DR Congo + 1 more

The end in sight? Opportunities for the disarmament and repatriation of the FDLR in the Democratic Republic of Congo


Executive Summary

This study is an update of the June 2007 report Opportunities and Constraints for the Disarmament & Repatriation of Foreign Armed Groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo - The cases of the FDLR, FNL and ADF/NALU(1) published by the Multi-country Demobilisation and Reintegration Program (MDRP). The 2007 report described the main foreign armed groups in the Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and what impact these had on Congolese host communities, the process of state-building in the DRC as well as peace, security and development in the Great Lakes region in general.

The focus of the report was on the prospects for disarmament and repatriation of three armed groups: Rwandan (FDLR), Burundian (FNL) and Dissemination NoteUgandan (ADF/NALU) located in the DRC. Due to recent events, the current report only deals with the Rwandan armed groups of which the FDLR remains by far the most important, in terms of its negative impact on the well-being of the population, the economy and the political environment.

Since June 2007, the situation has evolved with regards to the FDLR. Key events since then include the following:

The Nairobi communiqué: The governments of the DRC (GoDRC) and Rwanda (GoR) signed the Nairobi Communiqué in November 2007. In that communiqué the two governments committed to strengthen their collaboration on the issue of Rwandan armed groups in the DRC, including military cooperation. The option of temporary relocation within the DRC for disarmed group members was mentioned as an acceptable intermediate solution.

The Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) challenging the GoDRC: Several rounds of fighting occurred in North Kivu between the rebels of the CNDP and the governmental forces of the DRC (the FARDC). All other existing armed groups, both local and foreign, have also been involved in this fighting.

GoDRC negotiates an agreement with Rwandan armed groups: GoDRC with support of the Sant'Egidio community organised meetings with the FDLR/FOCA(2) and/or the Ralliement pour l'Unité et la Démocratie (RUD[3]/ RPR); meetings took place in Pisa, Rome, and Kisangani.

Repatriation of disarmed and cantoned RUD combatants was attempted - but sabotaged by the RUD military and political leadership: The efforts of the GoDRC supported by the Eglise du Christ au Congo to repatriate 157 RUD combatants(4) and dependants from Kasiki (Lubero territory, North Kivu). International observers participated in most of those efforts but it remained a Congolese initiative.

Actions of the GoDRC: It sidelined or demoted a number of officials who supported and/or collaborated with the FDLR/FOCA or RUD. A Comité de Pilotage was created and tasked with devel-oping a plan to 'eradicate (the presence of) foreign armed groups.' A first draft of this plan was presented in September 2008. The Disarmament, Demobilisa-tion, Repatriation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDRRR) sub-commission of the Committee was amongst others involved in the efforts to repatriate the RUD combatants from Kasiki.

Sensitisation and targeted repatriation by the GoR: The Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission (RDRC) further developed its communication strategy, reinforced its collaboration and coordination with the MONUC, and participated in the Joint Monitoring Group and its task force. Furthermore the GoR (through the RDRC and the army) facilitated the repatriation of some senior FDLR officers.

MONUC restructuring: MONUC took a more pro-active and pragmatic approach to DDRRR which resulted, amongst other things, in a stronger presence in the field, offering more repatriation opportunities.

UN Security Council resolutions (SCR) clarify the UN position: SCR 1804 was a UN resolution in support of the Nairobi Communiqué, reiterating the UN Security Council's decision to impose a travel ban on the political and military leadership of the FDLR. In SCR 1856, the UN Security Council decided that the Disarmament and Demobilisation of foreign and Congolese armed group members was the second priority of the MONUC (after the protection of civilians).

UN provides an option for the use of force against Rwandan armed groups: In SCR 1856 the UN Security Council implicitly allowed MONUC to participate in the involuntary disarmament of the foreign armed group members (paragraph 3.g): "Disarming the foreign armed groups in order to ensure their participation in the disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration process (DDRRR) and the release of children associated with those armed groups".

UN panel of experts report criminal activities of the FDLR: The December 2008 report of the UN panel of experts noted the illegal commercial activities of the FDLR and prepares the ground for a follow-up report that will focus more on the leadership of the FDLR. Several elements of the experts' report could also be used to build a legal case against the FDLR.

Operation Umoja Wetu: The joint operations of the FARDC and the Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF) are launched in early 2009.

This last event, the joint operations, supersedes all the others in significance and impact(5). These operations not only had the most obvious effect on rate of disarmament and repatriation(6) and the threat levels upon the FDLR and other Rwandan rebel groups in the DRC, but they also marked a striking shift in political relations in the Great Lakes Region.

The other events were certainly not negligible but they did not have a major impact on the statistics of the DDRRR programme (see figure on page 2). The repatriation of former combatants and their dependents continued over the past two years with the same steady but slow trickle as had been the case since 2003. The FDLR sustained its control over large parts of the North and South Kivu provinces. Moreover, the FDLR maintained its grip on various trades (minerals amongst others) in the Kivu provinces and continued to establish themselves for the long term.

This suggests that all measures other than the joint military operations have had little impact. Non-coercive measures taken up to the end of 2008 were too few, sometimes not the right ones, and therefore incomplete - the carrot without the stick. In any case, they were not sufficient to weaken the tight control that the extremist FDLR political and military leadership had over its forces(7). The power which the political (often based in Europe and North America) and military (FOCA) leadership exercises over the FOCA and FDLR in the Kivus can be considered as the single most significant constraint to disarmament and repatriation. This conclusion was already drawn in the 2007 report and can again be derived from the recent research.

Moreover, some major obstacles to DDRRR had not been removed until the joint operations started. These obstacles were on one hand the internal Congolese conflicts; the rivalry between the GoDRC and the CNDP. On the other hand, there was the unwillingness of some parties within the DRC administration and military to act in unconditional support of the disarmament and repatriation process of foreign armed groups. The reasons for resisting the official government policy of actively pursuing DDRRR are complex but suggest continuing personal or business relationships between Congolese officials and some FDLR leaders. These linkages between the Congolese administration and the FDLR appear to have weakened over the past two years, in part because the GoDRC took measures against some of the most prominent FDLR collaborators. Nevertheless, some of these associations persist and still constitute important obstacles to serious attempts to settle the FDLR question.

The problem of personal relationships was circumvented during the joint operations by the combined effects of Rwanda agreeing to arrest the leader of the CNDP and by restricting involvement in the tactical planning to a small group within the Congolese military. This precluded any of the officials who might have wanted to spoil the operations from passing sensitive information on to the FDLR.

In any case, not all the recommendations made in the June 2007 report of the MDRP were instigated, for a variety of reasons. Some of those recommendations were not easy to implement and met several constraints (e.g., it was proposed that the GoDRC would assume a leading and coordinating role in the DDRRR operations while in a process of recovering from over a decade of war). Moreover, internal divisions (due to conflicts of political and economic interests) and both structural and managerial weaknesses prevented the otherwise well improved efforts of the GoDRC in becoming successful. In turn, international partners were urged to act decisively and in a concerted manner, both with respect to their support to the DDRRR operation on the ground and the prosecution of the political leadership of the Rwandan rebel groups in Europe, North America and Africa.

In particular the prosecution of FDLR and RUD leadership has not occurred. On the one hand, this was due to the difficulty of making a judicially sound case linking the FDLR leadership to war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Great Lakes Region. On the other hand, many observers believe that the prosecution of Rwandan rebel leaders is a low priority in many European countries. Some have suggested that lobby groups, not only within the Rwandan refugee community, but also some European and North American civil society organisations and the press(8), managed to create confusion to the extent of influencing the decisions of European and North American prosecutors and legislators. A number of the people interviewed even insinuated that there is considerable sympathy for the FDLR amongst some civil society organisations and members of the judiciary.


(1) Hans Romkema, Opportunities and Constraints for the Disarmament & Repatriation of Foreign Armed Groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo; The cases of the: FDLR, FNL and ADF/NALU. MDRP, June 2007. The report can be downloaded via the link: http://www.mdrp.org/doc_rep.htm (other reports) and hardcopies can be obtained (as long as they are in-stock) from the MDRP or MONUC (DDRRR section) offices in eastern DRC.

(2) Even though the GoDRC did not enter into official talks with the FDLR/FOCA since May 2005. The meetings that happened were informal, either in the field or abroad, and were mostly (but not exclusively) attempts to convince the FDLR/FOCA to participate in an official meeting in Rome, while the RUD-RPR were to be meeting in Pisa. All were then to proceed to Kisangani for operational planning of the implementation.

(3) Including with the RPR and the RUD-RPR political would-be umbrella CND. The latter may not exist anymore or never have come into being.

(4) The aim was not just to repatriate these combatants. It was anticipated that if this initiative would succeed, other RUD and FDLR combatants, and more importantly complete units, would follow.

(5) I.e. this could change if the MONUC starts to implement SCR 1856 and in particular the section mentioned above which allows the UN Mission to participate in the forcible disarmament of armed groups. If that part of the SCR is implemented vigorously, it could potentially have another significant impact on the ground.

(6) The impact on the strength of the FDLR were larger still than the DDRRR statistics show as there were also 153 militiamen killed during the operations. Moreover, the official DDRRR statistics do not include the 247 combatants that were repatriated without passing through the MONUC transit facilities.

(7) See the comprehensive report by Rakiya Omaar on "The Leadership of Rwandan Armed Groups Abroad with a Focus on the FDLR and RUD/Urunana" (for the Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission; http://www.rdrc.org.rw/ ).

(8) Several independent sources told the author that some of the main (European) press agencies appear to have sympathy for the FDLR. This cannot be verified. However, what certainly is the case is that some of the press agencies (the RFI and the BBC in particular) provide the FDLR with a platform. They are asked to comment on any major event in the Great Lakes Region without being questioned about their own negative role in it. The FDLR leadership in Europe uses these interviews to motivate its troops and the civilians in the DRC's forest zones, as well as its sympathisers elsewhere.