DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo): Stability threatened as country fails to reform army

"These people have tricked us. We risked our lives to hand in our weapons… Some of our friends have been killed because they joined the programme. Now we can no longer live in our villages because people are looking for us to kill us… The solution is for these people to give us our weapons back…” A former fighter in Ituri

The army reform programme and demobilisation of former fighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) risks compromising the country's entire political process and future stability according to Amnesty International.

In a report published today (Thurs 25 Jan), the organisation revealed that the national demobilisation and reform process has so far been blighted by serious human rights violations, a lack of political will, and ineffective control of troops.

Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Africa Programme said:

"A failed demobilisation and army reform programme risks a new cycle of political and military crises that could lead to an escalation of violence and a deterioration of the humanitarian and human rights situation in a country already ravaged by war – with potentially disastrous consequences for hundreds of thousands of people."

Currently the Congolese national army (FARDC) is responsible for the majority of human rights violations reported in the country.

In September 2006, the first brigade ever to be integrated killed at least 32 people in Bavi, Ituru district. Ten soldiers were arrested, of whom seven have been accused of war crimes. More recently, on 11 January, over 250 soldiers from an FARDC unit based in Bunia went on an armed rampage in the town throughout the night, reportedly raping a number of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and looting shops and houses.

Tawanda Hondora said:

"Reform of the army is not just a desirable military activity -- it is a pre-condition for peace and stability in the DRC. While demobilisation is an essentially civilian project, and army reform a military initiative, there is a fundamental link between the successes of both. One cannot succeed without the other.

"The positive reaction to the demobilisation programme makes its failings even more heart-breaking. Thousands of fighters came ready to demobilise – only to be left without vocational training, meaningful job opportunities or adequate salaries. Many felt they had been tricked, and demanded their weapons back."

Local human rights organisations say that there has been an upsurge in pillage, extortion and crime, which they say is committed by former fighters who have not been integrated into their communities or into the army.

Amnesty International also warned about the activities of the "Republican Guard" ("Garde Republicaine", the former GSSP) – an elite corps of soldiers that is responsible for the security of the President of the DRC. The soldiers in the corps are deployed throughout the country and are thought to be number more than 10,000. Army officials state that the Republican Guard is answerable only to the President.

According to testimonies received by Amnesty International, Republican Guard soldiers regularly harass and steal from the civilian population and commit other serious violations.

Tawanda Hondora said:

"A framework does exist for the creation of a truly national, apolitical army that respects the rights of the people, but this framework needs to be translated into a reality on the ground. It is absolutely critical that the newly-elected government commit itself to completing the army reform programme as soon as possible, and to including the Republican Guard in this programme."

In its new report Amnesty International urged the DRC government to provide:

  • Clear instructions to all FARDC troops to respect and uphold international human rights and humanitarian law
  • Training in international human rights and humanitarian law to all FARDC troops
  • The creation of an independent vetting mechanism to exclude or suspend persons suspected of committing serious human rights violations from the integrated FARDC
  • Assurances that the DDR (disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration) programme will provide projects for effective reintegration into the community of demobilized fighters

Tawanda Hondora said:

"Until the reform of the army and effective demobilisation is complete, the DRC will experience at best a fragile peace, and the cycle of violence the country is experiencing will remain unbroken.”

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