All actors involved in discussions on resolving the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) must keep civilian protection at the centre of their efforts, as a peace and security agreement on the DRC is expected to be signed on 24 February 2013 by 11 African states in Addis Ababa.
As these talks continue, civilians in eastern DRC living in areas under the control of armed groups continue to suffer abuses, including torture and ill-treatment, and clashes between armed groups and the Congolese army generate new waves of displacement.
Over recent weeks, the UN Secretary-General has been seeking support among African states for a peace framework to comprehensively address the crisis in eastern DRC through commitments from the DRC government, regional leaders, and the wider international community. The UN Secretary-General and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are also discussing a proposal to deploy an intervention brigade composed of African troops within the UN peacekeeping force in DRC, MONUSCO, with an offensive mandate to prevent the expansion of, and to neutralize and disarm, armed groups.
Any deployment of an offensive force must be accompanied by precautionary measures to avoid worsening the human rights and humanitarian situation. If this intervention brigade is deployed, a strategy must be developed to prevent armed groups from conducting reprisal attacks on local populations who they perceive as supporting the national army. This must be accompanied by sustained disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes to encourage members of armed groups to return to civilian life.
The human rights situation in eastern DRC severely deteriorated from mid-2012 onwards as a consequence of fighting between the March 23 Movement (M23) and the Congolese army, culminating in M23’s temporary takeover of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, in November 2012.
Following heavy criticism directed at MONUSCO in the aftermath of the fall of Goma, the Security Council approved the Secretary General’s proposal in January 2013 to provide MONUSCO with unarmed surveillance systems, commonly known as drones, to gather information on the movement of armed groups in eastern Congo, and to allow for “timely decision-making”.
Amnesty International urges that this additional information-gathering capability is used to better protect civilians living in areas severely affected by the conflict. Additional intelligence must be matched with the resources needed to properly analyze information and act as an effective early warning mechanism to trigger action to protect the civilian population. All parts of MONUSCO involved in protection activities, including military contingents, must show equal commitment to civilian protection and act upon intelligence regarding threats against civilians in a prompt and effective way, in line with MONUSCO’s mandate.
Longer term reforms by the DRC government are also needed to bring a sustainable end to cycles of violence and abuses in eastern DRC.