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January 5, 2010
The FDLR: A Background
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has suffered two wars since 1996. At its height, the second war involved the armies from seven African nations and multiple rebel groups. According to the International Rescue Committee, an estimated 5.4 million people died between 1998 and 2008, most from preventable diseases as a result of the collapse of infrastructure, lack of food security, displacement, and destroyed health-care systems. The formal conclusion of the war in 2003 did not bring an end to conflict in the region.

The dense jungles of eastern Congo remain home to numerous rebel organizations, which have complex histories and agendas. Responsible for perpetrating mass atrocities against civilians, including massacres, rapes, and abductions, three rebel groups stand out as having caused the greatest destruction and suffering in recent years. These are the FDLR, CNDP, and LRA. At times, each organization has received government support from different countries in the region, and many of the rebels have profited generously from the continued exploitation of the DRC’s abundant natural resources. All prey on the civilian population.

Spread thinly across north-eastern Congo, the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world (MONUC) is largely unable to halt attacks. The Congolese Armed Forces, themselves responsible for committing widespread atrocities in 2009, is increasingly an impediment to achieving peace and security in the region.

What follows are background summaries for the FDLR, CNDP, and LRA. We hope they will help extend an understanding of what can appear to be, at first glance, a hopelessly complicated situation. Please follow the links to learn more.

Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR): Comprised of approximately 7,000 combatants, the FDLR is a rebel group that operates out of North and South Kivu Provinces of eastern Congo, where it has committed widespread atrocities against civilians, including massacres and extreme sexual violence, and conducted extensive illegal exploitation of natural resources. The International Crisis Group (ICG) identified the FDLR as being one of two rebel groups — among the dozens based in eastern Congo in early 2009 — that possesses the highest military capabilities and causes the most civilian suffering in the region. (The ICG identified the other as the CNDP, which has largely since disintegrated.) Although members of the FDLR are often identified as perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the majority of FDLR rebels are post-genocide recruits drawn from refugee camps in eastern Congo. The FDLR is commanded in part by ex-officers and civilians who took leadership roles in the Rwandan genocide and is supported by a network of expatriates who share the group’s ideology.

Although the FDLR did not emerge until 2000, its history begins six years earlier in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide when one million mostly Hutu refugees fled across the Congolese border and settled into refugee camps. Using these camps to regroup, perpetrators of the genocide terrorized local populations and launched incursions into Rwanda. From this group emerged a succession of Rwandan Hutu organizations that — under different names — kept pursuing the goal of sparking an insurgency inside of Rwanda. In the early 2000s, the FDLR conducted cross-border raids into north-western and southern Rwanda. Even after the second Congo War officially ended in 2003, the Rwandan government consistently threatened to send its army into the Congo to forcibly disarm the FDLR.

As with most developments in eastern Congo, the FDLR’s behaviour related intimately to the region’s wider political and economic dynamics. The Congolese government supported FDLR activities as a means to limit Rwandan influence in the east. Rwanda authorities, meanwhile, aided the FLDR’s primary rebel enemy, the CNDP. As Congo and Rwanda manipulated the rebel groups in pursuit of their competing interests, the Congolese civilian population suffered greatly.

After aborted peace agreements and fresh clashes in 2007 and 2008, increased international pressure finally compelled the DRC and Rwanda to address the deteriorating situation together. On January 20, 2009, the Rwandan army entered eastern Congo as part of a UN-backed Rwandan-Congolese joint operation against the FDLR. Undoubtedly signifying an improvement in the political relationship between the two nations, the operation itself was a humanitarian disaster. It provoked revenge killings and rapes and drove more than 900,000 people from their homes. Just one month after the campaign ended, the FDLR was back to its former capacity.



January 5, 2010
The CNDP: A Background

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has suffered two wars since 1996. At its height, the second war involved the armies from seven African nations and multiple rebel groups. According to the International Rescue Committee, an estimated 5.4 million people died between 1998 and 2008, most from preventable diseases as a result of the collapse of infrastructure, lack of food security, displacement, and destroyed health-care systems. The formal conclusion of the war in 2003 did not bring an end to conflict in the region.

The dense jungles of eastern Congo remain home to numerous rebel organizations, which have complex histories and agendas. Responsible for perpetrating mass atrocities against civilians, including massacres, rapes, and abductions, three rebel groups stand out as having caused the greatest destruction and suffering in recent years. These are the FDLR, CNDP, and LRA. At times, each organization has received government support from different countries in the region, and many of the rebels have profited generously from the continued exploitation of the DRC’s abundant natural resources. All prey on the civilian population.

Spread thinly across north-eastern Congo, the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world (MONUC) is largely unable to halt attacks. The Congolese Armed Forces, themselves responsible for committing widespread atrocities in 2009, is increasingly an impediment to achieving peace and security in the region. What follows are background summaries for the FDLR, CNDP, and LRA. We hope they will help extend an understanding of what can appear to be, at first glance, a hopelessly complicated situation. Please follow the links to learn more.

National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP): A rebel group in the Kivu Provinces of eastern Congo, the CNDP was formally established by Laurent Nkunda in December 2006. A familiar figure in the region, Nkunda has been leading various rebel fractions as early as December 2003.

Ostensibly dedicated to defending the rights of Tutsi civilians in North Kivu and Congolese Tutsi refugees in Rwanda, militias associated with Nkunda clashed with the Congolese army early after the DRC’s first multi-party elections in 2006. In a peace process facilitated by Rwanda, Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Nkunda negotiated the integration of Nkunda’s men into five brigades within the national army through a process known locally as mixage. The agreement ultimately collapsed in May 2007 under opposition from both CNDP and Congolese government hardliners. This led to a new escalation in violence as rebel loyalists in the new brigades helped strengthen Nkunda’s control over the region.

As the Congolese army struggled to defeat the CNDP and recapture authority over the mixed brigades, the CNDP dedicated itself to the eradication of the FDLR. The CNDP considered the FDLR – a powerful rebel group in eastern Congo that at times operated in collaboration with the Congolese army — to be preparing another genocide against Tutsi. Stoking the situation, Rwandan President Kagame credited Nkunda with legitimate grievances. Although Kagame denied involvement with Nkunda, the UN Security Council released a report in December 2008 that found evidence that Rwandan authorities were complicit in the recruitment of CNDP soldiers, including children; facilitated the supply of military equipment; and sent officers and units from the Rwandan armed forces to the Congo in support of the CNDP.

The atrocities perpetrated by men under Nkunda’s command over the past decade are also well documented: the massacre of several hundred deserters in Kisangani in 2002; days of pillage in Bukavu after it was seized by the CNDP in 2004; and, in November 2008, the massacre of hundreds of unarmed civilians in Kiwanja, a tiny village northeast of Goma, during fighting to seize control of North Kivu.

After aborted peace agreements and fresh clashes in 2007 and 2008, increased international pressure finally compelled the DRC and Rwanda to address the deteriorating situation together. Rwanda agreed to withdraw its support from the CNDP, while the DRC agreed to a joint military operation with the Rwandan army against the FDLR. On January 23, 2009, Rwandan forces arrested Nkunda as he was fleeing into Rwanda from an attack on his base in Bunagana. Furthering the disintegration of the CNDP, Bosco Ntaganda, Nkunda’s chief of staff, announced he had taken control of nearly half of the CNDP forces. Agreeing to integrate his faction into the Congolese army, Ntaganda was given a position as deputy commander of the joint military offensive, despite being indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes. On March 23, the remaining CNDP faction signed a peace treaty with the government, agreeing to become a political party in exchange for amnesty.

Undoubtedly signifying an improvement in the political relationship between the two nations, the operation itself was a humanitarian disaster. It provoked revenge killings and rapes from FDLR rebels and drove more than 900,000 people from their homes. The Congolese government struggled to incorporate at least 12,000 former CNDP rebels into the Congolese military. With its ranks swollen by the rapid integration of former rebels, the Congolese army came under heavy criticism for attacking, burning, and looting villages, and killing and raping civilians.

Although the CNDP is no longer a cohesive organization, former rebels take advantage of extensive illicit networks anchored in neighbouring countries and the chaos of continued violence in eastern Congo to exploit natural resources. A UN report in November 2009 described how former CNDP officers, now integrated into the Congolese army, continue to profit from their deployment in areas in the east.


January 5, 2010
The LRA: A Background

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has suffered two wars since 1996. At its height, the second war involved the armies from seven African nations and multiple rebel groups. According to the International Rescue Committee, an estimated 5.4 million people died between 1998 and 2008, most from preventable diseases as a result of the collapse of infrastructure, lack of food security, displacement, and destroyed health-care systems. The formal conclusion of the war in 2003 did not bring an end to conflict in the region.

The dense jungles of eastern Congo remain home to numerous rebel organizations, which have complex histories and agendas. Responsible for perpetrating mass atrocities against civilians, including massacres, rapes, and abductions, three rebel groups stand out as having caused the greatest destruction and suffering in recent years. These are the FDLR, CNDP, and LRA. At times, each organization has received government support from different countries in the region, and many of the rebels have profited generously from the continued exploitation of the DRC’s abundant natural resources. All prey on the civilian population.

Spread thinly across north-eastern Congo, the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world (MONUC) is largely unable to halt attacks. The Congolese Armed Forces, themselves responsible for committing widespread atrocities in 2009, is increasingly an impediment to achieving peace and security in the region.

What follows are background summaries for the FDLR, CNDP, and LRA. We hope they will help extend an understanding of what can appear to be, at first glance, a hopelessly complicated situation. Please follow the links to learn more.

Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA): The LRA is a rebel group of less than 1,500 that operates out of southern Sudan, eastern Congo, and northern Uganda to wage guerrilla warfare against the government in Uganda, where it has murdered over twenty thousand people and abducted tens of thousands of children in the last twenty years. The LRA’s self-appointed messianic leader, Joseph Kony, replenishes the group’s ranks with forcibly conscripted children.

Boys are forced to fight and girls to become sex slaves. In the past and possibly still today, the Sudan government in Khartoum provided military support for the LRA, reportedly in retaliation for Ugandan support for the Southern People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Sudan.

Since the rebel group’s formation in 1986, the Ugandan government has repeatedly targeted the LRA in intense military campaigns without success. In an effort to safeguard civilian populations and restrict the LRA’s access to resources, the Ugandan army has displaced whole communities into “protection camps” and then failed to protect them. In a devastating pattern documented by Human Rights Watch, the LRA conducts reprisal attacks on civilian populations in response to these government offensives.

In July 2004, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for five LRA leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity: Joseph Kony, his deputy Vincent Otti, and three other commanders. Within a year of arrest warrants, LRA forces relocated into the Congo, hiding out in Garamba National Park, an immense area of forests and grasslands. In 2006, peace negotiations between the LRA and the Ugandan government stalled in part because LRA leaders sought to evade ICC prosecution. After lengthy discussions, the parties agreed in June 2007 to establish domestic trials of the ICC cases in Uganda instead of The Hague in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to persuade Kony to surrender.

While Kony manipulated the peace process, the LRA prepared for further war. Rebels crossed into southern Sudan and the Central African Republic to raid villages and abduct young civilians. In September 2008, the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUC) joined the Congolese army in an operation designed to isolate the LRA inside the park area and encourage defectors. Threatened by the prospect of a weakened force, the LRA began attacking Congolese communities for the first time.

In mid-December 2008, the Ugandan army launched a US-backed attack against the LRA in an attempt to eliminate the entire senior leadership. The operation was a spectacular failure and resulted in the dispersal of the LRA across north-eastern Congo.

On the 24th of December, Christmas Eve, the LRA conducted simultaneous raids on villages across the Doruma region in north-eastern Congo, targeting Christmas celebrations. At least 850 people died in these “Christmas massacres.” (View photos from the region taken in the aftermath of the attacks and read stories from survivors.)

In mid-October 2009, the LRA rebels attacked a camp for Darfuri displaced persons in southern Sudan, abducting dozens of the camp’s inhabitants, killing several people, and stealing supplies. Undeterred by the attention of the Ugandan army, the Congolese army, MONUC, and the SPLA, the Lord’s Resistance Army continues to terrorize, kidnap, rape, and murder civilians across the region.

December 1, 2009
“Messy and Ragged”: UN’s Gloomy Report on the Congo

A new confidential report, issued by a UN-mandated group of Congo experts, adds even more troubling layers to an already dismal picture of eastern Congo. The report’s bleak accounting of the situation describes cases of charitable groups funnelling money to rebels; soldiers attacking and raping civilians; local army commanders making $250,000 a month from taxing the movement of exploited resources; and support for the rebels from senior leadership in the Congolese army and neighbouring nations. Operations against the FDLR have failed to dislodge the rebel group’s powerful political, military, and economic hold on the region. In great detail, the report describes extensive networks — operated by the FDLR and former CNDP rebels — that illegally mine, tax, and export natural resources, including gold, cassiterite, coltan, and timber. The resources slip out of the country with the help of traders and officials in Tanzania, Burundi, and Uganda. The report further describes how former CNDP officers, now integrated into the Congolese army, continue to profit from their deployment to areas in eastern Congo.

Implicit in the report is a criticism of the UN’s approach to the Congo, where, until recently, the UN aided Congolese army operations. The UN Security Council is expected to discuss the report this week. According to The New York Times, one United Nations official described the conflict as “messy and ragged” and admitted that “there is a lot in [the report] that makes [the UN] look complicit.”

November 9, 2009
Congolese Army Uses Vaccination Sites as Bait

After coming under intense criticism for backing a disastrous Congolese military operation against rebel groups in eastern Congo, the United Nations decided in early November to suspend all logistical and operational support to the FARDC (Congolese Armed Forces). Responsible for committing widespread atrocities in the months following the military operation, the Congolese army has “clearly targeted” civilians, according to UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy. A reckless and dangerous armed force, the FARDC has become an impediment to achieving peace and security in the region.

The UN’s decision to withdraw its support only now from the FARDC is especially striking given newly released information about the Congolese army’s recent behavior. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres, vaccination sites — where thousands of civilians including many children had gathered — were used as bait during attacks three weeks ago by the FARDC on the rebels. MSF described:

All parties to the conflict had given security guarantees to MSF to vaccinate at these [seven] locations at those times. However, the Congolese national army launched attacks on each of the vaccination sites. All the people who had come to get their children vaccinated were forced to flee the heavy fighting… The attack was an unacceptable abuse of humanitarian action to fulfil military objectives.

MSF explained that it had decided to pull its staff from the area before publicizing the incident and expressed concern over increasing attacks against humanitarian organizations by the various armed groups in the region.



October 15, 2009
A Humanitarian Disaster Backed by the UN

The UN-backed Rwanda-Congolese operation launched last January against rebel groups in eastern Congo has been criticized as a “humanitarian disaster” by rights groups. The FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu militia group, and FARDC, the Congolese Armed Forces, have both engaged in widespread atrocities.

Since January, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed, 7,000 women and girls have been subjected to rape and extreme sexual violence, and nearly 900,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

Satellite imagery collected by the American Association for the Advancement of Science shows extensive destruction of homes and villages occurring as recently as September. Since the launch of the offensive, over 6,000 homes have been burned down in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu. The Congo Advocacy Coalition calculates that for every rebel combatant disarmed, one civilian has been killed, seven women and girls have been raped, six houses burned and destroyed, and 900 people have been force to flee their homes. According to UN statistics, only 1,071 FDLR rebels — out of a force as large as 6,000 to 7,000 combatants — have surrendered since January. Many reports indicate that the FDLR has recruited continuously to maintain its numbers.

The Great Lakes Contact Group meets this week in Washington, DC to discuss the situation in eastern Congo and the wider region. Rights groups are calling on diplomats and UN officials attending the meeting to increase protection for civilians and prosecute those responsible for serious human rights abuses, in addition to disarming the FDLR.

October 6, 2009
Top Rwanda Genocide Suspect Arrested

One of the most wanted suspects in the 1994 genocide was arrested in Uganda this week and extradited to Tanzania to face trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The head of intelligence and military operations at Rwanda’s elite military training school during the genocide, Idelphonse Nizeyimana was indicted by the ICTR in 2000 and charged with crimes against humanity, as well as complicity in genocide and direct and public incitement to commit genocide.

The indictment charged that:

From late 1990 until July 1994, military personnel, members of the government, political leaders, civil servants and other personalities conspired among themselves and with others to work out a plan with the intent to exterminate the civilian Tutsi population… In executing the plan, they organized, ordered and participated in the massacres perpetrated against the Tutsi population and moderate Hutus. Idelphonse Nizeyimana elaborated, adhered to and executed this plan.

Nizeyimana was also specifically accused of establishing “secret units of extremist elements” to help carry out the genocide.

Hiding out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the genocide, Nizeyimana served as a top commander in the FDLR, a rebel army comprised of perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide and responsible for countless atrocities across eastern Congo.

August 12, 2009
Secretary Hillary Clinton Visits Eastern Congo

In an unprecedented visit by an American secretary of state, Hillary Clinton visited Goma in eastern Congo this week, in order to call attention to the region’s ongoing conflict, which is marked by extreme brutality and widespread sexual violence. Secretary Clinton’s visit comes admit increased concern for the region, as hope vanishes that the combined Rwandan-Congolese operation launched last January against rebel groups would finally bring an end to the violence. Instead, the joint military operation provoked revenge attacks and drove more than 500,000 people from their homes. The number of internally displaced persons in the Congo now stands at two million, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). A spike in rape cases since January is being blamed on the overstretched and unpaid Congolese army, with the number of rapes doubled or tripled in the areas government soldiers are deployed.

Just days before Secretary Clinton’s arrival, Congo’s President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame held a rare meeting on the border. Former rivals, the two leaders agreed to plan joint economic initiatives and to revive the Joint Permanent Commission for cooperation between the two countries that has not been in operation for 21 years.

July 6, 2009
Despite Operations, the Situation Worsens

Since Laurent Nkunda’s capture in January by Rwandan military forces, the rebel leader has remained under house arrest in Rwanda, despite being wanted for war crimes in neighbouring DR Congo. It is unclear whether Rwanda intends to extradite him to the Congo.

With the disintegration of Nkunda’s Tutsi rebel organization CNDP, the Congolese government struggled to incorporate at least 12,000 of its former rebels into the Congolese military. On March 23, the CNDP signed a peace treaty with the government, agreeing to become a political party in exchange for amnesty for its captured rebels. In May, the Congolese Parliament passed such a law granting amnesty for “acts of war.” With its ranks swollen by the rapid integration of former rebels, the Congolese army has come under recent criticism for attacking, burning, and looting villages, killing at least 19 civilians and raping more than 143 women since January.

As agreed, Rwandan forces withdrew from the Congo in late February, leaving the Congolese army to combat FDLR rebels who continue to kill and rape their way through eastern Congo. In May, the FDLR attacked a village in North Kivu, where they shot, hacked to death, or burnt alive over 60 civilians. Authorized by the Security Council in November 2008, an additional 3,000 UN troops still have yet to arrive.

According to Oxfam, the humanitarian situation in eastern Congo has only worsened since the launch of the joint military operation that was intended to bring a decisive end to the conflict. The UN believes that 800,000 people have been displaced since January.

The situation is not any better in northeast Congo, where the Lord’s Resistance Army, a small rebel group of no more than a thousand soldiers that had previously operated in Uganda, are terrorizing civilian populations. Since a botched operation against them last December, the LRA has killed at least 1,400 people and abducted nearly 2,000 people, mostly children.


February 3, 2009
The End of Nkunda?

On January 23, 2009, Rwandan forces arrested former rebel leader Laurent Nkunda as he was fleeing into Rwanda from an attack on his base in Bunagana, Congo.

Nkunda is the former head of the CNDP, a Tutsi-dominated rebel group that claimed to be protecting civilians from the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, collectively known as the FDLR, who operate in the mountains of Eastern Congo.

The atrocities perpetrated by the CNDP under Nkunda’s command over the past decade are well documented: the massacre of several hundred deserters in Kisangani in 2002; days of pillage in Bukavu after it was seized by the CNDP in 2004; and, last fall, the massacre of hundreds of unarmed civilians in Kiwanja, a tiny village Northeast of Goma, during fighting to seize control of North Kivu.

As part of a joint Rwandan-Congolese operation against the FDLR, Rwandan forces entered the Congo in mid-January, occupying areas previously held by the CNDP. Although Rwanda provided support to the CNDP in the past, Rwandan officials promised to return Nkunda to the Congo to stand trial and to remove Rwandan forces from Congolese territory by the end of the month.

Nkunda was by no means the only threat to peace in the region. In early January, Bosco Ntaganda, Nkunda’s chief of staff, announced that he had taken control of nearly half of the CNDP forces formerly loyal to Nkunda. While he agreed to integrate his faction into the Congolese army, it is unclear whether this process will be successful. Ntaganda now serves as deputy commander of the joint military offensive, despite being wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes.

While the joint operation could mark a turning point in the conflict, the renewed fighting places civilians at risk yet again.


 

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