Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report this week stating that killing and raping of civilians continues at a “horrifying rate” in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) six months after the signing of a major peace accord. In a 10-day trip to the province, researchers documented more than 200 killings and the rape of hundreds of women since January.
The group’s findings shed light on important underlying dynamics of the conflict in eastern DRC which, still left insufficiently addressed, threaten the implementation of existing agreements and any prospects for long term peace and stability.
The January 23 agreement, signed in the city of Goma between government and 22 armed groups active in eastern Congo, lays out plans for demobilization of certain militia and their integration into the Congolese national army, known as FARDC. The FDLR, extremist Hutu militia lead by exiled perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, was not party to the agreement.
The majority of the ceasefire violations documented by HRW came from clashes between General Laurent Nkunda’s ethnic Tutsi militia and a “loose coalition” formed by the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), combatants from the community-based Mai Mai Mongol militia, the Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Resistance (PARECO), and the FDLR.
However, FARDC was also implicated in violence. Notably, its soldiers were found to be supporting fighters from PARECO, Mai Mai Mongol, and FDLR. HRW also reported that Congolese government authorities failed to respond promptly when hundreds of Mai Mai Mongol combatants surrendered and agreed to be integrated into FARDC in accordance with the January agreement. As a result of the delay, many returned to fighting.
The documented support by FARDC soldiers for FDLR and other militia certainly decreases the incentives for General Nkunda to uphold his end of the deal. News of FARDC-FDLR cooperation could seriously undermine progress made earlier this month, when Nkunda appeared to be demonstrating a renewed commitment to the Goma agreement. At the same time, the Congolese government’s apparent inability to deal with armed groups that do turn in their weapons decreases incentives for other signatories to cooperate with disarmament and reintegration initiatives.
While many different parties are to blame for the ongoing violence, these observations in particular raise questions about the DRC government’s stated commitment – and its ability – to uphold its end of the ceasefire and, ultimately, to achieve stability in the east
– Nina McMurry, DR Congo Education Coordinator