DR Congo

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For more than two decades, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has struggled with ongoing conflict in its eastern provinces. Today, an estimated 2.6 million Congolese are internally displaced, and more than 460,000 have fled their homes into neighboring countries. Armed groups such as the M23, FDLR, and Mai Mai threaten civilians in North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga, and Orientale provinces. Increasingly, regional dynamics have also contributed to instability that extends beyond the DRC's borders. While local government officials, UN agencies, and NGOs are striving to mitigate the suffering of the displaced, the level of violence and insecurity has in many cases prevented significant improvements from being made.

Current Humanitarian Situation
In November 2012, a series of conflicts and violent incidents in North Kivu unleashed an overwhelming wave of new civilian displacement in an area already inundated with hundreds of thousands of internally displaced. A rebel group known as M23 briefly took hold of North Kivu's capital, Goma, and the Congolese army withdrew its forces from rural areas in an attempt to recapture the city. In the space created by the army's departure, other rebel groups carried out a campaign of violence and terror against the civilian population, displacing up to 700,000 people. In the fall of 2013, M23 announced it was ending its rebellion. However, tens of thousands or people remain displaced.

The conflict in DRC has been characterized by high levels of sexual violence, perpetrated both by non-state armed groups and the Congolese army. While investigations into incidents of mass rapes have confirmed the scale of the problem, little has been accomplished in preventing such tactics from being used in the future. Support for survivors continues to be inadequate, and there is a need for a renewed commitment to addressing sexual violence in the country.

Humanitarian agencies working in the DRC also must rethink the way they provide support to what is, in many ways, an atypical displaced population. Unlike many other conflict-affected countries, the vast majority of the displaced persons in the DRC do not live in official camps. Rather, they live with host families, or in what are called "spontaneous settlements" - often in rural areas. Furthermore, many of the conflict-affected populations in the DRC have been displaced multiple times, often moving from one settlement to another. Given these complexities, there is a need for a new approach that considers the unique context of DRC's eastern provinces.

While progress has been made toward resolving some of the conflicts in the east (for example, the significant reduction in the threat posed by the Lord's Resistance Army), disputes between the DRC and Rwanda have increased tensions and led to concerns about further conflict. The appointment of new UN and U.S. special envoys seeks to address this challenging dynamic, but the relationship must continue to be monitored closely if conflict is to be avoided.

The UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO (reconfigured from MONUC as of July 2010) changed forms once again in 2013. It will now include an "intervention brigade" authorized to carry out offensive operations designed to "seek and destroy" rebel groups. MONUSCO has, however, been hampered by an uneasy relationship with the abuse-ridden national army, and many fear that the new intervention brigade could worsen the humanitarian crisis in the east rather than improve it.

Field Reports
  • 03/26/2013
    Au cours de l’Automne 2012, des centaines de milliers de personnes ont fuit leur maison en République Démocratique du Congo (RDC) à la suite d’affrontements entre le groupe rebelle M23 et l’armée congolaise. La province du Nord Kivu a vu à elle seule 914 000 personnes se réfugier dans des camps et auprès de familles d’accueil. Malheureusement, l’agence des Nations Unies pour les Réfugiés (HCR) coordonne seulement l’assistance destinée aux résidents des camps, 112 000 personnes, soit un neuvième de la population déplacée. Les personnes déplacées en zones reculées, en particulier celles vivant dans des « sites spontanés » et dans des familles d’accueil, ne peuvent bénéficier des mécanismes de coordination mis en place, et reçoivent trop souvent peu voire pas d’assistance ou de protection. Les violences basées sur le genre (VBG) sont endémiques, et les programmes de protection destinés aux femmes et filles sont insuffisants. Désormais, et plus que jamais, les acteurs humanitaires en RDC doivent améliorer la coordination de l’aide humanitaire et s’assurer que la mise en place de l’assistance se fait selon des critères de vulnérabilité plutôt que de statut.
  • 03/26/2013
    In the fall of 2012, hundreds of thousands of people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) fled their homes following fighting between the M23 rebel group and the Congolese army. In North Kivu province alone, 914,000 people took shelter in camps and with host families. Unfortunately, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) only coordinates support for those persons living in official camps – 112,000 people, or one ninth of the displaced population. Displaced persons in remote areas, particularly those living in “spontaneous settlements” and with host families, have been left out of coordination mechanisms, and in many cases they have received little to no assistance or protection. Gender-based violence (GBV) is rampant, and programs to protect women and girls are insufficient. Now more than ever, aid actors in the DRC need to improve aid coordination and ensure that assistance is based on vulnerability rather than status.
In Depth Reports
  • 02/24/2010

    When violent conflict breaks out, the United States and other United Nations member states often call for the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces to create stability and protect people from harm. The UN Security Council has explicitly instructed peacekeepers to protect civilians under “imminent threat of violence” in most UN peacekeeping mandates since 1999. But there is no clarity as to what “protection” means in practice. Which circumstances require action and what level of force should be used? This has resulted in a lack of proper training, guidance and resources for peacekeepers to accomplish protection activities.

  • 10/17/2006
    For more than a decade, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has struggled with one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Yet, improbably, that situation has improved markedly over the past few years. Seventy percent of the electorate has voted in the first democratic contest for president in four decades; violence in the east has eased, largely due to the presence of the UN peacekeeping force, MONUC; and humanitarian response has improved even as internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees begin to return home.
The UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, spurred largely by the findings in RI's spring 2013 report. In addition, a member of the UN's Gender-based Violence Rapid Response Team was sent to the country to consider overhauling its coordination system, which RI had urged.