The relationship between the UN and DRC changed following the SG’s report of 30 March 2010, indicating that the DRC had made considerable progress over the preceding fifteen years and was moving into a period of domestic consolidation and peacebuilding.At the insistence of the Congolese Government, MONUC was replaced by MONUSCO (the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) on 1 July 2010. The DRC wanted MONUC to leave, and MONUSCO was a compromise solution.
Throughout the course of the episode, the DRC has faced military challenges from armed groups operating in eastern DRC, with varying degrees of foreign backing. These groups have committed significant human rights abuses and used access to natural resources to support their activities. In early 2011, the LRA resumed hostilities (operating from territories outside the DRC and the scope of the sanctions). In April 2012, a mutiny within the DRC army led by Bosco Ntaganda, a former Congolese rebel on the ICC list for crimes against humanity led to the emergence of M23. The group claimed that the DRC had failed to live up to the terms of the March 23, 2009 agreement (between CNDP and the DRC integrating CNDP forces into the DRC army). The conflict escalated throughout the year, culminating in the November 2012 temporary occupation of Goma and strategic mineral rich regions of eastern Congo. Successive Group of Expert reports contended that the M23 fighters were backed by the government of Rwanda (and to a lesser extent, Uganda), that four companies of Rwanda’s 305th brigade, three other companies, and one Special Forces unit of Rwanda participated in operations against the DRC army. Over 1000 Rwandan troops went into the DRC during the Goma operation. In February 2013, an agreement facilitated by Mary Robinson, then serving as the UN Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, was reached among 11 neighboring countries in a commitment to halt support for armed groups operating in the Congo. Yet, the relationship between Rwanda and the M23 in particular continued to be a challenge. The DRC Group of Experts continued to report Rwandan support for the M23 throughout 2013 and, as a member of the Security Council, Rwanda blocked additional listings of the M23 by the Sanctions Committee.
Shortly after this agreement was signed, the Security Council unanimously passed resolution 2098 (28 March 2013) which created a specialized “intervention brigade” to strengthen MONUSCO in its efforts to control the activities of rebel groups in the DRC and support the reestablishment of state authority in rebel-controlled areas. This was the first time a peacekeeping operation had the explicit (and exceptional) authorization to engage in offensive military operations. An offensive from the FARDC forced the M23 to retreat, and at the end of 2013, the group declared an end to its military operations and agreed to demobilize.
Although MONUSCO and the FARDC controlled much of the territory and all the main roads in the eastern part of the country, other rebel groups remained active in the region. In January 2014, elements of the M23 began to regroup under a new banner and MONUSCO and the FARDC started to conduct offensive operations against other rebel groups, including the FDLR (a Hutu rebel group), the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda, an Islamist rebel group in North Kivu), the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and the Force de résistance patriotique en Ituri from the Ngiti ethnic group in Orientale Province. The Sanctions Committee added the ADF to the sanctions list on 30 June 2014 for violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, including the recruitment of child soldiers, and attacks on MONUSCO peacekeepers.
The FDLR increasingly became the main focus of MONUSCO and FARDC in 2014, and the group was given an ultimatum to surrender by the end of the year. Although a small number (300) of FDLR combatants surrendered by January 2015, a Presidential statement of the Council at the end of the month indicated that renewed military action against the group was called for. The DRC expressed interest in a drawdown of MONUSCO forces in the country, but there was a consensus that the uniqueness of MONUSCO’s mandate, a more hands-on approach, and close monitoring by the Council was warranted.
Maintaining a productive working relationship between MONUSCO and the government increasingly became a challenge in 2015. MONUSCO refused to work with FARDC generals who were accused of major human rights violations, which is one reason why the FARDC operated independently from MONUSCO in operations against the FDLR. Although the FARDC operation against the FDLR in May 2016 disrupted channels of financing, led to the surrender of 1000 FDLR fighters, and a temporary retreat from some positions, the FDLR’s military capacity remained intact, and there were questions about the effectiveness of the FARDC operations. Fighting continued with other dispersed groups in eastern DRC and the ADF in particular continues to wreak havoc in North Kivu’s Beni territory.
MONUSCO and the FARDC signed a memorandum of understanding and resumed cooperation in February 2016, a development that appeared to affect the situation on the ground favorably. While the FDLR remained the largest armed group operating in the eastern DRC, the ADF showed signs of fracturing, and there was less activity from the LRA, as it moved its operations into South Sudan and the CAR. There was a noticeable increase in criminal activity associated with access to conflict finances from gold and rare metals, however. By the end of the year, the FDLR was seriously weakened by military action, according to a Group of Experts report, and while the ADF continued its activity, it appeared to be limited to the Beni territory of North Kivu, across the border from Uganda.
The fragmentation of armed groups operating in the eastern provinces continued into 2017. While they remained a threat to civilian populations residing in the area, the Monitoring Group reported that they had become more decentralized and reliant on networks, particularly with foreign-based non-state armed groups. By the end of the year, while the FDLR continued to weaken, there were reports of new ADF recruitment from Uganda and new local armed groups began to emerge, some coalescing into larger groups. By 2018, one of these groups, the Nduma defense du Congo – Rénové (NDC-R), led by a sanctioned individual, increased the amount of territory under its control and employed forms of taxation on the local population to support its activities. There were killings and displacements from Beni and Djugu territories, but the perpetrators were not identified (thought the ADF was suspected).
Political uncertainty over President Kabila’s interest in staying in office for a third term after the 2016 conclusion of his second term led to growing protests from opposition groups (that began in 2015 and have continued to the present). Although an election date has been set for 23 December 2018, it is unclear whether it will be honored. The ICC’s Appeals Chamber’s June 2018 acquittal of Jean-Pierre Bemba of his 2016 conviction for war crimes has contributed to the uncertainty. His return to the DRC could complicate opposition efforts to unite behind a single candidate to Kabila or his hand-picked successor.
Legal referrals to the ICC have also been important throughout the episode. In July 2012, Thomas Lubanga, founder and former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and a key player in the Ituri conflict (1999-2007) became the first person convicted by the International Criminal Court. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison for using child soldiers in his rebel army in 2002 and 2003. The chief of operations of the military wing of the UPC, Bosco Ntaganda, went on trial before the International Criminal Court in August 2015, accused of war crimes including the rape of child soldiers by his own rebel army.
With regard to sanctions enforcement over the course of the episode, the Group of Experts reported that there has been progress in traceability and due diligence concerning minerals following the enhanced enforcement measures first recommended in 2015. The DRC achieved EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) certification in 2014, but gold and metals smuggling to support armed groups continues to firms in Rwanda and Uganda, at times with the complicity of corrupt FARDC commanders. Violations of the arms embargo are common, but most of the arms in circulation come from raids on government stocks.
Coerce non-integrated parties (FDLR, ADF, LRA and others) to stop fighting and committing HR abuses and to engage in the peacebuilding process.
Constrain the ability of rebel forces to engage in hostilities and to exploit natural resources within the DRC and neighboring countries.
Signal support for the legitimacy of the government to rebel factions and regional actors.
Ongoing arms imports embargo on non-governmental entities, travel ban, and asset freeze.
Sanctions were imposed for a limited time period (between 1 year and 17 months) and renewed periodically. Sanctions Committee and Group of Experts in place. Designation criteria were specified and targets designated (current and maximum number of designees during the episode – 35 individual designees, 9 entities: 5 firms, 3 rebel groups, and 1 NGO). Enforcement authorities specified, PKO has enforcement role.
Although the M23 was militarily defeated in 2013, other rebel groups (the FDLR, LRA, ADF) have continued to engage in violence, commit human rights violations, and remain a threat to DRC territorial integrity.
Due to weak implementation by neighboring states, sanctions have had a minor role in determining this outcome. Military engagement, diplomatic initiatives and ICC prosecutions were more significant policy instruments used by the Council. MONUSCO’s intervention brigade has been significant in some of the military advances of the FARDC since their MOU agreement in 2016.
The continued activity of rebel groups in the eastern part of the country indicated the continued availability of arms and access to conflict resources. Forms of local taxation also evident.
Territorial control by rebel groups, particularly when supported by neighboring countries, has been most significant to maintain access to resources that fuel the conflict, though there has been some progress reported with the implementation of the EITI process.
Although there is limited indication that foreign backers of rebel groups have been strongly stigmatized within the region, the establishment of the intervention brigade signaled strong support for the legitimacy of the government and the peace process.
Sanctions reinforced regional diplomatic initiatives and UN PKO.
Strengthening of authoritarian rule, resource diversion, increase in international regulatory capacity in different issue domains, increase in corruption and criminality.