groups and the political opposition, violence decreased until mid-2004.

In the second half of 2004 and in 2005 however, a series of crises caused heightened insecurity and displacement, and the Congolese government struggled to affirm its authority in the east of the country, particularly in Ituri and in the Kivus. One major problem was that while in theory former belligerents who joined the transitional government should have handed control of their armed groups to a new national army, in reality most of the combatants were still controlled by the same military hierarchies as before the transition (ICG, 30 March 2005). Also, the looting of DRC's natural resources by various armed groups continued, and those responsible for their illegal exploitation had not been held responsible (IRIN, 3 September 2004; HRW, 2 June 2005). Weapons continued to be chan-nelled to various armed groups in DRC from neighbouring countries, despite the establishment of the arms embargo (AI, 5 July 2005). National elections planned for June 2005 were delayed, notably due to insecurity and to the logistical challenge of registering 28 million voters in a country with limited infrastructure (Reuters, 1 June 2005). The voter registration process started on 20 June, 2005 (IRIN, 26 July 2005).

In March 2005, the UN Security Council noted that the situation in the DRC continued to constitute a threat to international peace and security in the region (UNSC, 30 March 2005). The Hutu Rwandan Armed Liberation Forces (FDLR), Mai Mai factions, and other local armed groups were still attacking the local population. Unruly and unpaid Congolese military personnel were also reported to terrorise farmers, steal livestock and pillage local plantations (ODI, 25 May 2005). According to the UN Secretary-General, reports have been received of collaboration between Rwandan Hutu rebels and Mai Mai militias, and between Rwandan Hutu rebels and elements of the Congolese army (UNSC, 22 March 2005). Despite the presence of UN peacekeepers, militias in Ituri attacked the population, collected revenues from gold-mining, and smuggled goods and weapons to and from neighbouring Uganda.

From February 2004, dissident officers from the former rebel movement Ras-semblement Congolais pour la Démoc-ratie-Goma (RCD-G) sparked clashes in North and South Kivu which resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands in May/June 2004, particularly of ethnic Tutsi (ICG, 30 March 2005). Many also fled after the fighting out of fear of ethnically-based reprisals, since the dissident commanders were Tutsi (USAID, 20 August 2004; MONUC, 4 August 2004). Years of war have contributed to hostility against the Congolese Tutsis as they are increasingly identified as "Rwandan" by other Congolese (HRW, 12 June 2004). Over 150 ethnic Tutsi refugees from DRC were also massacred across the border in Burundi in August 2004. Following the targeting of ethnic Tutsi, the Rwandan government mobilised its troops along its border with DRC, interpreting the violence as a threat against all Tutsi. The military mobilisation as a response to the massacre played on the fears of many people in DRC that Rwanda might still be planning a large-scale intervention. In response to threats by Rwanda in December 2004 to enter the DRC to disarm Rwandan Hutu rebels by force, additional Congolese troops were sent to North Kivu. Since then, different segments of the Congolese army in the region - members of the former Congolese Army and members of the former rebel group RCD-Goma reportedly backed by Rwanda - have repeatedly clashed. In December 2004, fighting and soldiers' looting of homes and shops in North Kivu caused the displacement of more than 180,000 people, many of them into forested areas (HRW, 21 December 2004).

The peacekeeping mission MONUC has over 16,000 troops, who are mainly tasked to facilitate and assist the transition process. The main countries contributing troops are Pakistan, India, Uruguay, Bangladesh and South Africa (MONUC, 15 July 2005). In September 2004, the UN and the Congolese government started to disarm and reintegrate ex-combatants in Ituri. Delays and a slow disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and rehabilitation process, however, led to the remobilisation of militias and widespread insecurity, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) (OCHA, 23 June 2005). Still, some 10,000 combatants - 3,000 of them children - had put down their weapons, either voluntarily or by force, as of April 2005 (OCHA, 20 April 2005; AFP 19 April 2005). One of the biggest clashes involving MONUC troops in eastern Congo occurred in early March 2005, when peacekeepers killed at least 50 militiamen a few days after nine Bangladeshi UN troops were killed in an ambush in Ituri.

Most IDPs live with host communities or hide in forests. Following massive influxes of people, IDP camps have also been set up, particularly in Ituri, North Kivu and Katanga. The latest IDP estimate from OCHA is some 2.3 million. This figure is to be taken with caution, as the IDP estimates of several provinces have not been updated since 2003, and while new IDPs figures are usually added, those IDPs who return are not always taken off the lists. About 95 per cent of IDPs are in six provinces: Orien-tale, North Kivu, South Kivu, Maniema, Equateur and Katanga (OCHA, 8 June 2005).

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