Expert Opinion

Why now is not the time for UN watchdogs to drop the ball on the DRC

The conflict in DRC is one of the longest-running in Africa. Complex and interlinked factors including natural hazards, negative effects of development initiatives, and violence primarily by armed opposition groups, have all contributed to ongoing instability.  This has led to huge numbers of people being forced to flee their homes, often again and again throughout their lifetimes.

At the end of September 2013, there were a total 2.77 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in DRC, the highest figure in five years. Massive displacement has been caused by violence and abuses perpetrated by armed groups – with some estimates suggesting that there are now more than 40 armed opposition groups and self-defence militias active in the country.

Violence by armed groups is often associated with access to, and control of, land, people and natural resources – creating fierce competition within and between such groups for power and profit.  In response, in 2004 the UN Security Council established the UN Group of Experts on the DRC to monitor the arms embargo and sanctions regime imposed on the country as a means of bringing attention to the activities of such groups.

Credible reports surfaced today claim that the notorious March 23 Movement (M23), a violent armed group operating in north-eastern DRC until it concluded a peace agreement with the government at the end of last year, is regrouping in north-eastern Congo. At the height of its campaign, the M23 was accused by rights groups of widespread atrocities including arbitrary executions, rapes, and forced recruitment of child soldiers.

In late 2012 the UN Group exposed the support that Rwanda and Uganda had provided to the M23. With the recent threat of this group resurfacing, a top UN official has called on Rwanda and Uganda to act and dissuade a military re-emergence of the group –reconfirming the importance of the work of the UN Group of Experts in DRC right now.

Without the UN Group of Experts, will armed groups’ campaigns of terror go unchecked?

The UN Group of Experts has detailed the activities and structures of armed groups in eastern DRC, the support given to them, as well as the general state of human rights in areas affected by conflict and where mining activities occur. With its work, humanitarians and other actors have gained value insight into the power dynamics at play in the country and in the region.

In its latest report, the Group paints a bleak picture of the situation in the DRC, highlighting the persistence of serious human rights abuses such as recruitment of children, including of displaced children. If its mandate is not renewed before it expires on 1 February, the activities and funding sources of armed groups like the M23 will go unchecked. Without these watchdogs bringing attention to these important issues, such groups will be able to further exploit the general lawlessness and impunity and freely conduct their ongoing campaigns of terror.

Long-term peace for IDPs depends on striking at the source of insecurity

There are several main challenges to achieving sustainable peace in DRC, including ongoing and resurgent insecurity and violence and the unsatisfactory disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants.

In addition, those who have been uprooted by violence need help rebuilding their lives. The international community must uphold its support to them, particularly that of donors. In 2013, only 67.1 per cent of humanitarian programmes were funded. With two crises ongoing in the region right now in Central African Republic and in South Sudan, both drawing the attention of the media and of donors, humanitarians risk being forced to prematurely end programmes for the millions displaced in DRC.

Importantly, we must cement our commitment to the people in DRC by renewing the mandate of the Group of Experts. This will allow them to continue to provide valuable insight on the activities of armed groups, as well as on illegal mining – another potential displacement driver in the country.

While internal displacement is not and should not necessarily be its focus, IDMC would call on the Group of Experts to consider internal displacement more prominently in its assessment of the abuses taking place in the country. Further, displacement and population movements in a general sense should hold a more prominent place in its socio-economic and security assessments.

Despite international attention being focussed on other areas of the world at the moment, DRC remains one of the most significant and sizeable internal displacement situations for IDMC monitoring. With further claims of illicit support to terrorising armed opposition groups like M23, the people of DRC cannot be left in the shadows.

For more information on the internal displacement situation in DRC, please see IDMC’s country overview “DRC: multiple crises hamper prospects for durable solutions”.

Melanie Wissing, IDMC’s Acting Country Analyst

Anaïs Pagot, IDMC’s Assistant Country Analyst