Good afternoon, everyone. All protocols observed. Thank you for having me today.
In addition to the introduction, I'm also a Canadian-based colour and policy analyst, and I will be a visiting assistant professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University this coming fall. I also happen to be the co-director of the Rift Valley Institute's Great Lakes region course, which discusses some of these issues in Rwanda, Burundi, the DRC, and Uganda. The course starts in the first week of June, so if anyone is interested, I invite you to enrol.
I used to work for the Institute for Security Studies, a think tank based in South Africa that looks into human security across sub-Saharan Africa, and I was the lead researcher for the Great Lakes region in the Nairobi office.
We are now about six or seven months away from the 2018 presidential, legislative, and provincial elections that are supposed to be taking place at the end of this year, in December. They are supposed to take place two years later than they were initially slotted. President Kabila's term was supposed to end officially in December of 2016, but citing issues with finances, resources, and security, he decided to stay. For most analysts who followed the region before that, this is something that we expected. We kept talking about a slippage of constitutional mandates. Unlike President Kagame in Rwanda, where it was quite easy to change the constitution, President Kabila understood that he was not in a position to bring together a coalition of politicians who would be willing to back amending the constitution.
The DRC has long been a country that has had instability, particularly since the fall of Mobutu, when we saw the collapse of order—not law and order but simply order—the proliferation of armed groups, waves of displacement across the region, and an increased vulnerability of the population.
As for many countries on the continent in the sub-region, election season is often accompanied by tensions, and weak governance and institutions facilitate the return of violence. In the case of the DRC, Kabila's refusal to step down and to hold elections as scheduled has led to tensions, protests, and a resurgence of armed mobilization.
At the moment, 5,500 people per day are displaced on average due to various sources of insecurity in the country, and I'll talk a little bit more about them.
There are approximately half a million refugees in the DRC from other countries in the region, including Burundi, and you also have a wave that goes the other way, with Congolese fleeing to Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda, because of insecurity.
According to the UN, the DRC is currently a category 3 humanitarian situation. There are only three other countries that are in the same category—Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. There are full-blown wars in those three countries and not DRC, just to give you a sense of the scale of what is taking place there.
There are about 13 million Congolese who are vulnerable to the violence but also to what happens once they're displaced, food insecurity and so forth.
I'd like to identify three nodes of human rights concerns in the DRC at the moment. First is the government's response to protests.
The government has banned protests across the country, and this is in violation of their responsibility with regard to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, for instance, or even UN documents. They keep saying officially that protestors and civil society organizations have the right to protest, but in reality, when protests actually take place in various parts of the country, local authorities, the police and so forth, get involved and try to stop protests quite violently.
Who's involved in the crackdown of protests? Well, you have various branches of the security sector. You have the police, intelligence services, the presidential guards, and the army. In some cases, Human Rights Watch has reported that former M23 members were also recruited from Uganda and Rwanda to return to the DRC to participate in the repression of protests in the DRC.
If you're looking to try to figure out who you should identify as the source of human rights violations, you're going to want to look at these various branches of the security sector. When they crack down on protests, they arrest people and harass people, but they also kill people in quite large numbers.
If you follow the DRC closely, you'll know that January 2015 was one of the first times when we had mass protests in the streets in Kinshasa. Most of the instability in the past decade and a half or 20 years has been in the eastern Congo. This is the part in which we used to see a lot of violence, but that has changed. The fact that there are numerous protests in Kinshasa for the first time since Mobutu fell is something that people should be concerned about. The government is not sure how to respond to them and therefore it responds with violence.
Of course, the second note I want to talk about is the resurgence of armed rebellions and the proliferation of armed groups, not only in eastern Congo but also in regions such as the Kasai, which was usually relatively calm compared to the eastern Congo. That has a lot to do with Kabila's refusal to step down. A lot of these groups have been politicized, taking sides on whether they are siding with Kabila or against Kabila, and they have discourses arguing that Kabila is not the legitimate president in Kinshasa and that that is why they're rebelling.
Of course, there's also frustration with local authority. I think it's important to look at the multiple dynamics of why these armed groups are operating. There are economic reasons, obviously. There are frustrations with Kinshasa, but there are also a lot of frustrations that are locally based, and understanding the relationship between local governance and these armed groups is quite important.
There are many regions that it is important to take note of. In the northeastern part of the DRC is Beni, where you've had the ADF, a Ugandan-based rebel group that has found refuge or is now operating in the northern part of the DRC. They're engaged in confrontations with the FARDC and also with the UN forces.
There is the Kasai region, where they've had a rebellion since last year, mostly due to one of their leaders being assassinated by government forces. While the initial rebellion was a little more organized in the first few months, since the assassination of the rebel leader, the group has fragmented and actually has been one of the major sources of displacement in the country.
There is Uvira, and one of the reasons there is more violence in Uvira goes to my third point. There are regional dynamics of instability in the Great Lakes region in general. As most of you know, Burundi has had instability since 2014 and mostly 2015. President Nkurunziza's refusal to step down as President of Burundi and to run for an additional term has led to instability and the emergence of armed groups RED-Tabara and Forebu, which are now operating out of eastern Congo in the Uvira region. That has created instability for a variety of reasons. The first one is the fact that Burundian forces and FARDC are involved in covert operations in the region to try to suppress the rebellion and the fact that because these armed groups have difficulties returning to Burundi, they are now involved in looting, in banditry activities in the region, and also in trying to find alliances with other armed groups in the region.
When you look at these three nodes of instability, you realize that it is quite difficult to pinpoint what the human rights conditions are in the DRC. There are various sources, but with the electoral process, you're likely to see more violence and more instability. People are going to take opportunities to claim political agendas, and with that comes an increase in displacement. People don't necessarily die of armed violence, but there are consequences of displacements once they are displaced.
I will leave it at that, and I'm open to questions.