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State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 6 July 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 6 July 2011, available at: [accessed 21 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The DRC is the scene of ongoing violent conflicts often driven by concerns relating to resources or ethnic identity and involving the military and numerous armed groups. An estimated 2 million people are internally displaced, and there are more than 200,000 refugees who have returned or are awaiting return to the eastern part of the country. Human rights abuses, including unlawful killings, torture, recruitment of children and sexual violence, are widespread in conflict areas. Minorities, including Batwa or Bambuti, are particularly vulnerable to attack.

Abuses can at times be fuelled, at least in part, by ethnic identity, as armed groups target communities or groups suspected of supporting opposing forces. Analysts believe that the widespread use of rape, inflicted by all sides and affecting all ethnic groups, has led to the 'normalization' of rape even among the civilian population and has resulted in greater levels of sexual violence generally.

North and South Kivu, in the east on the Rwandan border, is one of the most bitterly contested areas, with 1.4 million people internally displaced. While the roots of conflict in the area are deep and complex, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda served as a catalyst to the current displacement and violence. After the genocide, many Hutu extremist perpetrators joined hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees who feared retribution in fleeing to the Kivus (among other areas) from Rwanda. From there, the militants launched attacks on the new Rwandan government, as well as on Congolese Tutsi. In 1996 Rwanda and Uganda sent their own forces into the area; in the course of their invasion they and their allies killed thousands of Hutus, both combatants and non-combatants alike. As conflict has continued and spread, all identity groups living in the area have been affected, including Batwa/Bambuti.

Ethnic tensions have been exacerbated by successive waves of conflict-driven displacement, and by the ensuing land disputes. UNHCR estimates that over 50,000 mainly Tutsi refugees from the DRC currently live in camps in Rwanda, but the Rwandan authorities claim that three times that number live outside the camps. The anticipated return of refugees, particularly in light of the February signing of a tri-partite repatriation agreement between UNHCR and the two governments, has further increased these tensions.

In a controversial move, in 2009 UN peacekeepers began providing support to DRC military operations in the Kivus against the predominantly Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, FDLR, in an effort to stabilize the region by military means. However, the DRC military is itself accused of committing violations with impunity, while the FDLR continues to carry out abuses undeterred. Both DRC military and rebel militias have been accused of rapes against the civilian population. All ethnicities have suffered in this regard, though UN and other sources have indicated that specific groups have at times been targeted for particularly vicious or widespread 'retaliatory' rapes and related killings due to the victims' perceived sympathies with rival factions.

The LRA, pushed out of Uganda in 2005, is now said to be operating in a remote border area between southern Sudan, the DRC and the CAR. Between January and April 2010, it reportedly killed at least 96 civilians around the town of Niangara, Orientale province, and abducted dozens more, in spite of the presence of UN peacekeepers there. The LRA has also been accused of forcibly recruiting civilians, particularly children, as porters, cooks and combatants, and of widespread mutilation and sexual violence against women and girls, including during revenge attacks on communities it perceives as supporting the state. By May 2010, the UN reported that the LRA had killed almost 2,000 people in Orientale province since December 2007. For their part, government soldiers have also been accused of serious violations against civilians, including unlawful killings and rape.

In Equateur province, over 100,000 refugees have reportedly fled across the Ubangui River to the Republic of Congo as a result of what began as an inter-ethnic clash between the Enyele and Munzaya tribes over fishing rights, with tens of thousands internally displaced.

During mass expulsions of Congolese from Angola in October, a large number of women and girls were reportedly raped by Angolan security forces. Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (UN SRSG) on sexual violence in conflict Margot Wallström urged both governments to investigate.

Meanwhile, human rights defenders struggling to protect women and girls and to bring perpetrators to account are themselves under serious threat. Amnesty International reported that in October Clémence Bakatuseka, an activist working for victims of sexual violence in North Kivu, was reportedly attacked at her home by armed men in uniform demanding money.

In another case, the body of Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, executive director of one of the DRC's largest human rights organizations and of the national network of human rights groups, was found in June in Kinshasa, the day after he was summoned to meet with police officials there. His driver, Fidèle Bazana Edadi, is reported to be still missing.

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