Communities still at risk: Any future military action in eastern DRC must minimize harm to civilians

Published: 11th November 2013

The M23 has been defeated militarily and today are set to sign a peace agreement with the government, but dozens of armed groups remain in eastern DRC, exposing civilians to daily violence. Government and the UN must ensure that communities do not become the casualties of any military action against these groups.

The defeat of M23 brought an end their 18-month rebellion in eastern DRC, which is due to be formalized in a joint peace agreement signing with the Congolese government in Kampala, Uganda today. But with more than 30 other armed groups active in the region, the conflict is far from over. Any future actions of the Congolese military, MONUSCO and the UN Force Intervention Brigade against these groups must prioritize the safety and security of civilians, and ensure they do not become victims of new conflict.

Oxfam has been working for many years with communities in eastern DRC, who have told us that previous operations against armed groups led to human rights violations and threatened their safety, both as a direct consequence of operations and also due to ‘reprisal attacks’ carried out by all sides.

“MONUSCO and the Congolese government must take clear steps to minimize the negative impact of operations on civilians, including incorporating a thorough assessment of risks to civilians in operational planning and implementation, and ensuring rigorous monitoring and application of appropriate sanctions for any violations of international humanitarian law by forces,” said Oxfam’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Goma, Tariq Riebl.

“They must learn from the outcome of previous operations and not repeat the same mistakes,” Riebl said. “Planning must prioritize the mitigation of harm to civilians before, during and after operations.”

A military solution to the armed groups alone will not address the structural causes of conflict in eastern DRC, however. The government must also offer credible alternatives for those combatants who want to lay down their arms.

“The Congolese government needs to rapidly adopt a strong and comprehensive disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program to provide alternatives to war and fighting for combatants. Regional governments and international partners must also support this by resourcing, deploying and expanding existing mechanisms to encourage voluntary disarmament,” Riebl said.

This must also be coupled with a community-centred approach to addressing root causes of the bloody conflict.

“Alongside any military action, there must be a political process that addresses deep-seated issues including land, livelihoods, control of resources and representation of all communities. Furthermore, the political process must include local level dialogue to discuss the causes of conflict, community grievances and the reasons people join and support armed groups,” said Riebl.

In parallel to the reintegration of ex-combatants, investigations into human rights violations against men, women and children committed by FARDC, PNC and armed groups, before, during and after operations must be conducted, and those responsible brought to justice.

The government of DRC and regional governments must adhere to commitments made under the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, signed in February 2013, which address restoration and consolidation of state authority, Security Sector Reform, advances around reconciliation, tolerance and democratization.

“If these commitments are upheld there is a good chance that all parties can build on the momentum of the M23 defeat and bring real and lasting peace to the communities of eastern DRC,” Riebl said.

More on Oxfam's response to the crisis in DRC

Alongside any military action, there must be a political process that addresses deep-seated issues including land, livelihoods, control of resources and representation of all communities.
Tariq Riebl
Oxfam’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Goma

Contact information

For more information or to arrange an interview with Oxfam Humanitarian Coordinator Tariq Riebl in Goma, please contact:

Aimee Brown on +254 731 859 413 or