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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. As of July 2014, an estimated 2.9 million Congolese were internally displaced, and nearly 500,000 had fled their homes into neighboring countries. Non-state armed groups and elements of the Congolese army (FARDC) threaten civilians in North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga, and Orientale provinces.
Current Humanitarian Situation
The deployment of the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade and the expulsion of the M23 rebel group in late 2013 led many to herald a new era of peace in eastern DRC. Yet much of the region remains unsafe, many humanitarian needs are not being met, and stability over the long-term is far from guaranteed. A multitude of armed groups are still active, and clashes between them and UN and Congolese forces have led to displacement and human rights violations. Ongoing disputes between the DRC and its neighbors – including Rwanda and the Republic of Congo – have also increased tensions and led to concerns about further conflict.
Humanitarian agencies who have worked in the DRC for years must rethink how they provide support to what is, in many ways, an atypical displaced population. Unlike certain other conflict-affected countries, the vast majority of the displaced persons in the DRC live not in camps, but with host families. Furthermore, many conflict-affected populations 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.
The conflicts in the DRC have been characterized by high levels of sexual violence, perpetrated both by non-state armed groups and the FARDC. 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.
The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) has an important role to play in the protection of civilians and the prevention of displacement. Yet MONUSCO also faces a host of challenges. It has struggled to implement key aspects of its mandate, has been hampered by an uneasy relationship with the abuse-ridden FARDC, and faces growing pressure to conclude its mission and leave the country. RI continues to push MONUSCO to implement its mandate effectively, while also working with donors to ensure MONUSCO has the necessary resources.
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.