The announcement by the M23 rebel group that it is to abandon its rebellion and continue as a political movement will not provide a “quick fix” solution to instability in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, says the charity Christian Aid.
The government of President Joseph Kabila and the M23 rebels were expected to sign a peace deal this week, but the talks in Kampala broke down and have been delayed indefinitely.
Many of the rebels have fled to Uganda and Rwanda, while others have surrendered or gone into hiding. Their fate, and that of its leadership, remains unclear, but it is crucial that any future deal between the Congolese government and the M23 focuses on accountability rather than offering the rebels amnesty for grave human rights violations. Meanwhile, the DRC national army (FARDC) has retaken all positions previously held by M23.
Chantal Daniels, Christian Aid’s senior policy and conflict advisor, warned that the presence of other armed groups in the area still posed significant challenges for the DRC and Great Lakes region.
“We have to learn from the past and be wary of assuming that the apparent demise of the M23 is a quick fix solution to the problems stemming from chronic instability in eastern DRC; we should not see their defeat as the end, but as the beginning of long-awaited progress on building peace and stability in the DRC and the region as a whole.
“However, the dissolution of the M23 is a significant success for the UN Peacekeeping Operation in the DRC, as well as for the FARDC, which has so far been perceived as undisciplined and, on many occasions, responsible for grave human rights violations.”
According to Daniels, long-term assistance to enable civilians to safely return home is now crucial, along with urgent steps to address effectively the wider presence of armed groups in eastern DRC, and ensure that the areas disbanded by the M23 are not suddenly occupied by other armed groups.
The M23 are by no means the only armed group operating in the east where the state has little or no control, she said.
“Violent clashes between the FARDC, the M23, and other rebel groups such as the FDLR and Mai Mai Cheka for example, have resulted in more than 700,000 people fleeing their homes to seek refuge in camps, host families, or in neighbouring countries, bringing the total number of people displaced in North Kivu alone to over one million.”
But there is also the issue of material and operations support given to rebel groups in eastern DRC by Rwandan and Ugandan governments.
According to Congolese analyst Antoine Roger Lokongo, the wider picture of restoring peace to the DRC should include bringing to justice all the actors in the crisis.
“Now the question is, how can Rwanda and Uganda get away with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity they have committed in Congo simply because of what happened in Rwanda in 1994 and for which the Congolese people are not responsible? We need a special international criminal court for Congo,” he said.