Map of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (courtesy of Wiki Commons)
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – formerly known as Zaïre – gained independence from Belgium in 1960 but has remained highly unstable ever since. In particular, in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide which saw some 1,2 million Rwandese Hutus flee to eastern DRC, the country was destabilised by two civil wars between 1996 and 2003 and a proxy war between Rwanda and Uganda until 2008 (MONUSCO, 2017). The situation in the DRC is a complex one as many neighbouring African states – in particular, Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Chad, Namibia and Zimbabwe – have been involved in the domestic affairs of the state in order to gain access to its various natural resources. 2006 was however a key turning point as the country’s first free elections were held on 30 July 2006 and led to the victory of Joseph Kabila, son of late President Laurent-Désiré Kabila (UN 2017).
Despite the significant progress achieved, instability remains, especially in the eastern part of the country where serious humanitarian crises remain and where both Congolese and foreign armed groups are fighting to illegally exploit natural resources. The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and the Maï-Maï Sheka have been particularly active and have fuelled the instability of the region.
Additionally, tensions were rising nationally since President Joseph Kabila was refusing to organise elections despite the fact that his second term has expired (over 10 month ago (Guardian, 2017). Pro-government forces such as the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) were attempting to crush the growing political discontent in order to keep Kabila in power but the opposition called for resistance. However, now he has made it clear he is not seeking a third term and has nominated former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary to be his candidate (BBC News, 2018). But opposition groups say they have little hope that the vote will be fair and credible. (BBC News 2018).
After repeated delays, there seems to be progress towards organising elections by 23 December 2018. African leaders have placed pressure on President Kabila and this appears to have created an opportunity for regional and international aid in establishing a credible transfer of power although significant uncertainties remain (Crisis Group, 2018).
At the individual level
The various past and ongoing conflicts have led to a wide range of human rights abuses, crimes against humanity and war crimes such as mass killings, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, forced displacement and the use of child soldiers (Human Rights Watch, 2017). Therefore, the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) estimates that in 2016, 3,321,847 people were still at risk, which is 23% more than in 2015 (UNHCR 2017). There are 537,853 refugees and asylum seekers, the majority of them are in need of aid (UNHC 2018).
President Kabila has used force to suppress political opponents, and hold on to power through repression and violence. Such violence was for instance used in December 2017 by the DRC Security Forces against peaceful protesters at Catholic Churches (Human Rights Watch, 2018).
At the state level
The presence of Congolese and foreign armed groups in eastern DRC is destabilising both the region and the country as it shows that the current government is not capable – or willing – to put an end to their illegal activities and to the mass atrocities associated. The illegal mining of natural resources has also contributed to the already failing economy, with inflation rising at 5.7% on a yearly basis (The World Bank, 2017).
Additionally, the fact that President Kabila has outstayed his presidential term is undermining the legitimacy of the state and is causing strained relations between the government, the opposition and the general population. There have been reports that the opposition has been suppressed by the government through the restriction of freedom of expression and assembly (Amnesty International 2017) and after recent calls from government opposition to oust Kabila (The Guardian, 2017), civil unrest is considered likely. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has announced that the general election would take place on 23 December 2018. But Kabila has now stated there will be an election and he will be resigning (BBC News 2018). Congolese government and army officials have repeatedly asserted that nearly all attacks in Beni have been carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). However, other researchers have found this is not the case and other groups are starting attacks. (UNHCR, 2018).
At the regional level
The consequences of the tensions in the DRC also extend beyond its own borders due to its vast size (approximately two thirds of Europe), its central location in the African continent and the tensions between its neighbouring states to exploit some of its natural resources (ISSUU, 2016).
Limited control of the borders with its nine neighbouring states enables foreign armed groups to move relatively freely in and out of the country meaning that the various conflicts could easily spread. For instance, tensions are still particularly high on the border with Rwanda, where armed militias such as the FDLR are very active (ISSUU, 2016). These groups are difficult to control or negotiate with because of their lack of affiliation to the state or incentive to stop fighting.
There are currently 810 227 refugees from DRC going to bordering countries (Uganda, Rwanda, Brundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola and Republic of Congo and more) (UNHCR 2018).
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) met on 17-18 April in order to discuss establishing peace, stability and security within the region. SADC appeared to be one of the last institutions which President Kabila is prepared to negotiate with, and it can play a critical role in stabilising the political and humanitarian crises.
At the global level
The United Nations has invested a lot resources to the stabilisation of the DRC. It has been present on the ground since 1999 and as of October 2017, it had deployed 21,025 personnel in the country, making it the UN’s largest peacekeeping operation in the world (UN, 2017). Its budget for 2017-2018 is $ 1,141,848,100 (UN, 2017). Yet, despite these means, the UN seems unable to put an end to the instability of the country and this failure in endangering its legitimacy in the region.
What has the international community done about it?
The United Nations
The UN established the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) in 1999 with the initial mandate to observe the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement which put an end to the violence between the countries of Angola, the DRC, Namibia, Uganda, Rwanda and Zimbabwe (UN, 1999). In 2010, MONUC was renamed MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC) to reflect the progress achieved and has been authorised to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate in order to protect civilians, humanitarian personnel and prevent human rights violations and disasters (MONUSCO, 2017). Furthermore, the UN investigates the mineral supply chain, tracks the movement of weaponry and monitors human rights violations. UN Resolution 2360 (UN, 2017) condemned the violence and extended sanctions against the DRC government. The latter include an arms embargo, travel bans and the freezing of assets.
On the 27 March 2018, the United Nations unanimously adopted Resolution 2409 which extended the UN mission in the DRC until 31 March 2019 to protect vulnerable civilians and support the implementation of the New Year’s Eve political agreement (UN, 2018).
In October, the Secretary-General called on all armed groups to cease attacks against civilians as a result of continued killing and abduction of civilians by the military in the Beni area of North Kivu province, as well as the killing of Ebola health workers by armed militia who were attacking a Congolese army unit (UN, 2018).
The European Union
The EU has been committed to stabilising the DRC. For example, in 2006, following a request of the UN Security Council, it deployed EUFOR RD Congo (European Union Force RD Congo) (EEAS, 2015) which aimed at creating a secure environment in the DRC during the general elections. It also deployed EUSEC DR Congo “to provide security sector reform advice and assistance in the area of defense, aimed at ensuring the security of all Congolese people, and creating fertile conditions for the return of social and economic development” (EEAS, 2017), along with EUPOL RD Congo to support “the efforts of national Congolese authorities to reform the national police” (EEAS, 2014).
Currently, in order to address the significant displacement of people and the humanitarian crisis, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (European Commission, 2017) is providing €28 million in humanitarian aid (EEAS, 2017).
In April 2018, the EU co-hosted the ‘Humanitarian Conference on the Democratic Republic of the Congo’. During the event, the EU restated its support in to aiding the ongoing, and escalating, humanitarian crises in the DRC. It pledged £77 million in emergency aid and development assistance to the DRC. Additionally, the EU contributed £6 million to support DRC refugee (Europa, 2018).
The International Criminal Court (ICC)
The ICC is currently investigating alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity since 2004 for a period going back to 1 July 2002 (when the Rome Statute entered into force) (ICC, 2017; ICC, 2016).
Key declarations by the European Union and EU member states
European Union. 2018. Commissioner Stylianides visits the Democratic Republic of Congo: over €60 million for the Great Lakes region. Accessed 6 May 2018. Accessed 6 May 2018.
The EU announces ‘€49.5 million in emergency assistance’ for the humanitarian situation in the DRC after the EU’s Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management (Christos Stylianides) visit to the DRC to assess the situation. Stylianides urged that ‘It is now critical that all donors step up their support to the people of DRC’.
European Union. 2018. Pledge Results- DRC 2018. Accessed 6 May 2018.
As part of the DRC Humanitarian Conference held in 2018, the European Union released this pledge results showing how much financial aid the European Commission, various EU member states and other nation states have pledged to the humanitarian crisis in the DRC in 2018 as part of the EU Commission’s DRC Humanitarian Conference.
UK Government. 2018. ‘Human Rights Council 37: Democratic Republic of the Congo’. Accessed 5 May 2018.
This is a statement made on behalf of the UK at the Human Rights Council in which the UK condemned the humanitarian situation, especially violations of human rights instigated by state actors and express support for the electoral process.
France Diplomatie. 2018. ‘Democratic Republic of Congo – Situation’. Accessed 5 May 2018.
France condemned ‘violence perpetrated by the security forces during the demonstrations on January 21, 2018’, the violation of human rights and violence directed towards MONUSCO. France also urged the continuation of the electoral process.
Belgium. 2018. Belgium remains committed to support the population of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Accessed 6 May 2018.
Belgium condemned ‘the actions of security forces on 31st of December’ and reallocates €25 million from Congolese government initiatives to humanitarian aid in the DRC. Belgium also expressed support for a ‘free and transparent’ electoral process.
European Council. 2017. “African Union – European Union relations: Joint consultative meeting on peace and security”. European Council, 20 November 2017. Accessed on 6 December 2017.
The EU reaffirms its commitments towards achieving peace, security and stability within the DRC. The EU also praises the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO). Additionally, with the announcement of the electoral calendar for 23 December by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the EU urges the political authorities to work towards consensus.
France Diplomatie. 2017. “Democratic Republic of Congo – Human rights (23 August 2017)”. France Diplomatie, 23 August 2017. Accessed on 5 December 2017.
France announces its support for the UN interventional group and the establishment of a special investigative mechanism to investigate several human rights abuses in the DRC.
European Commission. 2017. “Democratic Republic of Congo”. European Commission, 14 November 2017. Accessed on 6 December 2017.
A valuable source providing in-depth account of the EU’s response to the humanitarian crisis in the DRC. The source introduces the crisis along with a breakdown of the needs of the citizens in the DRC, and what the EU is doing to meet those needs.
Patel, Priti. “DRC: UK provides urgent lifesaving aid to victims of escalating conflict in the Democratic conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo”. Gov.uk, 20 October 2017. Accessed on 5 December 2017.
Rt. Hon. Priti Patel MP, releases an announcement through the Department for International Development for the UK to provide a substantial aid package to the DRC.
Kingdom of Belgium. 2017. “Belgium puts the humanitarian crisis in the DRC on the international agenda and allocates an additional 6 million euros in humanitarian aid”. Kingdom of Belgium Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, 29 September 2017. Accessed on 6 December 2017.
Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo allocates additional financial aid due to the alarming humanitarian situation in the DRC. Furthermore, De Croo calls for the further support from the international community.
Lord Ahmad. 2017. “Lord Ahmad welcomes conclusion of the 36th session of the UN human rights council”. Gov.uk, 29 September 2017. Accessed on 5 December 2017.
The British Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict and Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office condemns the human rights violations within the DRC. Lord Ahmad highlights the DRC’s government obligation to grant an UN investigation into the human rights abuses.
Kingdom of Belgium. 2017. “Deputy Prime Minister De Croo discusses situation in DRC with National Episcopal Conference of Congo”. Kingdom of Belgium Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, 25 September 2017. Accessed on 6 December 2017.
Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo thanks the Episcopal Conference of Congo in preventing further conflict. The discussion highlights the importance of a democratic transition through fair elections.
Kingdom of Belgium. 2017. “Minister Reynders condemns violence between security forces and Burundese refugees in South Kivu”. Kingdom of Belgium Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, 17 September 2017. Accessed on 6 December 2017.
The deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders condemns clashes between security forces and Burundese refugees which took place on 15 September 2017.
The Federal Government of Germany. 2017. “National action plan implementation of the UN guiding principles on business and human rights”. The Federal Government, September 2017. Accessed on 5 December 2017.
The vast wealth of the DRC, and the exploitation of that wealth, is one of the main sources of conflict within the DRC. The Federal Government of Germany recognizes the issues surrounding the mineral wealth and promotes a conflict-sensitive approach to the management of natural resources.
Federal Foreign Office. 2017. “Democratic Republic of the Congo”. Federal Government Office, August 2017. Accessed on 6 December 2017.
This source breaks down the bi-lateral relationship between the Federal Government of Germany and the DRC providing a concise evaluation of the political, economic, cultural, developmental and humanitarian relations between the two nations.
Mogherini, Federica and Neven Mimica. 2017 “Statement by high representative/vice-president Frederica Mogherini and commissioner for international cooperation and development Neven Mimica on the conclusion of a political agreement in the DRC”. European External Action Service, 1 January 2017. Accessed on 6 December 2017.
The EU congratulates the DRC catholic Conference in securing an agreement between the political forces within the DRC. It is recognized as a significant step towards national reconciliation, and a peaceful transition.
Federal Ministry. 2017. “Democratic Republic of the Congo: Situation and cooperation”. Federal Ministry, 2017. Accessed on 6 December 2017.
The German development cooperation with the DRC provides an account of Germany’s role in the construction of roads, schools, and hospitals. Germany has committed over twenty million euros for the construction of infrastructure within the DRC.
France Diplomatie. 2017. “Democratic Republic of Congo – Q&A – excerpts from the daily press briefing (06.11.17)”. France Diplomatie, 6 June 2017. Accessed on 6 December 2017.
An in-depth brief of the political, economic and diplomatic relations between the French Republic and the DRC. France emphasizes its role in achieving peace and stability with the DRC.
European External Action Service. 2016. “The Democratic Republic of Congo and the EU”. Delegation of the European Union to the DR Congo, 11 March 2016. Accessed on 6 December 2017.
This source provides a succinct breakdown of the EU’s contribution towards the stability and development of political, economic trade, and humanitarian relations with the DRC.
Kingdom of Belgium. 2016. “Africa”. Kingdom of Belgium Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, 2016. Accessed on 5 December 2017.
This source provides Belgium’s foreign policy goals in Africa. Regarding the DRC, Belgium highlights that the safety of the DRC’s citizens remains on the national and international agenda of Belgium
European External Action Service. 2015. “Common security defense policy: EU mission to provide advice and assistance for security sector reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the area of defense” European External Action Service, July 2015. Accessed on 6 December 2017.
This source delineates the mission of EUSEC RD in the DRC (EU, 2015). It goes on to describe the EUSEC operation as having a ‘general aim […] to support the Congolese authorities in rebuilding an army that will guarantee security throughout the country and in creating conditions conducive to a return to economic and social development’ (EU, 2015).
European External Action Service. 2015. “EUFOR RD Congo”. European External Action Service, 1 January 2015. Accessed on 6 December 2017.
A valuable source providing an in-depth account of the EU’s response to the humanitarian crisis in the DRC. The source introduces the crisis along with a breakdown of the needs of the citizens in the DRC, and what the EU is doing to meet those needs.
European External Action Service. 2014. “Common Security and Defense Policy: EU policy mission for the DRC”. European External Action Service, February 2014. Accessed on 6 December 2017.
This source gives an outline of the role and the responsibilities of the EUPOL in the DRC. The EUPOL mission objective was the improvement of ‘human rights, dialogue with civil society, protection of children in armed conflicts, gender equality and the fight against impunity and sexual violence’ (EU, 2014) via the ‘restructuring of the Congolese police by supporting the establishment of a civilian and professional police force that respects human rights and works in cooperation with civil society’ (EU, 2014).
Key statements and resolutions from the United Nations
United Nations. 2018. Resolution 2409. 27th March 2018. Accessed on 5th May 2018.
The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution extending MONUSCO’s mission in the DRC until 2019 and to express support for the upcoming elections.
United Nations. 2017. “Statement by the President of the Security Council” United Nations, 7 November 2017. Accessed on 5 December 2017.
This statement details that no adjustments to the last instalment of resolutions need to be made, but investigations into the deaths of two Group of Experts personnel are underway.
Sidikou, Maman. 2017. “Statement by SRSG Maman Sidikou to the open session of the UN Security Council”. MONUSCO, 21 March 2017. Accessed on 5 December 2017.
Maman Sidikou is the Special Representative for the DRC and Head of the MONUSCO. In a statement to the Security Council in March 2017, Sidikou details the current situation in the DRC concerning security and the spread of violence through the DRC amongst ethnic groups and militia groups.
Sidikou, Maman. 2017. “Briefing by SRSG Maman Sidikou to the UN Security Council – Open Session”. MONUSCO, 11 October 2017. Accessed 5 December 2017.
More recently (11 October), Sidikou spoke to the UNSC primarily about the lack of progress regarding the election process and how “journalists, political opponents and civil society activists remain subject to intimidation, harassment and violence”.
United Nations. 2017. “Resolution 36/30”. United Nations, 29 September 2017. Accessed on 10 December 2017.
Resolution 36/30 calls on Government of the DRC to exercise restraint when dealing with election-based violence. Additionally, the resolution welcomes the establishment of joint investigations into human rights violations in the Kasai provinces.
United Nations. 2017. “Resolution 35/33”. United Nations, 23 June 2017. Accessed on 10 December 2017.
Resolution 35/33 called for the Government of the DRC to exercise restraint when responding to election-related protests.
United Nations. 2017. “Resolution 2360 (2017)”. United Nations, 21 June 2017. Accessed on 5 December 2017.
This resolution is primarily concerned with security, instigated by the killing of two members of the Group of Experts and violence in Kasai and Beni. The resolution is thus concerned with the condemnation of armed groups, and the extension of the sanctions regime. The resolution reiterates the role of MONUSCO. It also acts as one of the most recent implementation of sanctions. The current sanctions in place include (and are related to) an arms embargo; travel ban; assets freeze; transport and customs.
United Nations. 2017. “Major agreement between CAFI and the DRC sets best practices to prevent tree loss and ensure sustainable development”. United Nations Development Programme, 22 April 2017. Accessed on 5 December 2017.
This report by UNDR (United Nations Development Programme) from 22nd April 2016 focuses on an agreement made between CAFI and the DRC to prevent tree loss and work towards sustainable development. The agreement was made through a letter of content which decided that 200 million dollars would be invested in the DRC to deal with the issues of deforestation. This source is a positive note towards the DRC government for their cooperation with the cause by UNDP.
United Nations. 2017. “Resolution 2348 (2017)”. United Nations, 31 March 2017. Accessed on 5 December 2017.
This resolution explicitly refers to the responsibility to protect: “Recalling that the Government of the DRC bears the primary responsibility to protect civilians within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including protection from crimes against humanity and war crimes”. MONUSCO’s mandate is extended, and priority tasks are established. The resolution also requests that MONUSCO be vigilant in the protection of children and in the prevention of sexual violence.
UNOCHA. 2017. “Democratic Republic of the Congo”. UNOCHA, 2017. Accessed on 5 December 2017.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is a subsidiary of the UN, and this resource provides an overview of their mandate.
United Nations. 2017. “Report of the Secretary-General on the World of the Organization”. United Nations, 2017. Accessed 5 December 2017.
The 2017 report emphasises a commitment to minimise the recruitment of child soldiers, increase the protection of civilians and the UN’s support of legal action against Congolese security forces and political actors.
United Nations. 2016. “Resolution 2277”. United Nations, 30 June 2016. Accessed on 10 December 2017.
Resolution 2277 once again highlights that the authorities in the DRC have the ultimate responsibility to protect its citizens from crimes against humanity and war crimes. Additionally, it urges the government to hold accountable those who have committed such crimes.
United Nations. 2015. “Resolution 2211”. United Nations, 8 May 2015. Accessed on 10 December 2017.
Resolution 2211 renews MONUSCO’s mandate, and recalls the DRC’s authorities bear the “primary responsibility to protect civilians” from war crimes and crimes against humanity. Furthermore, the resolution highlights the need for cooperation with the ICC.
UNHCR. 2014. “Reflection on DRC UNHCR-NGO Dialogues in Kinshasa and Goma”. UNHCR, January 2014. Accessed on 5 December 2017.
This source refers to the relationship between the UNHCR and NGO’s. The aim is to improve the partnership between the two groups and make them more communicative with each other to work towards solving the crisis in the DRC.
United Nations. 2013. “Resolution 2098”. United Nations, 28 March 2013. Accessed on 10 December 2013.
Resolution 2098 creates a new mandate for MONUSCO. The resolution also includes the creation of an intervention brigade designed to operate offensive operations thereby neutralizing groups who intend to use violence against civilians.
United Nations. 2012. “Resolution 2078”. United Nations, 28 November 2012. Accessed 10 December 2017.
Resolution 2078 renews sanctions against the DRC regime and added the rebel group M23 and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) to the entities subjected to sanctions.
United Nations. 2012. “Resolution 2076”. United Nations, 20 March 2012. Accessed on 10 December 2017.
Resolution 2075 demands that the rebel movement M23 immediately withdraw from the North Kivu capital of Goma.
United Nations. 2008. “Resolution 1807 (2008)”. United Nations, 31 March 2008. Accessed on 5 December 2017.
The resolution ‘reiterates serious concern regarding the presence of armed groups and militias in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the provinces of North and South Kivu and the Ituri district, which perpetuate a climate of insecurity in the whole region’ (UN). As in previous resolutions, it stresses ‘the primary responsibility of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo for ensuring security in its territory and protecting its civilians with respect for the rule of law, human rights and international humanitarian law’ (UN).
United Nations. 2003. “Resolution 1493”. United Nations, 28 July 2003. Accessed 14 December 2017.
‘The Security Council, aiming to strengthen support for the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission there until 30 July 2004’ Resolution 1493 highlights the increasing human rights violations and of international law. This resolution reaffirms the DRC’s government to respect sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the DRC and the neighbor states. Furthermore, it reminds the DRC to refrain from using any force which is prohibited by the UN and international law.
To learn more
Arthur Boutellis. 2016. “The Democratic Republic of Congo”. In Oxford Handbook for the Responsibility to Protect, edited by Alex J. Bellamy and Tim Dune, 734-750. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Boutellis provides an in-depth account of the crises which plague the DRC. He provides an account of early lessons learned from protection crises, the effect of military interventions on the DRC’s stability. The focus of the chapter is on strengthening national protection and encouraging the DRC’s responsibility to protect its own citizens.
International Crisis Group. 2017. ‘Time for Concerted Action in DR Congo’. Accessed 5 May 2018.
International Crisis Group released a report focused on the delayed election process and the humanitarian implications of this delay. The report urges the international community to aid a ‘peaceful transition’ and the compliance of Congolese citizens during the electoral process.
Freedman, Jane. 2015. Gender, Violence and Politics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. New York: Routledge.
Freedman explores the sexual violence which is frequently used as a weapon in the DRC, creating one of the most pressing humanitarian crises in the country. She investigates the gender roles which underpin the violence and also the national and international interventions.
Prunier, Gerard. “Why the Congo Matters.” ISSUU, 9 March 2016. Accessed on 10 November 2017.
Prunier begins at the decolonisation of the DRC and argues the need for greater global concern and involvement in the crisis.
This brief was put together by the ECR2P interns Colum Dillon, Ciara Miller, Sarah Rakotonirina, Milo Thrumble and Lucy Ward under the supervision and with the assistance of Dr Eglantine Staunton.
Last updated on 20 November 2018.