Following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, 1.2 million Hutu rebels fled to the neighboring Kivu regions of eastern DRC, in fear of Tutsi revenge. Reports emerged that then-President of the DRC, Joseph Mobutu, had allowed Hutu militias to rearm in eastern DRC, causing the Rwandan government to support Congolese rebel leader Laurent Kabila. This led to the Second Congo War, where eight nations participated in the five-year conflict to follow. The war ended in 1997, when Kabila’s forces overthrew Mobutu, took the capital city of Kinshasa, and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
In 1998, a rebellion against the Kabila government started in the Kivu regions. Within weeks the rebels had seized large areas of the country in the eastern regions. The Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement was signed in 1999 by all warring parties, and a UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) was deployed, but violence and insecurity continued. In January 2001, President Kabila was assassinated, and his son, Joseph Kabila, assumed the presidency. On July 30, 2006, the country’s first free and fair elections in 46 years were held, electing Joseph Kabila. In spite of these developments, however, violence and insecurity in the country’s eastern provinces has continued, with numerous armed groups operating with near impunity and a lack of firm government control over much of the territory.
In April 2012, the North Kivu province was subjected to a renewed wave of violence when hundreds of Congolese soldiers defected from the army, formed the M23 rebel movement, and began an armed insurrection against the government. In November 2012, M23 captured Goma, North Kivu’s capital city, and held it for 11 days before withdrawing under international pressure. M23 was accused of carrying out serious human rights violations against civilians, and the rebellion overall left hundreds dead and forced nearly 800,000 people to flee their homes.
The current UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo, MONUSCO, seeks to restore peace and stability to the region by working to protect civilians from violence, facilitate access for humanitarian agencies to civilians in need of aid, and support efforts to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate former combatants into society. Nevertheless, MONUSCO has faced a number of significant challenges throughout its deployment. The difficult terrain on which the mission operates, its rules of engagement (as defined by the Security Council), and the ability of the Congolese military to actively confront the region’s multitude of armed groups continue to complicate the issue. Given the challenges posed by the M23 rebellion, the UN Security Council made a number of significant changes to the mission in 2013, most significantly authorizing:
- Establishment of a “Force Intervention Brigade” (FIB), composed of 3,000 troops, to operate under the direct command of MONUSCO. The force was tasked with carrying out targeted offensive operations to neutralize and disarm armed groups in eastern Congo, a first for a UN peacekeeping mission.
- Deployment of unarmed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to improve the situational awareness of peacekeepers on the ground, thereby helping them to more effectively protect civilians.
These policy changes have made an impact on the ground in eastern Congo. In November 2013, the M23 announced it would end its rebellion in the wake of a successful government offensive backed by the FIB. Nevertheless, the work of the FIB is far from over, as there remains a pressing need to confront other armed groups operating in the region that pose a significant threat to civilians. In January 2015, MONUSCO and the Congolese army launched a joint operation in North Kivu to neutralize the Ugandan Islamist Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), another rebel group which has killed several hundred civilians in North Kivu over the last year. These forces paired up again in 2016 to launch coordinated joint military operations against other armed factions, including the FDLR, a militia group composed of Rwandan Hutus, and other rebel groups.
The political environment in the DRC has become increasingly complicated as the November 2016 elections near. The Congolese government has tried to delay the upcoming elections in order to keep President Kabila in power and give him an unconstitutional third term. Government authorities have worked to apply measures such as a new electoral calendar, a revision of the voter’s registry and a national dialogue to further delay the election process.
In preparation for the upcoming elections, MONUSCO developed a plan for election security. The plan focuses on preventative action and internal crisis management, which entails enhanced deterrence efforts, human rights monitoring and reporting, as well as national police training to combat potential election-related violence.