The findings of this report and knowledge gathered through the Peace Exchange workshop would not have been possible without the participation and contributions of civil society actors from the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We extend our gratitude to all the peacebuilders who volunteered their time and contributed invaluable insight regarding the ongoing dynamics for peace and conflict in Eastern DRC.
We would like to thank Amanda Lucey and Dimitri Kotsiras as co-authors of this report. We are extremely grateful for the contributions made by Aji Ceesay. We would also like to thank Neil Jarman for editorial support, and Sarah Phillips and Joel Gabri for supporting the development of the site.
The Peace Exchange workshop in the Eastern DRC was co-convened by Peace Direct and the Bureau de Soutien pour la consolidation de la paix en RDC (Peacebuilding Support Office in the DRC).
The Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is beset by ongoing conflict, violence and political instability, and atrocities – crimes of substantial magnitude that are carried out in a widespread or systematic way – continue to be inflicted on civilians, with devastating repercussions. Despite a change of national government in December 2018, violence has been steadily rising across the eastern provinces, spurred by a lack of government legitimacy, weak state authority, limited access to formal justice mechanisms and cross-border tensions.
Today, more than 100 armed groups are believed to operate in Eastern DRC, vying for territory and control by taking advantage of the country’s substantial wealth in natural resources to finance their activities and terrorise civilians. Despite large military offensives conducted by the Congolese armed forces with the assistance of the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), the provinces in Eastern Congo continue to suffer from protracted conflict and intercommunal violence, which are now undermining efforts to contain a deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus. Angry crowds have attacked the mission for its failure to protect civilians, but owing to the precarious situation, the mission mandate has been extended for a year, with a plan for eventual withdrawal.
Civilians are subject to massacres, kidnappings and mass displacement. Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) continues to be used as a weapon of war. Many children have become orphaned and are unable to attend school. The social fabric of communities is destroyed in a climate of mistrust that frequently leads to the establishment of local protection groups who retaliate and create further instability. Localised conflicts have the potential to grow, at times taking on ethnic dimensions, and are manipulated by political leaders. Moreover, the absence of socio-economic opportunities and service provision leaves the majority of the population with limited options to break out of the cycle of conflict.
In response to this, local peacebuilders are taking an active role to prevent atrocities, using a blend of preventative, responsive and recovery-related approaches. Their engagements not only help to prevent the escalation of violence, but also take a longer-term view that looks at addressing the root causes of violence and filling gaps where the government has not been able to act. While these efforts rarely make the headlines, they are vital for saving lives and hold untapped potential for establishing a more durable peace in the region.
This report presents the findings of a Peace Exchange workshop in Goma, a practitioner-led conflict analysis workshop (subsequently referred to as ‘Peace Exchange’), bringing together 26 representatives from grassroots peacebuilding organisations from across Eastern DRC to discuss the drivers of atrocities, challenges and opportunities for effective atrocity prevention in the region. It also draws on results from a qualitative survey that was distributed to participant organisations to share among their respective local peacebuilding networks across Eastern DRC, as well as in-depth interviews with participants from the Peace Exchange.
The Peace Exchange identified four primary, long-term and overlapping challenges that are the greatest concerns to local populations in Eastern DRC, namely:
In addition, dynamic challenges were identified by local peacebuilders, including electoral conflict, cross-border issues, and the ongoing Ebola crisis. Local elections are likely to reflect ongoing tensions from the results of the presidential elections. The region’s porous borders have enabled protracted conflict and have led to distrust over new migrant communities from neighbouring countries. Moreover, mistrust and disinformation have hindered the Ebola response and encouraged armed attacks against health clinics.
The conclusions made during the Peace Exchange demonstrate that local peacebuilders are aptly placed to identify and respond to initial signs of conflict, provide crisis assistance and lead recovery strategies. Congolese peacebuilders effectively engage in atrocity prevention in the following ways:
For these local peacebuilders to maximise their effectiveness, there is a need to expand their reach and impact. This involves recognising their important efforts, providing support to the spectrum of responses, and ensuring that they engage with government in order to effect structural change.
The findings of the Peace Exchange demonstrate that local peacebuilders require support to better develop coordinated and harmonised networks for knowledge sharing, to ensure that these networks inform national government responses and hold them to account. Congolese peacebuilders welcome the role of the international community in monitoring and promoting human rights and upholding international laws and standards. However, they see the need for a much wider and more transitional approach to break the cycles of violence that are ongoing in the Eastern DRC.
The recommendations derived from the Peace Exchange are as follows:
Recognise the role and comparative advantage that local peacebuilders play by developing formal frameworks to ensure that civil society atrocity prevention responses are supported, while promoting the reciprocal exchange of information.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has witnessed over two decades of conflict which has left countless dead and displaced. Current data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) Project shows that political violence increased in 2019 following a change of government, while regions devastated by the Ebola crisis have been hit the hardest by continued conflict.[i] Local, regional and national conflicts affect the country, while the eastern region in particular continues to suffer from high levels of insecurity due to the presence of multiple armed militias.
Former President Joseph Kabila ended his nearly 20 years of rule after elections were held in December 2018. Felix Tshisekedi was elected as the country’s new Head of State despite claims from opposition leader Martin Fayalu that the election was fraudulent.[ii] Claims that he was the legitimate president were bolstered by the Conférence Épiscopale Nationale du Congo (CENCO, National Episcopal Conference) of the Catholic Church, a credible civil society actor, who had run a parallel counting process with 40,000 electoral observers.[iii] Moreover, the vote had been delayed in certain parts of North Kivu province until March 2019,[iv] after the new leader was already announced and sworn in, alienating and essentially disenfranchising large numbers of people in the region.[v] Tshisekedi had subsequently announced a coalition government that is dominated by supporters of former President Joseph Kabila. Meanwhile, nearly 2 million people have signed a petition urging the electoral commission to organise local elections, which are expected in 2020 after numerous delays. Since Tshisekedi’s election, the largest amount of political violence has occurred in North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces, with 50% of this violence taking place in North Kivu in the first half of 2019.[vi]
The lack of government legitimacy, coupled with weak state authority, limited access to formal justice mechanisms and poverty are factors that have contributed to the violence carried out by an estimated 130-armed groups concentrated in clusters in the east, predominantly in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri. Armed groups continue to finance their activities from illegal mining, and there are continuous violations of the arms embargo.[vii] As a result of the ongoing conflicts, many communities have formed self-protection groups. The presence of these armed groups has threatened vulnerable populations and has led to the displacement of over 4.5 million people.[viii] The situation has worsened with the DRC’s tenth and largest ever outbreak of Ebola in 2018 in North Kivu and Ituri. Moreover, attacks on Ebola centres have left populations further at risk of contracting the disease.[ix]
In June 2019, Ituri saw a surge in inter-ethnic violence against civilians between two ethnic groups, the Lendu and Hema communities. Over 360 fatalities were reported between 1 June 2019 and 20 July 2019, with Lendu ethnic militias responsible for 57% of the fatalities and unidentified ethnic militias responsible for 28%. The violence has displaced over 300,000 people.[i] The UN has further reported that there is a clear increase in violence being orchestrated against the Hema community, with killings, rapes and other violence potentially amounting to crimes against humanity.[ii]
This violence has continued to escalate, with conflicts over land being exacerbated by political manipulation.
In North Kivu, the Nduma défense du Congo Rénové (NDC-R, Nduma Defence of Congo) gained territory in several areas after multiple clashes with armed groups. The NDC-Renove has allegedly collaborated with the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC, Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) on several occasions, meaning that the NDC-R is largely unopposed.[iii] The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamic Ugandan-led militant group, and the Conseil national pour le renouveau et la démocratie (CNRD, National Council for Renewal and Democracy), a Rwandan-backed armed group that splintered from the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) in 2016, also remain a serious threat to peace and security, as they continue to recruit children and engage in SGBV.[iv] Attacks in Beni territory in the autumn of 2019 that have reportedly killed up to 100 civilians,[v] likely perpetrated by the ADF, have prompted violent demonstrations in late November against MONUSCO for failing to protect civilians and quell the violence.[vi]
South Kivu is at high risk of continued atrocities due to a marked increase in inter-communal violence, which has the potential to spread across the Great Lakes region. This is a result of the activities of militias from the Babembe, Bafuliru and Banyindu communities, known as the Mai-Mai, who have labelled themselves as “indigenous Congolese” and have taken up arms against the Banyamulenge, a cattle-herding group of Rwandan origin. Relations deteriorated after a Banyamulenge chief was killed in May 2019, leading to a series of revenge attacks.[vii] Villages have been burnt, cattle stolen and, over a two-week period in September 2019, an additional 35,000 people were displaced. Already, 60% of the community has been displaced from the violence.[viii]
Moreover, collaborations between local and foreign armed groups exacerbated the number of atrocities witnessed in South Kivu. For example, several Burundian armed groups collaborated with local groups in Uvira.[ix] These Burundian rebels are said to have teamed up with Mai-Mai groups while the Banyamulenge are accused of harbouring members of a Rwandan armed group opposed to current Rwandan President Paul Kagame.[x]
In August 2019, President Tshisekedi met with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) where he called on countries to strengthen the United Nations (UN) Organisation Stabilisation Mission (MONUSCO), the UN peacekeeping mission which has been the subject of recent protests for failing to protect civilians against militias.[i] In December 2019, the mission mandate was extended for another year, although an Independent Strategic Review found that MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB)[ii] in particular had been ineffective, and strongly emphasised that the use of military force was only one part of a multidimensional effort to promote peace.[iii]
With the government and the UN mission failing to ensure the safety of civilians, local peacebuilders continue to play a paramount role in their protection – filling gaps where the government and international community fail to act. While their efforts should not supplant those of the government, their potential to establish a more durable peace must be recognised.
This report is part of a broader report series called Local Voices for Peace (LVP), which aims to improve international peacebuilding policies and practice in fragile and conflict-affected states. It emphasises the voices of local peacebuilders in order to inform international decision-making and community-based peacebuilding practice by bridging the gaps between international decision-making and the realities on the ground. This report specifically is based on a Peace Exchange that took place in Goma from 9-11 October 2019 with 26 grassroots peacebuilding organisations from across eastern DRC.
The findings and analysis in this report are based on discussions that occurred during a Peace Exchange workshop that took place in Goma, Eastern DRC, from 9-11 October 2019.
The workshop brought together 26 grassroots civil society organisations (CSOs) who work in different regions of Eastern DRC, namely in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces. Organisations were selected on the basis of previous mappings, research and outreach conducted by Peace Direct in conjunction with local peacebuilders to ensure as broad a representation as possible. Gender was also a priority. Primarily, a participatory action research (PAR) approach was taken. The workshop sessions consisted of a range of activities including group work and plenaries, which allowed for discussions on conceptual and practical issues related to atrocity prevention.
The analysis in this report is a compilation of perspectives that were derived from this exchange. The main themes and issues that have emerged from this workshop were not initially framed as such. Rather, responses from participants during the discussion were grouped together according to general consensus and subsequently analysed. It should be noted that quotes from participants are mostly illustrative in nature but that direct quotes have received the consent of those involved. A full list of organisations who participated in the exchange can be found at the end of this document.
The report also contains the findings of a short survey that was completed by 39 respondents from local peacebuilding organisations in the DRC before and after the workshop. Participants were given a set of multiple choice and short answer questions on atrocity prevention and related issues and have been used to validate the outcome of the discussions that took place during the Peace Exchange. Of these respondents, 33% were female and 67% were male. These respondents came from various parts of Eastern DRC and the survey was widely distributed to be as representative as possible.
During the exchange,
semi-structured interviews were conducted in French by an independent
journalist and videographer with a select number of participants. These videos were
transcribed, translated into English, and subtitled in-house by Peace Direct’s
communications team, with support from the programmes team. These videos are available
in the online version of the report and used throughout the report to accompany
and complement written case studies, to provide more qualitative
information, and to inform some of the analysis of the report more generally.
Atrocity crimes are generally regarded as crimes of significant magnitude that consist of widespread or systematic violence perpetrated against civilians. The notion of atrocity prevention has grown as a response by the international community to prevent a repeat of the horrors witnessed in the 1990s in the Balkans and Rwanda. In order to generate appropriate responses to atrocities, there have been efforts to define different types of these crimes, which include genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.
Global agendas relating to atrocity prevention have shifted from purely reactive responses through accountability frameworks towards a broader and more comprehensive approach. In 2016 the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly passed twin resolutions on sustaining peace as a means of preventing an escalation or re-escalation of conflict. This agenda stresses the need for inclusive and people-centred approaches, and involves a preventative and structural focus that addresses the root causes of violence.
The agenda is highly relevant to atrocity prevention as atrocities can occur even when countries are characterised as being somewhat ‘peaceful.’ In addition, in situations of armed conflict, there can still be ways of preventing atrocities, such as promoting dialogue with armed groups. As such, atrocity prevention has elements of prevention, response and recovery. These debates are explored further in a report by Peace Direct, which is based on global consultations with policy makers and practitioners. This report explores how civil society roles can best be optimised in the protection of civilians.
Genocide: As defined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide the term “genocide” refers to acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Even though the victims of the crimes are individuals, they are targeted because of their membership, real or perceived, in one of these groups.
Crimes against humanity: Article VII of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002) defines crimes against humanity as acts that are part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.
War crimes: Crimes committed against a diversity of victims, either combatants or non-combatants. In international armed conflicts, victims include those specifically protected by the four 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Additional Protocol I. It also includes those protected under the 1977 Additional Protocol II. Protection under international humanitarian law in both types of conflicts covers medical and religious personnel, humanitarian workers and civil defence staff.
Ethnic cleansing: As noted above, ethnic cleansing is not officially recognised as a distinct crime under international law, but entails a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove, by violent and terror-inspiring means, the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas. Thus, ethnic cleansing is encompassed in crimes against humanity, which includes the forcible transfer or deportation of populations.
Global narratives on atrocity prevention have taken great care to differentiate between the terms genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. However, for local peacebuilders in Eastern DRC, less prescriptive terms such as killings, acts of violence and attacks are used to describe atrocities in their context, which do not accurately describe the scale of the crime or its context, instead putting the focus on their regular occurrence.
There was also disagreement on the utility of the term ‘atrocity.’ According to some participants, the term resonated less with communities on an emotional and psychological level. Some local peacebuilders used terms such as murders, community violence and torture to clearly explain the type of atrocity crime in practical terms that can be more easily understood by the community. Characterising these types of crimes in this way was more useful for local peacebuilders, which may be a result of their ability to classify them in early warning systems for localised responses, rather than with a view to justice, which would be more appropriate for responses from the international community.
While some participants defined the target group of the crime, either as an ethnic community or a political group, for other participants atrocities could be less discriminate. However, participants agreed that atrocity crimes differ from human rights violations due to their inhumane character. As explained by some participants, the severity and savage nature of an atrocity was sometimes best described in local terms such as kinyama (‘beastly’, to treat someone like an animal) or ubunyamaswa (‘savagery’) - acts that “shock the human conscience.”
What was clear from the discussions was that the use of the term ‘atrocity crime’ was relevant in so far as it qualified the intentions of the perpetrators, distinguishing unarmed civilian populations from armed actors, and the implication this has on international humanitarian and human rights law. While recognising the inherent differences between atrocity crimes and casualties from armed conflict, participants also noted that perpetrators of atrocities can hide the nature of their crimes under the guise of war, with victims being collateral damage rather than being direct targets of attacks. Participants at the Peace Exchange noted that this was important to characterise the nature of the crime to international actors. Thus, the term ‘atrocity crime’ is used to describe events to the international community in order to prompt a response, but among local communities it was less relevant.
Participants stated that the intentions of political violence were seen as different to those of identity-based violence, but that despite these differences there was an overlap between the two. Peacebuilders reported instances where political leaders and parties used ethnic connotations to ‘other’ rival groups and divide power along ethnic and tribal lines.
Drawing on these local perspectives, atrocity crimes in this report refer to acts of violence that are cruel and barbaric in nature and target unarmed civilian populations, discriminately or indiscriminately.
Participants also discussed the differences between two main types of violence closely linked with atrocity crimes in their communities, namely political and identity-based violence. Political violence was more clearly defined as an activity that relates to access to power and resources in the context of the State (i.e. driven by state actors such as politicians and their manipulation of communities), whereas identity-based violence was described as any violence related to nationality, ethnicity, religion, language, gender and so on.
Communities in Eastern DRC face a number of security-related challenges
and drivers of conflict. Four main overlapping challenges were identified
during the Peace Exchange, namely the mobilisation of armed groups and
militias, land conflicts, violent crimes and human rights violations and
inter-ethnic and communal conflicts, which are outlined below. These were
broader thematic areas in which participants agreed there were points of
convergence and commonality across regions, while some areas also had specific
challenges. New and dynamic challenges are also discussed.
It should be noted that survey responses affirmed these key challenges, although an additional category also came to the fore: economic insecurity derived from the lack of opportunities. Participants in the Peace Exchange also alluded to this issue but saw it as primarily affecting youth, who sometimes turned to violence as an alternative means of income and who were subsequently recruited into armed groups. Respondents were asked which three main peace and security challenges they faced in their communities and responses were given as follows:
According to Peace Exchange participants
Both local and foreign armed groups continue to operate in the Eastern Congo, and their numbers have grown considerably over the past few years – from 70 in 2015 to over 130 in 2019. Most of them are small in size and primarily ethno-centric; some have deep connections to local communities through economic, sociocultural and political ties. But many have been increasingly involved in complex coalitions, in some cases within wider political and business networks, subject to manipulation by elites for their own gain. In the Kivus, armed groups are concentrated in strategic areas such as the Semuliki Valley, the Ruzizi Plain and around the Virunga National Park, while smaller ones are often clustered in areas with high population density such as the Lubero-Nyanzale-Kitchanga and Fizi-Uvira axes, leading to fierce competition between them. Meanwhile, Ituri’s armed groups have concentrated their areas of operations primarily in the Djugu and Mahagi territories.
Many of these armed groups are involved in criminal activities and are responsible for forced recruitment, kidnappings, murders, and attacks on civilians and villages, amongst others. For instance, in Beni and its surroundings in North Kivu, movements and deliberate attacks by the ADF on civilians have led to a large military offensive, escalating violence in the area and sparking mass protests. Since 30 October, more than 200 civilians have been killed by the ADF, many of them hacked to death.
In the survey, 69% of respondents noted that the movement of armed groups were likely to lead to an escalation of violence in their communities while 80% stated that attacks would lead to an escalation of violence. Widespread poverty, porous borders, instability in other countries, the proliferation of small arms and a lack of alternatives for youth all contribute to the existence and expansion of these armed groups, according to participants at the Peace Exchange.
These armed groups often engage in the forced collection of illegal taxes and blockades in towns under their control, and force communities to work in mining quarries and other economic activities to gain the financial and material means for their survival and to supply them with arms and ammunition. Moreover, these groups often engage in magical-religious rites for new recruits, including tattooing and drugging recruits before battle and engaging in other mystical ceremonies to indoctrinate their members.
Participants also expressed concern over new alliances and the reorganisation of armed groups. For example, in Rutshuru, North Kivu, the death of a general in charge of the FDLR and its ally the Mai-Mai Nyatura, and the naming of a new leader has led some to think that attacks on civilians may begin to intensify. There were also concerns that the ADF are joining forces with an Ituri-based armed group, the Force de résistance patriotique d’Ituri (FRPI, Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri), to engage more actively in their fight against government forces. It should also be noted that the activities of armed groups have also fuelled inter-ethnic and inter-communal violence.
Early warning signs of armed groups being mobilised
One of the underlying reasons behind the proliferation of armed groups has been the failure of the formal Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) process. According to participants at the Peace Exchange, DDR programmes had led to frustration from the outset, from communities who perceived these programmes as giving perpetrators greater support than victims of atrocities. Local peacebuilders attributed the failures of the DDR process to a number of factors:
Local land conflicts are a key driver of instability in Eastern DRC. Many of these are inter-personal disputes over plot boundaries and inheritance, the illegal occupation and acquisition of plots and land rights, etc. Other conflicts occur at a larger scale between farmers and local concessionaires, between rural communities and mining companies, between national park administrators and rural populations who want access to parklands for farming, as well as between pastoralists and farmers.
Protracted issues in land governance are fostered by competition over land, which has increased with rapid population growth and the proliferation of armed groups. Part of the challenge stems from the absence of a clear land policy in the DRC, which instead relies on overlapping or unclear legal frameworks with different and conflicting interpretations. During colonisation, land was awarded to “indigenous” Congolese according to their ethnicities and customs. Today both statutory and customary law are used in the application of land rights in the DRC and this dual system does not have clear boundaries. According to participants at the Peace Exchange, a lack of clarity in statutory law and the non-enforcement or limited application of laws were serious issues that often lead to escalated disputes. Moreover, boundaries are often poorly defined and property agreements between individuals are not always based on a legal standing.
Stakeholders also suggested that the justice system was poorly equipped to resolve land disputes, and also excluded part of the population, since access to its services were not free of charge. This was described by a survey respondent, who claimed that the “incompatibility between the laws prescribed by formal and customary laws lead to further confusion and frustration around the procedures to follow in order to access land without resorting to legal action.”
Over the past few years, the government has begun to set up the Commissions Consultatives de Règlement des Conflits Coutumiers (CCRCC, Consultative Commissions for the Settlement of Customary Disputes) in some parts of the country to address land-related issues, as customary chiefs have historically played a prominent role in the distribution of land. This network of traditional authorities at the national, provincial and local level attempts to resolve customary conflicts though conciliation, mediation and/or arbitration, and renders sentences when necessary. Under the direction of the Ministry of Customary Affairs, the CCRCC has been identifying and training customary chiefs, as well as developing a database of traditional authorities throughout the country to improve the administrative management of customary entities.
According to one participant, the CCRCC has had some positive impact, as communities prefer to settle their disputes through these advisory committees rather than through legal proceedings. However, the government’s increasing influence over the CCRCC has led some to believe that the customary system is being politicised and is undermining the independence of traditional authorities.
Land tensions in Eastern DRC are further complicated by the presence of pastoralists who seek new grazing lands for cattle. These pastoralists are often armed, and this can lead to conflict when cattle graze on land that is considered to belong to a different community. Participants called this movement “vaches sans frontières” (cows without borders). The link between modern pastoralism and large-scale violence (transhumance conflicts) is well-established both in the Eastern DRC but also across other parts of Africa.
Competition over scarce land has been further exacerbated by wildlife causing damage to fields, and communities farming land in wildlife reserves. This has led to conflicts between rangers from conservation organisations such as the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN, Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation) and local communities whose livelihoods depend on those lands. Poor resource management, mining disputes and migration were also considered drivers of land conflicts.
Many of these conflicts are limited to low levels of violence, but when linked to identity and ethnicity they can produce large-scale violence, as illustrated by recent clashes in the highlands of South Kivu.
- Refusal to allow community members access to land
- Movement of cattle and pastoralists into new grazing lands
- Destruction of fields and livestock
- Illegal settlements in National Parks
- Squatting on occupied land and acts of arson
- Illegal land-grabbing
Human rights abuses in Eastern DRC are committed by both armed groups and government security forces. Villages are routinely looted and burned, with entire communities being uprooted repeatedly. Between July and September 2019, 1,441 human rights violations and abuses were reported in the DRC (a similar number to the three months prior to that), with half the number of recorded cases being committed by State actors including defence and security forces, and the other half committed by members of armed groups and militias. In particular, the Congolese army was responsible for 26% of violations recorded during this period.
Rape and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) remain paramount concerns. For instance, 156 women and 46 girls were victims of sexual violence during this same time period with a spike in these violations occurring in the Minembwe area of South Kivu. Participants clearly pointed to the link between SGBV as an instrument of war and its use in perpetrating further atrocities. Attacks, kidnappings, community and armed violence were also mentioned by participants as crimes that could lead to atrocities and had the biggest effect on the community.
In addition, civilians are subjected to unlawful killings, forced disappearances and abductions. There have been instances of torture and arbitrary detention by the government, poor prison conditions, and the long-term detainment of political prisoners. There are also fears over the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association, as well as censorship and threats against journalists. In some cases, it is the government who are implicated in abuses, with corruption and impunity further perpetuating crimes. Communities therefore remain at huge risk of violent crime and human rights violations.
Tribal disputes over customary power are major challenges in Eastern DRC, which lead to inter-ethnic and communal conflicts. Peace Exchange participants also noted the persistence of xenophobia and the creation of mono-ethnic neighbourhoods in their regions. Hate speech and messages of intimidation were cited as serious concerns - from the survey responses, 77% of respondents stated that hate speech is likely to escalate conflict.
Local peacebuilders stressed that the killing of a community leader often leads to revenge killings across tribal lines, which in turn fosters hatred and mistrust between communities. As a result, communities are establishing self-protection defence groups. Many of these groups operating in the region label themselves as “Mai Mai” - an umbrella term for armed groups claiming to engage in self-defence against “foreigners” - and are still widely perceived as self-defence groups intent on protecting local communities of similar ethnicities, initially from various armed groups active in the area and more recently from the FARDC.
Many of these groups, however, have shifted into spoilers that prey on other ethnic communities. For instance, some Peace Exchange participants highlighted the destructive presence of the Mai-Mai Mazembe, a collection of Nande-based self-defence militia groups that emerged in early 2016 to counter long-standing FDLR abuses against the Nande and Kobo communities of Southern Lubero and Walikale territories in the North Kivu province. The Mai Mai Mazembe have been accused of targeting Hutu communities, burning houses, killing civilians and dividing communities in Lubero along ethnic lines.
Another major contributor to identity-based violence is the manipulation of identities by local political and economic elites. Elites often manipulate identity markers for political and/or economic gain, perpetuating political narratives of indigenousness and foreignness that pit ethnic groups against one another. Moreover, elites’ close ties with the government enable them to manipulate the allocation of government funds, services and management of land rights; denying access to certain communities. For instance, the denial of nationality and of citizenship rights to people of Rwandan or Burundian heritage (specifically members of the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups) is an ongoing issue in eastern DRC that has led to violence, which is intricately linked to citizens’ rights to land. There have also been cases where certain minority groups have not had access to public funds and services, and other cases where political and economic elites have orchestrated land-grabbing of customarily owned land.
While the four themes mentioned above were the main commonalities found across the different regions of the DRC, participants also raised additional challenges that they faced:
With the December 2018 national elections high on the
minds of Peace Exchange participants, the local elections in DRC were also
cited as having the potential to spark conflict. Election results in the DRC have
previously been marred with widespread irregularities and voter suppression,
and internet shutdowns can prevent independent reporting and information
sharing. This has led to further disillusionment and frustrations with the
political process. Some local civil society groups have claimed that there is a
“’total crisis of confidence’ in the electoral process,”
including the impartiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission
In addition, the forthcoming elections in Burundi in 2020 also raised concerns over potential conflict caused by refugees and displacements into South Kivu, as the current President Pierre Nkurunziza could possibly run for a fourth term. Nkurunziza’s previous announcement of running for a third term in 2015 caused an upsurge of violence in the country, leading to mass displacements and killings. Throughout the discussions, poor governance and partiality on the part of the Congolese government were also seen as drivers of conflict. Moreover, electoral manipulation by local political elite was noted as a major risk factor that can lead to violence.
As Eastern DRC shares highly porous borders with its neighbouring states, cross-border violence remains a concern to peacebuilders in the DRC. Increasing hostility among states in the Great Lakes region has threatened a return to regional wars, as leaders in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi blame each other for actively supporting rebels in North and South Kivu.
In South Kivu, for instance, several Burundian rebel groups based in the Rusizi Plain of South Kivu, including the Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL, National Liberation Forces), the Forces Populaires du Burundi (FBP, Popular Forces of Burundi) and the RED-Tabara (Résistance pour un Etat de Droit au Burundi, Resistance for the Rule of Law in Burundi), the latter of which is accused of being sponsored by Rwanda, engage in fighting on either side of the Burundian border. These groups have fought the Congolese army and some Congolese armed groups while actively supporting others, raiding villages in the Uvira and Fizi territories, particularly in Minembwe, Bujombo and Bijabo.
Clashes on either side of the Ruzizi Plain have led to refugee flows on both sides, creating further instability in the region. Likewise, different factions of former M23 fighters backed by either Uganda or Rwanda have returned to hotspots of conflict in North Kivu and Ituri, and Ugandan officials have accused Rwanda of supporting the ADF in North Kivu.
Participants also noted concerns about the potential for mass displacement across borders. In particular, participants feared that an electoral crisis around the 2020 election in Burundi could lead to the displacement of thousands across the border. Others believed that the result of the Burundian election will prompt the forced repatriation of Congolese students studying in Burundi under a scheme introduced by the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL).
One of the greatest humanitarian concerns for Eastern DRC is the Ebola epidemic. Since its outbreak, the number of Ebola victims totals approximately 3,300, of which around 2,200 people – approximately two-thirds of those infected – have died. Cases are increasing in the rural and inaccessible areas of Ituri province, where community mistrust and disinformation further compounds these issues, fuelling growing resistance to the Ebola response.
Despite the deployment of MONUSCO troops and police units to at-risk areas, armed groups have attacked Ebola health centres, such as the Mai Mai Mazembe who have recently claimed responsibility for an attack on an Ebola health clinic in Lwemba. Such attacks have forced organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières to withdraw from the area. High levels of insecurity have discouraged people from seeking assistance, resulting in a greater likelihood that the virus will spread. This is a serious concern for local peacebuilders as it prevents access to healthcare and hinders efforts to contain the spread of the disease.
Despite similarities in the types of conflict (mobilisation of armed groups, land conflict, human rights violations and inter-ethnic and communal conflict), there were specific issues experienced across the different regions of the DRC. Participants from Ituri province and Beni territory were quick to emphasise that while the same themes occurred in different regions, conflict dynamics were different throughout, and each required a nuanced understanding as there are also risks of spill over.
Ituri province has been experiencing renewed violence since early 2018, marked by a significant degree of secrecy and a range of competing theories around the perpetrators of the violence. A spate of massacres and mysterious attacks concentrated in the Djugu territory has left hundreds dead and displaced over 100,000 people to neighbouring areas and to Uganda. The organised violence had deepened mistrust, igniting existing fault lines between the Lendu and Hema communities, and sparking a renewed armed mobilisation entrenched along ethnic lines.
Peace Exchange participants from Ituri believe that a mystical sect called the Coopérative de développement économique du Congo (CODECO, Economic Development Cooperative of Congo) are likely behind the attacks. Composed mainly of Lendu people, this sect is an agricultural-religious organisation that morphed into a militia accused of massacres and tied to the FRPI. CODECO’s presence has been tied to a time when there were nearly 500 murders in the Djugu and Mahagi territories.
Participants from Ituri also noted the rise of the Sakumuna, a youth militia in Ituri that has usurped governmental state authority in Aru and exacts its own brand of justice. The group has sometimes been used as an instrument of violence in political disputes between elites. Poor management of internal migration was also given as a major issue that contributes to the violence.
One of the greatest concerns for local populations in North Kivu has been the increase in attacks by the ADF and its incursions into Beni territory. The ADF are one of the oldest but least understood armed groups in the eastern DRC, having taken on various ethnic and secessionist ideologies. The group was first formed in 1995 between the Ugandan Tabliq movement (a Muslim puritanical sect) and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU). A large portion of the senior leadership of the group is still Ugandan and its purported goals include the overthrow of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, however its changing identity makes it hard to develop a strategy to counter the group. The ADF has also sometimes been used as a proxy in the Great Lakes conflicts. Recently, it is believed that the ADF are forging ties with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In November 2019, after the FARDC launched an offensive against the group, there was a heavy spate of brutal attacks against civilians with more than 200 people killed. Half of these were women and children.
North Kivu, namely Masisi territory, has also suffered from an expansion of the NDC-R, which has clashed with various groups including the FDLR. The FDLR is of particular concern as it carries out human rights violations against civilians. The FARDC has also launched an offensive against these groups.
South Kivu, particularly the higher plateaus of Fizi and Uvira territories, has been hit by a string of ethnically motivated attacks from Mai-Mai groups that claim to be ‘indigenous Congolese’. The target of the violence is a group called the Banyamulenge, of Rwandan origin. At least 44 civilians have been killed and 89 villages burnt since March 2019 in what appears to be targeted attacks. The violence has notably increased since October 2019 and has the potential to spread to neighbouring areas. Many displaced people now face humanitarian concerns, such as access to health facilities. Elites have further politicised the conflict, and authorities have been accused of being impartial.
South Kivu also faces challenges with foreign armed groups, including those of Rwandan and Burundian origin. In early 2019 the CNRD moved from North Kivu to the Kalehe highlands in South Kivu. A number of Mai-Mai groups also operate in South Kivu, including the Mai-Mai Raia Mutomboki in Shabunda, who have increased their attacks following a FARDC redeployment.
For most civilians, the effects of atrocities are profound. Communities operate in a climate of mistrust, fear and hatred as unresolved issues deepen antagonism between them. Civilians continue to live in insecurity, subject to killings, torture, kidnappings, mass displacement and sexual violence. For example, between July and September 2019 there were over 300 victims of extrajudicial or summary killings, including 69 women. The effects of these atrocities are profound, particularly with regards to sexual violence, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, social isolation and stigmatisation, and the breakdown of community and family relationships. Communities establish their own security mechanisms, while armed groups have continued to proliferate partly as a result of self-defence militias morphing into new predatory armed groups.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that by December 2019 there were approximately 16 million people in need of humanitarian assistance (a 24% increased from 31 December 2018), including eight and half million children (a 53% increase since the same time).
Beyond the loss of human lives and destruction of property, participants at the Peace Exchange also pointed to economic and social consequences of the violence, including its negative effects on agriculture and trade as well as unemployment and the loss of skilled labour. Indeed, a recent study has shown that the estimated economic impact of internal displacement is around USD$720 million a year. On the social side, poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition are rife, and mainly affect women and children. It is currently estimated that 15.9 million people are facing severe and acute food security, with those in Ituri and South Kivu being the most affected. Among them, more than 5 million Congolese children are estimated to be suffering from acute malnourishment.
The violence has also exacerbated the resurgence of epidemics and communicable diseases, such as Ebola and measles, and has increased physical and mental health trauma. Basic infrastructure such as hospitals and schools have been destroyed. According to participants, young people are especially vulnerable, with many of them newly orphaned and often lacking support and guidance. Lacking livelihood options, they become vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups.
Local peacebuilders in Eastern DRC face a host of conflict-related challenges, but they are keenly attuned to the warning signs and can therefore play a key role in preventing the escalation of violence. The Peace Exchange strongly demonstrated that civil society actors see the roles of government and security actors as responsive while they play a major role in prevention, but also in response and recovery. For these peacebuilders, the fields of atrocity prevention, conflict prevention and peacebuilding overlap; speaking to the non-linearity of sustaining peace. Peacebuilders therefore saw themselves better placed to engage in non-violent peace initiatives than government stakeholders.
Government actors are seen as being primarily involved in state building – rebuilding infrastructure, basic security, social security (such as the creation of jobs), stabilisation programmes, and engagement with local authorities, whereas security actors are involved in protection, road closures, patrols, arrests, investigations and engaging with humanitarian actors. Participants argued that, due to a lack of state ownership, there were limited successes in the judicial system, which is largely inaccessible and ineffective, and that informal justice mechanisms offered more sustainable alternatives.
For civil society actors, their role was one of prevention and of promoting social cohesion and reconciliation. They engage with a variety of stakeholders, including local and religious leaders, the FARDC and national police/intelligence and the UN, notably the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission. Local peacebuilders specifically target at-risk groups such as women and youth for their interventions.
In the past, young people have primarily been seen as perpetrators or victims of violence in conflicts. However, they can also play a positive role in promoting peace. As one participant explained, “the youth used to be seen as a threat, but they are now seen as an opportunity for change.” While the importance of youth engagement has been recognised by the UN’s youth, peace and security resolution 2250, much more needs to be done to effectively incorporate their ideas and initiatives into concrete action throughout the world.
In the Eastern DRC, peacebuilders have provided practical examples of how this can be done. By engaging the youth in atrocity prevention strategies and developing their skills to give them a sense of ownership in atrocity prevention, the youth are used as a force for positive change.
Therefore, by engaging with different groups of stakeholders, local peacebuilders ensured trust-building across multiple levels, aiming to change knowledge, attitudes and behaviours and to impact on structural changes, within and across communities, but also through engagements with those in positions of authority. The roles of local peacebuilders are further outlined below.
Early warning systems are seen by local Congolese peacebuilders as a crucial and effective strategy for atrocity prevention. Early warning systems allow for a clear identification of those likely to commit crimes on the basis of credible indicators that are shared publicly and transparently. This allows peacebuilders to then examine means of influencing the behaviour of likely perpetrators and generate awareness within communities on what the conflict drivers are.
Many Congolese peacebuilding organisations already have early warning systems in place which focus on risk monitoring, strengthening community protection mechanisms and interventions for stabilising areas at risk of atrocities. For example, the Beni Peace Forum is a network of local organisations that trains local people to report on incidents of violence and human rights violations, and they have established local protection committees to respond to these incidents (see case study below for more details). The information collected is triangulated and verified for accuracy, and is then passed on to decision-makers and communities to enable them to act quickly and efficiently to potential violence.
Peace Exchange participants who engage in early warning work broadly categorised early warning signs into key thematic areas such as human rights violations, security incidents, identity-based violence and land disputes. The frequency and repetition of identified cases/incidents are important for determining the scale and extent of the problem (such as the increase in the number of group meetings or the number of weapons supplied to the community). Participants spoke of the value of Risk Analysis Committees (RACs) and already had clear guidelines for analysis, including data collection sheets, reporting templates as well as software and safety plans. Risks, unlike early warning signs are semi-permanent, while early warning signs show a limited time to act, and therefore local peacebuilders can act as first responders to potential violence.
Participants saw early warning monitoring as indispensable for engagement with other actors. They highlighted that their accurate documentation of incidents of violence enables them to have a seat in security meetings with military and security actors because they can provide valuable information from inaccessible areas. Likewise, local peacebuilders use early warning systems to help traditional authorities make informed decisions and to set up community protection plans. Early warning systems therefore not only prevent violence, but also change knowledge and attitudes in communities, which then lead to a change in overall behaviour. Participants added that accurate documentation of incidents of violence ensured that facts about past atrocities could not be manipulated in the future to spark further conflict. This activity was termed “memorial duty."
Though local civil society actors have developed several early warning mechanisms, and communities develop plans for their own responses, the national government’s early response strategy remains a major problem. As proposed by the participants, a formalisation of early warning systems would be useful in legitimising preventative actions and could ensure standardisation across different networks of peacebuilders. Through better engagement with government they can impact on structural changes as well.
Since November 2014, the Beni territory of North Kivu province in north-eastern DRC has been plunged into an unprecedented cycle of violence. The violence has largely been driven by fighting between FARDC and the ADF. This, coupled with the presence of other armed militias such as the Union pour la Réhabilitation de la Démocratie du Congo (URDC, Union for the Rehabilitation of Democracy in Congo), led by a FARDC defector also allied to the ADF, has further destabilised an already fragile situation.
In order to optimise the dispersed peacebuilding work being carried out and streamline the fragmented responses of different actors to this uptick in violence, the Beni Peace Forum (BPF) was formed in May 2016. The Forum is a network of civil society organisations that formed an early warning system and find appropriate and rapid responses to the worrying and escalating violence and militia attacks in the region. In 2018, the Beni Peace Forum initiated a programme called Système d’Alertes Précoces et de Réponses Rapides (SAPRA, Early Warning and Rapid Response System Programme) with the support of Peace Direct, focussing their efforts primarily in Beni-Mbau, Bashu and Ruwenzori - within the Beni territory, and also the city of Beni itself. The Forum documents incidents of human rights violations and carries out advocacy work and peaceful dialogues with local communities.
As part of this project, Local Protection Committees (LPC) were created and tasked with contributing to the security and stabilisation of the region. 150 people, a third of which consisted of women, were trained in 5 sites – Beni-Ville, Mangina, Kamango, Mutwanga and Kyondo on basic human rights and incident monitoring. As a result, they can collect, analyse, and share incidents recorded in the area to the appropriate authorities for possible solutions. BPF also organises dialogues between local government representatives and community members in order to jointly manage the main drivers of violent conflict in the area. These dialogues were aimed at influencing stakeholders (authority and community members) to seek solutions to recorded incidents relating to security and protection.
Given the sensitive nature of their work, some local peace committee leaders operating in highly militarised areas have been exposed to arrests, intimidation and death threats. Moreover, continued insecurity in the region made some areas such as Watalinga inaccessible, and undermined efforts there. Nonetheless, the LPCs are still able to autonomously carry out context analyses, as well as mediation and advocacy sessions at the local level, while the local authority has taken ownership of the project’s achievements. This combined with widespread awareness of community members of the relevance of the LPCs actions guarantee their sustainability.
The Beni Peace Forum’s SAPRA project has led to a lot of positive changes at the individual, community and institutional level. It significantly increased the level of trust between local communities and leaders leading to sporadic cooperation around peace concerns - local points of contact freely sending warning alerts to security authorities/leaders. The population of these areas now know who to contact for any alerts, and they have a much stronger understanding of their rights and have demonstrated a willingness to denounce human rights violations by sending alerts. Occasionally, the incidents and alerts that are collected are transmitted to Beni Peace Forum coordinators, to influence relevant local civil authorities and the "assistance providers" – the national army, the PNC (Congolese National Police) and MONUSCO. Furthermore, the dialogue sessions provide a framework giving the population a space to deal with their trauma. These sessions enable community members to address their differences, specifically those related to land disputes. Several of these disputes have been resolved without recourse to violence.
Sensitisation and peace messaging are critical means of changing attitudes within divided societies and inculcating a culture of peace. Sensitisation and messaging are important throughout times of conflict, acting as both a preventative and response measure. Peace Exchange participants stressed that this is an important strategy used in atrocity prevention, noting that their advocacy and community outreach covers a range of topics, including strong messaging against violence, actions for the reduction of community violence and means of enhancing security within people’s homes. A key element of their activities focusses on youth, including the development of an education for peace programme as well as support for youth initiatives including school clubs.
One important means of getting messages across was through radio broadcasts that allowed communities to understand their responsibilities in contributing to peace through the denunciation of violence and advocating for peace. Radio broadcasts are also essential to ensure that information reaches those in inaccessible rural areas and provide a source of information to those with low literacy levels.
The most important change is that my community is beginning to understand that the issue of stability and peace concerns everyone. Through radio awareness sessions by journalists in their radio broadcasts, the community understands that peace is built through multiple contributions [from the community].
Quote from survey respondent
One example of a peace sensitisation campaign, the “Femme au Fone” (FAF, Women on the Phone), was highlighted by a participant from South Kivu. This women-led monitoring and political advocacy programme uses telecommunications devices to gather and disseminate information on the structural discrimination of women in Congolese society. Headed by two local organisations, the Synergie des Femmes pour la Paix et la Réconciliation des Peuples des Grands Lacs d’Afrique (SPR, Solidarity of Women for Peace and Reconciliation in the Great Lakes Region), a network of women-led organisations in North and South Kivu, and the South Kivu Women’s Media Association (AFEM-K), the FAF system enables Congolese women to submit encrypted messages to a central platform about discrimination and threats against women, which are then disseminated via a radio channel run by the two organisations. SPR and AFEM-K verifies and analyses the information, with the ultimate aim of alerting local and provincial authorities to the security issues that women face.
Peace messaging campaign can contribute to changing knowledge and attitudes of local communities by keeping the public informed, and to then influence their behaviour through an understanding of shared responsibilities. A key factor is focussing on the youth who are most at risk of being caught up in conflict.
According to participants, peace committees are designed to prevent the escalation of conflict and are therefore critical in atrocity prevention. They are local inclusive forums where stakeholders take joint responsibility to build peace and enhance social cohesion. Peace committees can provide political legitimacy for local peacebuilding efforts, allow responsibilities to be shared across a range of individuals that are representative of the community, support communal dialogue and provide viable options to address problems with allocated resources. More generally, peace committees can be instrumental in restoring trust.
One grassroots structure highlighted by participants as an effective conflict resolution mechanism was the Barza communautaire or intercommunautaire. Barzas, originally from the Swahili word ‘Baraza’ meaning ‘gathering’, are seen as valuable traditional gatherings where elected community elders from different communities meet to prevent and settle disputes between (ethnic) communities, provide advice and guidance, and promote harmony in the society. These gatherings, often organised by local peacebuilders along with customary leaders and other key local figures, can mobilise hundreds of people to solve disputes such as land conflicts in a consensual, transparent and non-violent manner. While some have collapsed since the end of the Congolese civil war, local peacebuilders have successfully revived the system to re-engage communities at risk of violence.
Other local peace committee structures in Eastern DRC include the Comités Locaux de Paix et de Développement (CLPD, Local Peace and Development Committees) at a district level and the Noyau de Paix et de Développement (NPD, Local Peace and Development Committees) at a village level. In North Kivu, there is also the Cellule Provinciale d’Appui à la Pacification (CPAP, Provincial Pacification Support Unit), which monitors the security situation and organises local dialogues under the supervision of the Ministry of Interior.
Peacebuilders in Eastern DRC explained that these local committees use a PAR (research) methodology to analyse conflict actors, dynamics and trends as well as the root causes of violence. These efforts are validated and discussed in social dialogues and then presented to government authorities. Subsequently social cohesion plans are generated. This demonstrates how local peacebuilders work across multiple levels, first aiming to generate knowledge and awareness of the root causes of conflict, and effect structural change through their engagements with government in developing social cohesion plans. For local peacebuilders, strategies are important to avoid ad-hoc responses to quickly changing contexts.
In May 2018, a security crisis occurred in the Djugu territory of Ituri in which atrocities were committed against the local population. This reignited existing fault lines between the Lendu and Hema communities, who have a history of violent conflicts. Past tensions between the two ethnic groups led to a violent conflict during the Second Congo War (1998-2003), wherein thousands of civilians were killed.
Under the guidance of the Forum des Mamans de l’Ituri (FOMI, Forum of Mothers in Ituri), a network of women-led organisations operating in Ituri, local communities organised themselves into peace committees. These include the Noyaux Pacifiste des Mamans (Mothers’ Pacifist Hub), the Dynamique Femme pour la Paix (Women's Movement for Peace), the Initiative Locale de Paix (Local Peace Initiative) and the Groupes de Dialogue Communautaire (Community Dialogue Groups).
These groups developed concrete measures to effectively counter the messaging of those attempting to provoke and promote inter-community violence and atrocities. In Kotoni, Zumbe, and Bedu Ezekere, women from these community committees engage with young people and community leaders and sensitise them against community violence. They do this by carrying out continuous awareness-raising activities for peaceful coexistence, tolerance and the promotion of human rights at the community level. In addition to this, committee members have established mutual protection mechanisms in areas at risk of atrocities. Moreover, they engage in regular information sharing about incidents of conflict, provide housing for vulnerable people and provide easy access to harvests to local communities. The committees led by FOMI also provide care to women who are survivors of sexual violence.
Despite these successes, FOMI initially faced problems during the implementation of these initiatives. Some committee members expressed reservations about certain activities due to the fear of reprisals from their community. Moreover, pervasive mistrust led to the withdrawal of some people from the network and the manipulation of identities by some community members had undermined community cohesion. Some areas in Ituri still face chronic insecurity and violence, which limits FOMI’s access to communities. In communities around Bunia, some members of the local peace committees are displaced as a result of violence. FOMI nonetheless continues to build their capacity to denounce violence and support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Mediums such as community radios are used to broadcast about issues being tackled such as SGBV, and to promote peacebuilding values which include peaceful coexistence and the respect for human rights.
Jacqueline Jojomalosi, FOMI’s Coordinator, noted that as a result of their work many community members have denounced violence and revenge attacks despite being affected by atrocities themselves. This has gradually broken down the cycle of violence in communities who have in turn distanced themselves from the perpetrators of violence. Communities in the area are also overcoming deeply held attitudes of inter-community mistrust, have begun trading in town markets and have interacted in health centres, schools and churches. A member of FOMI observed that:
that to effectively contribute to atrocity prevention, not only is government
support necessary but one must also value the strengths of community-based
structures that include women, local leaders and youth. This is because women
provide a strategic force to effectively prevent atrocities and foster community
peacebuilding. Likewise, community elders, on their end, still hold great influence
and respect within communities, but they are often overlooked as a resource for
peace. Moreover, youth can constitute a great force that can either be used
negatively to commit atrocities or positively to promote peace, therefore it is
important to support them with the latter.
Civil society is often at the forefront of crisis response and because they often live among communities affected by violence and have an excellent understanding of the context and victims involved and can therefore engage in more targeted and effective interventions. In the absence of state services such as free legal aid, organisations are forced to supplement government duties.
Participants of the Peace Exchange detailed a range of services that they provide in terms of crisis response and assistance to local communities. This included psychosocial and legal support services, medical and socio-economic referrals, humanitarian assistance (such as providing non-food items), and assisting with the identification and supervision of victims. In North Kivu, for example, several local organisations have started to offer mental health and psychosocial support services related to the Ebola response. Likewise, support is provided by local churches, community leaders, traditional healers and religious leaders. The actors can play a role in providing alternative mechanisms for coping and are more accessible and available than formal mental health services.
Indeed, local organisations fill the vacuum or provide support for what should be government responses, such as legal aid and trauma support. This, however, does not mean that the government can be absolved of its responsibilities, but rather that it must work hand-in-hand with local communities. Participants at the Peace Exchange noted that their monitoring and documentation activities can help direct security or judicial actors towards more in-depth investigations.
Participants of the Peace Exchange outlined the importance of engaging communities with armed militia groups including the Mai-Mai. The relationships between these groups and communities are complex, wherein communities can be their victims, supporters, or dependents. Nonetheless, local communities have utilised various non-violent methods and approaches to engage with these groups in order to prevent impending violence and atrocities. For instance, in a study of 184 community members in Eastern DRC in 2015, it was found that local communities were active agents in self-protection against militia groups, using approaches such as: learning the patterns of armed groups by checking in with people connected to Mai-Mai combatants in the community, and; using material leverage to influence these groups to avoid predatory behaviour against civilians. In another case, leaders of ethnic communities in North Kivu gathered in a barza to sensitise militias on disarmament.
Participants explained that peacebuilders can act as intermediaries in community engagement with local militias, negotiating on their behalf, providing accompaniment and supporting community leaders with mediation efforts. For instance, the Centre Resolution Conflits (CRC, Centre for the Resolution of Conflict), a local organisation based in Beni territory, deals directly with Mai-Mai militia groups in the area to negotiate the release of child soldiers who have been forcefully taken from their communities, taking them out of an environment of violence, and rehabilitating and reintegrating them back into their communities. Moreover, local civil society actors utilise contacts that they develop with armed militias through their community engagement to facilitate entry points for negotiations with other actors such as MONUSCO who seek to engage with militia groups.
Local civil society in the Eastern DRC plays a key role in mediation and facilitating dialogue in order to address the underlying causes of atrocity crimes and to prevent escalation. Peace Exchange participants emphasised the important role that they played in setting up community mechanisms for conflict management and transformation, such as organising dialogues on the causes of conflict and installing inter-community dialogue structures. These efforts can develop trust as resolving problems in a fair manner can stop pre-emptive and revenge attacks, breaking down prejudices and preventing disputes from escalating.
Participants explained that their prolonged engagement with communities in conflict has enabled them to build trust and develop local contacts, which can be used to bring warring parties to the negotiating table. Participants noted that local peacebuilders can support these negotiations by acting as an impartial third-party witness, provide a neutral and safe space for meetings, and supply information to facilitate and inform the negotiations, such as land registry records, etc.
Local peacebuilders’ skills in mediation and facilitating dialogue can connect to larger mediation efforts. For instance, with the help of local peacebuilders MONUSCO has carried out local dialogue sessions between the FARDC and community leaders under the leadership of the Provincial Governor in Ituri’s Djugu territory in an effort to build trust between the government and the community, and the Mission has also worked with local civil society members who had contacts with the FRPI rebel group to build the basis for a dialogue that connects the local to the national level.
In the Rutshuru territory of North Kivu province, tribal and inter-ethnic wars have continued to plague the communities since the 1990s, claiming many lives. These have often been labelled as identity-based conflicts mainly between the Hutu and Tutsi populations, but other groups such as the Nande, Hutu and Pygmy communities are known to also participate in conflict. Ongoing land disputes have further complicated these conflicts. This history of conflict has made integration between communities especially difficult for young people who are discouraged to engage with youth from different backgrounds.
The Bureau d’Informations, Formations, Echanges et Recherches pour le Développement (BIFERD, Information, Training, Exchange and Research Office for Development), a research and evidence-based local organisation operating in the territory, is attempting to address this issue by engaging youth directly in mediation and dialogue projects. One of its projects called Groupes des Dialogues Des Jeunes Sur La Paix (Young People’s Dialogue Group on Peace) aims to facilitate conversations between different ethnic groups to resolve mistrust and inter-ethnic competition. These dialogue groups are representative, engaging all tribes and ethnic groups living in the Rutshuru territory, with specific attention paid to youth who are viewed as powerful forces for change.
integrated young people as implementers in the organisation’s activities. As the
local youth began to see themselves as representatives of BIFERD, they were
inspired to take ownership of their work and promote the organisation’s
projects across the communities. To support this, BIFERD developed a community
resilience plan that enables young people to utilise their personal strengths,
talents, resources and develop their own ability to lead on programmes. Moreover,
BIFERD partnered with The Congo Tree - an organisation that focusses on
building entrepreneurship skills among young people - through their World Youth
Leader Development programme, which equips young people with transferable life
and leadership skills.
According to Emmanuel Nizeyimana, BIFERD’s Programme Manager, youth participation in brokering dialogues between ethnic communities has seen a positive impact: co-existence between ethnic communities has generally improved, including ethnic communities now living in the same neighbourhoods, frequenting the same markets and working together. Emmanuel saw the youth’s role in this as indispensable and their ability to convene people and discuss common issues as unparalleled.
Despite this success, Emmanuel noted that support from other actors is still needed to sustain integration and inter-ethnic dialogue. Since 2018, BIFERD has also worked with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to train focal points from ethnic groups in conflict resolution and context analysis, and it established 12 local peace and development committees which include youth to resolve local disputes in the Rutshuru area. The importance of working with communities and building local capacity to create positive change is emphasised by BIFERD. Emmanuel highlights that:
Currently, there are some perpetrators of crimes from the DRC that face ongoing trials for human rights abuses at the International Criminal Court. However, trials are often time-consuming, divisive and costly. The prosecution of only a few perpetrators mean that by and large, victims’ needs are not met. Trials often lack national ownership as they are held outside of the country or without the involvement of the community. The failure to obtain justice for victims of human rights abuses leaves many of the root causes of violence unaddressed.
For participants of the Peace Exchange, truth commissions are an important mechanism in the aftermath of atrocities and to prevent their reoccurrence. Truth commissions often have broader mandates that look at the broader context and make recommendations for policy reforms, promote a victim-centred approach that focusses on social cohesion, and promote accountability through uncovering the truth. This impacts on knowledge and attitudes, and such commissions can lead to structural change.
Truth commissions do not fit neatly into atrocity prevention frameworks which are rooted in international and humanitarian law but are still seen as key in building the capacity to protect and prevent further abuses. This shows that international policy makers must go beyond pre-conceived notions of Western justice to understand what justice means for local communities. Accountability therefore needs to be understood in terms of incorporating truth, justice and reconciliation.
The majority of the population prefers mediation over criminal prosecutions because it is less costly and provides a peaceful path towards finding lasting peaceful solutions for the relevant parties.
Quote from one survey respondent
President Tshisekedi himself promoted the idea of a truth and reconciliation commission as part of his election campaign and there have been efforts to establish more localised commissions such as in the Kasai region. For example, the Coalition congolaise pour la justice transitionelle (Congolese Coalition for Transitional Justice) has made efforts to establish mixed chambers to deal with past atrocities and the law has reached the Senate. However, the President has subsequently expressed an unwillingness to investigate the past and there are controversies over the period covered, meaning that there is a need for greater advocacy on the need for transitional justice mechanisms.
A couple of participants from South Kivu highlighted the establishment of informal local peace courts that act as a traditional form of jurisprudence. These peace courts, called ‘Barazas’ (separate from the Barza intercommunautaire) are community-led, inclusive (mixed composition), free and accessible, fair and non-punitive, and are therefore highly influential and impactful in the Uvira and Fizi territories (see case study below for details).
Following long periods of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the absence of state provisions for justice and security has led to a culture of violence whereby people take the law into their own hands. Conflict over land, identity, power and access to resources impedes development and destroys traditional mechanisms for peaceful conflict resolution. This is a major issue in South Kivu, which has been at the heart of the conflict in eastern DRC. The lack of access to the state justice system for local communities to settle conflicts, as well as official courts being slow, unresponsive and too expensive for a majority of people warranted a need for a more accessible mechanism to resolve conflicts.
Foundation Chirezi, (FOCHI), which means “caregiver” in several Congolese dialects, is a civil society organisation based in South Kivu that aims to build lasting peace and to improve the living conditions of the Congolese people. Their primary focus is to ensure accessible, fair and non-punitive justice to those living in rural villages, and communities for whom the legal system works neither effectively nor in their best interests.
To that end, FOCHI runs Barazas, which are community-led Peace Courts that provide successful resolution to conflicts through participatory processes of dialogue and reconciliation. These Peace Courts operate as mixed gender and all-female courts that cater to gender-specific concerns – women and girls remain marginalised and have little recourse to justice in traditional patriarchal systems. Instead of using punitive methods, the Peace Courts use mediation and reconciliation, which reduces violence by encouraging dialogue over punishment. In total, approximately 2,230 cases were heard and resolved in the Peace Courts in 2018.
However, the project faces numerous difficulties. These include structural problems of the Baraza offices such as lack of equipment and damages to office buildings. Late payments and lack of official attire for mediators are cited as additional issues. Moreover, judicial officials including the police complain about a loss in income due to people using their services at a continually decreasing rate in favour of community-led options. Nonetheless, the Peace Courts have highlighted that they only deal with civil matters and refer criminal matters to the police. Despite these obstacles, the project has enjoyed success and the Peace Court model is being adopted in other communities.
In terms of impact, the project has seen an increase in inter-community cohabitation and social cohesion, and a reduction in conflict and violence. A community member’s response to the effectiveness of the Peace Courts states:
"The project run by FOCHI was really an answer to our problems here. When there is a conflict, people go to the peace court and the problem is resolved through negotiation. Today there is no discrimination between the Bashi, Fulero, Barundi communities. FOCHI has helped us to have a system that addresses these issues. "
In terms of the lessons learned from FOCHI’s ongoing projects, free and negotiation-based conflict management mechanisms make an important contribution to peacebuilding, violence reduction, coexistence and social cohesion. The results of the Barazas show that this is more effective than punitive justice mechanisms which warrant payment, punishment and can reinforce conflict, antagonism and violence.
Peace Exchange participants highlighted trauma healing and reconciliation as important strategies for dealing with the aftermath of past atrocities and for preventing their re-occurrence. According to these participants, atrocities occur in a cyclical manner and therefore can be prevented after the fact. Thus, prevention measures should be undertaken both before and after atrocities take place. These include activities such as engaging in healing dialogue, facilitating pardons, engaging in peace education and peace messaging, and referring trauma cases to the relevant authorities.
According to participants, psychosocial support programmes have been shown to reduce the likelihood to seek revenge through violence, enhance attitudes towards mediation and dialogue and show increased involvement in community affairs. However, this kind of support is often neglected as it is costly, long-term and requires technical expertise. As noted earlier, the lack of psychological support and general guidance was one of the key reasons for the failure of the DDR process. Participants stated that peacebuilders can play a sustained support role in this regard, but they need to be accorded with the support and skills to do so.
Participants noted that youth who have witnessed atrocities and have not been supported are particularly at risk of being recruited by armed groups, being considered part of a ‘lost generation’. Moreover, trauma healing is particularly important in the aftermath of rape and SGBV. Efforts at healing and reconciliation aim to remove the stigma associated with victims. Local peacebuilders in the Eastern DRC aim to change not only the attitudes and behaviours of victims, but also that of the community. By promoting their engagement within communities, they can promote more sustainable and inclusive approaches to dealing with the aftermath of atrocities.
Cadre De Paix Pour La Réconciliation et la Justice (CPRJ, Peace Framework for Reconciliation and Justice), is based in the town of Rutshuru located in the North Kivu province in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The organisation works in the field of conflict prevention and management in fragile contexts that have experienced numerous atrocities as a result of armed conflict. These delicate situations lead to families and communities no longer able to work together cohesively. Thus, CPRJ works to reconcile these structures – some of the organisation’s work to achieve this goal involves the creation of youth clubs and consultation frameworks with female community leaders.
When young people are involved in inter-community violence, their socio-economic development is severely affected. CPRJ recognises the youth as vectors of change who can inspire young people tempted by violence to opt instead for a culture of peace. Consequently, CPRJ has so far established eight Peace and Reconciliation clubs in Rutshuru territory. These clubs operate in high schools and community settings and are made up of 15 young people from different cultural backgrounds.
Focussing on positive values such as accountability and non-violence, the organisation supports youth capacity building in the following – leadership, conflict sensitivity, entrepreneurship as a means of violence prevention, gender-based violence, good governance and human rights. There is also a close follow-up process to ensure that the assigned objectives are achieved.
During violent conflict, women and girls can be
victims of different forms of violence used as weapons of war such as rape. As
a result, it is important to provide them with skills and build their capacity
to prevent and manage atrocities. In response, CPRJ established a consultation
framework with female community leaders. This framework is implemented by
village and is responsible for documenting situations that can lead to
atrocities and crime within villages. The consultation framework is composed of
20 women and girls chosen from their respective communities according to
well-defined engagement criteria. Members come from different cultural
backgrounds, including those at risk of exclusion, individuals with
disabilities and indigenous people. The project aims to strengthen women’s
participation in the prevention and management of inter-community conflict
including the reduction of atrocities. Female leaders in conjunction with
communities develop mechanisms of dealing with conflict in a non-violent manner
– these include community dialogues, mediation and grassroots advocacy.
However, insecurity in some areas, the presence of armed groups and cultural barriers blocking women’s participation in decision-making bodies pose challenges. Other issues include limits to capacity building of actors and inadequate logistical capacity to support existing mechanisms. Likewise, insufficient resources for the socio-professional reintegration of young people often hinder progress made towards community cohesion. To try and mitigate problems, CPRJ supports community awareness raising on gender issues and UN Security Council Resolution 1325, to remind communities the role women play in conflict management. The goal of this is to eradicate practices that prevent the advancement of women and to emphasise the engagement of men and boys through positive masculinity.
Because the organisation works with sensitive issues, CPRJ works with community structures to reduce threats and preserve the reputation of the organisation as neutral and impartial, thereby minimising reputational risks. In the same vein, CPRJ collaborates with local actors who have worked in peacebuilding organisations operating in these areas.
the impact of CPRJ’s work, dialogue between communities has been fostered, community
cohesion is strengthened, and communities now engage in reporting and reducing
community violence. The organisation’s work has also led to a decrease in the
enrolment rate of young club members in armed groups. Lessons learned from
CPRJ’s work is the knowledge that working with community mechanisms is more
effective and sustainable as communities take ownership and actively
participate as actors to reduce atrocities. Additionally, youth
entrepreneurship is an effective strategy of promoting youth leadership and
reducing community atrocities as it promotes accountability and can lead to
sustainable income. Finally, it is important to understand that women and girls
are key actors in the negotiation, prevention and non-violent management of
conflict as they represent a half of the population that is often overlooked.
Peace Exchange participants acknowledged that it is vital to address socio-economic inequalities to prevent a reoccurrence of conflict and to address the root causes of conflict. This also promotes a victim-centred approach that seeks to promote structural change. Participants of the Peace Exchange detailed their engagement in a variety of these activities, including the rehabilitation of basic social structures, such as schools, health centres, public markets, roads and bridges. Participants also engaged in the development of Income Generating Activities (IGAs) with a focus on youth entrepreneurship. For example, some demobilised youth have been grouped into agricultural cooperatives, where they are supported with seed and community field rental options.
There are also community microfinance groups, village saving and credit associations. In some instances, the private sector has been involved in supporting livelihood opportunities and participants pointed to the need to engage actors outside of government in promoting peace. Again, for local peacebuilders, accountability requires addressing the root causes of violence. For them, protection goes beyond legal frameworks to addressing socio-economic issues.
Given the pivotal protection role that local peacebuilders play in Eastern DRC which spans a variety of responses, this section analyses discussions on the needs of Congolese civil society actors and how they can be best supported, as noted in the Peace Exchange. The focus was on ways to better collaborate – amongst themselves, with government and security actors, and with the international community.
Overall there are four main areas that civil society in Eastern DRC require support, according to Peace Exchange participants. The first was technical – namely capacity building for early warning tools such as reporting, monitoring and data storage, support in monitoring human rights violations and factual documentation, and support in working holistically across a variety of approaches.
The second type of support was financial – this was not only the provision of grants for projects and institutional support but also providing capacity building support for the accessing of grants as well as specific tools such as software for data collection. Participants lamented the difficulties in accessing certain funds, resulting in International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) almost exclusively carrying out the work. One participant noted that civil society has turned to fundraising with churches to reduce dependency on INGOs. Most participants still rely on social capital, getting support from the local communities that they engage with.
The third type of support was facilitation by international partners. This included donors, follow-up of advocacy and enhanced coordination between CSOs and INGOs.
The final type of support required from CSOs was for enhanced security. CSOs are often at high risk because of their engagements with both the government and with armed groups. As a result, when talking of the responsibility to protect, CSOs should be a priority.
Coordination and collaboration among civil society actors is vital if civil society actors are to be as effective as possible. By supporting coordinated efforts, peacebuilders can enhance their mandate and geographical coverage, promoting greater structural transformation. Local peacebuilders in Eastern DRC stated that they work closely with a variety of actors, including broader civil society such as religious leaders, local associations and others. Participants noted that their engagements even extended beyond this, citing the utility of engaging with street children and sex workers for important sources of information on security issues, since they were often able to provide accurate and timely information before it was released by official channels. Participants also noted that councils of elders were particularly useful in mobilising large numbers of people.
During the Peace Exchange, local peacebuilders described some of the things that could enhance their impact.
There are several national security actors in the DRC. This includes the Congolese army, the Presidential Guard and Intelligence Services, the Congolese National Police and the Ministry of Interior. Territorial authorities are also involved in security-related issues at the provincial and local level. In the past, civil society was not engaged in security meetings, but this has been changing as a result of interventions by MONUSCO. The UN Mission has also provided support to local security committees to facilitate their engagement with national and provincial government security actors.
In order to ensure better collaboration with government and security actors, Peace Exchange participants strongly emphasised the importance of establishing formal frameworks for collaboration between all these actors. By incorporating community-based mechanisms into local governance mechanisms, their interventions could become more sustainable and contribute to structural change. For local peacebuilders this was extremely important in order to avoid suspicion and misinterpretation over the roles that civil society actors play in the prevention of atrocities. This framework would identify all the actors involved and their activities.
Local peacebuilders further emphasised the need for government and security actors to be involved in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of local atrocity prevention activities. Participants also stressed that government information should be shared with civil society. At a local level, participants proposed revitalising local security councils as well as developing a provincial security plan as a means of building trust with the government, by demonstrating that both civil society and government have common objectives. Participants also noted the need for the government to engage more meaningfully with local communities in the DDR process, particularly in supporting the effective reintegration of ex-combatants. The recent creation of an interprovincial commission in North and South Kivu to support awareness-raising in relation to disarmament, demobilisation and communal reintegration, supported by MONUSCO, presents a clear opportunity for more meaningful collaboration between government authorities, security actors and local communities.
However, they expressed a number of challenges to ensuring better engagement including poor governance, the complicity of authorities in atrocities, impunity, arbitrary arrests by governments, and the lack of information-sharing (for example on edicts, laws and security information) on the part of the government. Civil society actors stressed that government was slow to react to early warning signals given by civil society actors due to slow and bureaucratic administration. Political manipulation was also noted as a key concern that requires a holistic response from the government with civil society support.
“Le gouvernement congolais doit lancer une sensibilisation de grande envergure de récupération de toutes les armes détenues par des civils qui ne sont pas visibles, démanteler tous ces réseaux de criminels ou incitateurs aux violences communautaires surtout certains hommes et femmes politiques de l'Est de la RDC qui en font du business politique, ils sont non seulemnt incitateurs ou instigateurs mais aussi fournisseurs d'armes et minutions de guerre.”
Outbreaks of violence struck three of Ituri Province’s five administrative territories - Djugu, Mahagi and Irumu. This led to the mass displacement of thousands of civilians after self-defence militias, engaged in intense fighting with the Congolese armed forces (FARDC), reportedly carried out massacres and revenge killings against civilians.
Justice Plus, a local human rights organisation based in Bunia, has been working to overcome the trust deficit towards the national army, who are negatively perceived by local communities for failing to protect local communities affected by the violence. One of their projects called ‘Lobi Mokolo ya sika’ (tomorrow is a new day) aims to promote joint civil-military cooperation, fight impunity and increase awareness of human rights principles among security actors, while another, ‘Pamoja kwa amani’ (all together for peace), organises community and democratic dialogue sessions between civilian and state actors to exchange ideas. Justice Plus also organises regular football matches between the army and local communities.
To ensure the projects’ effectiveness, the organisation uses community leaders to start a dialogue as they are respected and more likely to be listened to. As a result of Justice Plus's work, trust is being built and members of the military have even begun marrying women from the local communities. The FARDC and local populations have started to collaborate, implementing projects together such as the construction of footbridges.
Moreover, the army
works within local communities’ security councils to discuss security issues in
the community. The ‘Pamoja kwa amani’ programme has also inspired militiamen,
who had previously seen the project as a threat, to lay down their weapons and
accept cantonment (temporary quarters designated for demobilisation of armed
groups), ultimately improving safety levels in the area.
Xavier Macky, Executive Director of Justice Plus, noted that a key lesson to draw from their projects is that the best way to deal with conflict is to always use peaceful mechanisms such as dialogue to understand the real problem, and that violence is never the answer. “When you talk about it, you reach an effective solution.”
Although the international community can play a significant role in providing financial and technical expertise to prevent atrocities, their means of doing so can be controversial. As noted in the sustaining peace agenda, the active engagement of civil society organisations is imperative to ensure a lasting peace. However, local ownership goes beyond using local peacebuilders to manage and implement programmes, to rather involving local peacebuilders from the outset in the design and development of peacebuilding activities.
Participants at the Peace Exchange saw the value that the international community could provide through logistical and technical support for security sector reform and the judicial sector. They also noted the important role that the international community can play to track funds given to local civil society organisations, support their financial sustainability and to hold the government to account to limit corruption.
However, participants at the Peace Exchange often did not experience local ownership in the true sense. They stated that they frequently collaborate with INGOs in peacebuilding programmes, but in some circumstances or with certain issues such as SGBV they were not able to implement programmes without the direction of INGOs. As such, these INGOs use local staff but the programmes are not locally led or owned, leading to challenges in the sustainability of these initiatives.
Participants also noted that international actors need to promote and support more community-based approaches as they tend to be more effective and sustainable due to local ownership. Indeed, an independent strategic review of MONUSCO in October 2019 noted that the “shift to community-based approaches has been an important achievement for the Mission.” This has included support to inclusive community-based protection mechanisms, the development of local protection plans and bolstering its community violence reduction activities to promote local demobilisation initiatives. Indeed, MONUSCO noted that women’s participation in community violence reduction projects has increased to “52.6 per cent of the total number of direct beneficiaries.”
Participants noted the need for international actors such as MONUSCO to support coordination between communities, government and security actors. Indeed, there are several stabilisation projects in Eastern DRC that aim to act as a bridge between local communities and security actors. For example, a Search for Common Ground project helps to build bridges between local communities and security actors, which leads to improved perceptions of security forces as well as an improvement in accountability norms. MONUSCO also uses its Community Liaison Assistants (CLAs) to facilitate communication between communities, the government and international actors. This has facilitated better civilian-military engagement and allowed for the involvement of local actors in the design and implementation of protection plans.
Participants also saw the presence of the international community as important in upholding national laws and peace agreements, citing the vital “watchdog” role that the international community can play in drawing attention to human rights violations. It was notable that the peacebuilders called on the international community to bring perpetrators to trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), while also calling for the compensation of victims of atrocities. Local peacebuilders therefore see a role for the international community in ensuring retributive justice, while their role would be one that is more restorative. Moreover, participants emphasised the role of the international community in upholding international agreements and in facilitating dialogues across borders. This would include Rwanda and Uganda whose armed groups continue to commit atrocities in the DRC.
Atrocities in the eastern Congo continue unabated with serious implications on local communities. The cycle of violence continues with a climate of fear and mistrust, leading to revenge attacks, self-defence groups and a proliferation of armed groups. Holistic and coordinated strategies are needed to make an impact on the perpetuation of violence that could likely spiral into further atrocities.
This report has raised several conclusions about the role of local peacebuilders in atrocity prevention. It has shown that local actors are not passive recipients of protection but rather play active roles in prevention, response and recovery. Beyond this, there are some key characteristics that make local peacebuilders in the Eastern DRC important actors to engage with, namely:
Local peacebuilders already have well-established atrocity prevention tools ranging from early warning systems to local peace committees, mediation and dialogue sessions, and peace courts. These peacebuilders are uniquely situated to identify the early warning signs of different conflicts and to adjust their strategies according to continuously changing dynamics. These approaches are responsive and adaptable.
Local peacebuilders focus on the root causes of violence through participatory engagement with communities, such as the PAR research method used by local peace committees which is specifically designed to form joint analyses on why atrocities occur. Peacebuilders seek to positively change knowledge, attitudes and behaviours, to effect structural change. Addressing the root causes of violence is seen as paramount to preventing the reoccurrence of further conflict.
Local peacebuilding efforts focus on the most vulnerable target groups in their atrocity prevention strategies and are inclusive. The involvement of women in community initiatives is seen as very important. Peacebuilders also develop strategies targeted at youth groups, who are seen most at risk of being taken up by armed groups. These strategies go beyond dialogue to providing practically oriented alternatives to violence through income generating strategies.
Local peacebuilders in the DRC have widespread engagement with different actors and across a variety of thematic areas, including political, economic and social spheres. Actors involve include religious and local leaders, academia, those engaged with the private sector and the national government. Peacebuilders work horizontally and vertically and take non-linear approaches that seek to prevent violence in the first place, improve social cohesion and trust among communities and aim to enhance interaction between communities and state authority.
Local peacebuilders provide practically oriented, cost effective and sustainable solutions for atrocity prevention. However, these organisations continue to operate with minimal technical and financial support. The roles that civil society can fill should not be a replacement for government action but rather coordinated to provide holistic responses.
Based on the findings of the report, several recommendations come to the fore. These recommendations for national and international actors were developed by participants at the Peace Exchange based on the discussions on atrocity prevention.
Local peacebuilders in Eastern DRC play an important role in preventing the escalation of conflict through peace messaging and local peace committees. They are generally perceived as impartial actors that can resolve disputes through the creation and facilitation of local dialogue structures, which are crucial to restoring local trust and can prevent conflicts from taking on identity-based elements. Likewise, they have set up local transitional judicial mechanisms such as inclusive local peace courts that administer non-punitive rulings and deal with local-level conflicts before they escalate. However, these efforts are rarely officially recognised or supported by the government and there has been little effort to link up local civil society with national efforts to address the root causes of atrocities. This report recommends that national actors:
Peacebuilders are attuned to local conditions and drivers of conflict and have a wealth of real-time knowledge about the security situation on the ground. While their engagements play a vital role in the prevention of atrocities, this has often not been recognised by government in any formal manner and in many cases, government has failed to act on information from the community or promote reciprocal information flows. This research has also demonstrated the integral role that communities can play in DDR. Considering the failure of the formal DDR process to date, local peacebuilders can play an important role in providing more sustainable alternatives that focus on community-led approaches. This report recommends that national actors:
The lack of government presence in many rural areas of eastern DRC has contributed to the proliferation of armed groups. Moreover, weak implementation of the rule of law has enabled a culture of impunity where human rights violations committed by both armed groups and state security actors are unanswered, and little effort is put in preventing political elites from manipulating conflicts for their political or economic gain. While government forces are overstretched, local peacebuilders have widespread early warning networks that can prevent the escalation of conflict and are essential for effective crisis response, playing a vital role in documenting facts, acting as first responders in crises and engaging with self-protection groups to demobilise or reduce attacks on civilians. Peace Exchange participants have also highlighted that a large portion of conflicts occur over land, often as a result of poorly defined boundaries and legislation. While the CCRCC has had some success in resolving disputes, larger reforms in land tenure are necessary to resolve land conflicts before they escalate. To address these issues, the national government and army should:
The results of the national elections were met with strong allegations of fraud. Civil society was the strongest voice in revealing this, while the international community alleged significant corruption and countries like the United States placed restrictions on many members of the CENI. Following the elections there was an upsurge in violence, particularly in the eastern provinces where some people were not allowed to vote. As a result, there is little trust in the electoral process, which is perceived to be illegitimate and manipulated by political elites. To rectify this, this report recommends that the national government:
Local peacebuilders are already using a variety of responses to prevent violence and protect civilians, playing a vital role in supporting the development and implementation of community-led strategies that can enhance their own security. However, as noted by participants of the Peace Exchange, local peacebuilders could benefit from technical and logistical training to strengthen their capacities and facilitate their sustainability. A step taken has been to strengthen their impact through establishing civil society networks that coordinate and harmonise efforts, but these need to be integrated in formalised frameworks of collaboration with the government which can maximise their effectiveness, further legitimising their efforts and providing the institutional architecture within which they could engage. This report recommends that international actors:
In the past, international actors’ approach to security has been narrow and militarised, mainly focussed on defeating armed groups and physically protecting civilians from harm. However, it is increasingly recognised that responding to security issues requires a comprehensive, accountable and inclusive approach involving civil society actors. As seen in this report, different provinces have unique conflict dynamics and it is therefore essential that security responses are decentralised and localised. Local peacebuilders have an extensive knowledge of these dynamics and can play an enormous role in suggesting reforms that will truly address the root causes of conflict. Moreover, local peacebuilders can supply accurate early warning data and information on conflict incidents to inform MONUSCO’s protection mandate and help it identify areas at risk of atrocities.
On its part, the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission has highlighted its shift toward supporting community-based protection mechanisms as an achievement, including sponsoring community violence reduction programmes and the community-led reintegration of ex-combatants. MONUSCO can play a part in ensuring that these mechanisms are inclusive and representative. Likewise, MONUSCO should coordinate with local authorities and peacebuilders who can initiate contact and dialogues with armed militia groups, as seen with the FPRI in Ituri. MONUSCO’s Community Liaison Assistants can play a crucial and cross-cutting role in all these elements, in turn strengthening the Mission’s understanding of local perspectives and priority issues and generally improving the Mission’s credibility among local communities. This report recommends that international security actors:
Peace Exchange participants stressed the importance of different forms of justice. For these actors, the international community is playing a vital role in the active promotion and monitoring of human rights and international law. They also supported continuing trials at the ICC. However, local peacebuilders also stressed the importance of traditional transitional justice approaches that looked at addressing the broader contributing factors towards conflict. Peace programmes have been found to be useful in preventing the escalation of conflict, while localised truth commissions are able to have a broader reach than formal justice mechanisms that only apply to a small number of perpetrators. Local peacebuilders are aptly placed to take on a number of these traditional judicial approaches and should be supported to do so. This report recommends that international actors: