The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the site of one of the world's worst ongoing humanitarian crises. Although the country emerged from what has been called "Africa’s first world war" in 2003 when the former warring parties came together to form a transitional government, mortality studies estimate that up to 1,200 people continue to die each day from conflict-related causes, mostly disease and malnutrition, but also ongoing violence. According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), there are credible reports that members of the national army and non-state armed groups alike continue to perpetrate abuses against civilians.
The government in Kinshasa has no control over large parts of the country and tension remains high in the east with ongoing armed conflict in a number of areas. With the help of the world's largest and most expensive UN peacekeeping operation, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), the country overcame major logistic and political challenges to hold its first "free and fair" elections in 40 years in 2006. Joseph Kabila won the elections, but his government faces huge challenges in rebuilding (or simply building) state institutions that are accountable to the Congolese people, as well as the formation of a professional army that protects civilians rather than abuses them. Renewed violence in the east and recent brutal government crackdowns in the west have underscored the country's continued fragility.
In October 2008, the situation worsened significantly in the east of the country as fighting and displacement sharply increased in the North Kivu province, following an advance by a non-state armed group led by Laurent Nkunda. Tens of thousands were forced to flee, and according to the ICG, the army was implicated in looting, rapes, and killings in and around Goma, the provincial the capital, as government troops abandoned their positions. Tensions between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo also escalated over alleged Rwandan support for Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi. In early November, the UN accused the rebel forces of General Nkunda (the National Congress for the Defence of the Congolese People, CNDP) and pro-government militias of having committed war crimes in the eastern town of Kiwanja when it was captured by General Nkunda's forces. Several civilians were reported killed.
In an attempt to bring the situation under control, the government in January 2009 invited in troops from Rwanda to help mount a joint operation against the Rwandan rebel Hutu militias active in eastern DRC. Rwanda also moved to arrest General Nkunda. In August, the head of MONUC, Mr Alan Doss, declared that five months of joint operations against Rwandan rebels had been "largely positive". In November 2009, however, a report by UN-commissioned experts concluded that large-scale murder, rape, and plunder had continued unabated in the east, despite the concerted effort to rid the area of armed non-State actors.
Previously, in May 2009, President Kabila approved a law offering amnesty to armed groups as part of deal meant to end fighting in east. In June, the International Criminal Court ordered ex-Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba to stand trial on charges of war crimes for his troops' actions in the Central African Republic between 2002 and 2003.
On 28 May 2010, the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC following adoption of Resolution 1925 (2010). Under its new mandate, the UN peacekeeping presence would be reduced and 2,000 peacekeepers would leave the country in areas "where situation permits" by 30 June 2010. MONUC's mandate formally expired on this date and from 1 July 2010 was renamed the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO). MONUSCO’s mandate has been extended until 30 June 2012.
Despite allegations of irregularities, elections were held in November 2011, confirming another term for incumbent Presidennt Kabila. UN officials decried human rights abuses committed by the Congolese military during the elections, and the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court indicated that his office was monitoring the post-election situation.
This overview is based on online country profiles of the DRC by the International Crisis Group and the BBC.
Last updated: 25 May 2012