1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

UN Security Council demands disarmament of DR Congo militias

March 30, 2023

Weeks after a UN Security Council delegation visited DR Congo, it has released a statement calling on rebel groups to disband. The country's eastern region is rife with militias with conflicting goals and interests.

A Uruguayan soldier of the United Nations' Stabilization Mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO) is pictured at the Uruguayan base in Goma.
The UN has called on all rebel groups to lay down their armsImage: Pablo Porciuncula/AFP/Getty Images

The UN Security Council on Wednesday "strongly" condemned violence perpetrated by armed militia groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), demanding that they "immediately and permanently disband."

"The Security Council strongly condemns the continuing violence and abuses of human rights by all armed groups, including summary executions, sexual and gender-based violence, and large-scale recruitment and use of children," the Security Council said in a statement.

"In North Kivu, in particular, clashes between the M23 rebel movement and government forces have forced at least 900,000 people to flee their homes," Bintou Keita, the head of the UN mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO), told the UN Security Council.

Congolese refugees cross the Busungu border post,
A recent offensive by M23 rebels displaced 900,000 peopleImage: Nicholas Kajoba/Xinhua/IMAGO

Call to disarm and release child soldiers

The Security Council has also "demanded that all members of armed groups immediately and permanently disband, lay down their arms... and release children from their ranks."

There is particular interest in the disarming of the  March 23 Movement (M23) rebels, whose attacks have increased in recent months in North Kivu, which borders Rwanda.

Flip side of Congo's shaky path to peace

Phil Clark, an expert on Congo and the Great Lakes region at SOAS University of London, deplored the failure to protect Congolese civilians.

"We see the same mistakes made by MONUSCO time and again, a real reluctance to put itself in harm's way to protect civilians — constant examples of the peacekeeping mission itself collaborating with the Congolese army in the commission of atrocities," he told DW.

"The Security Council consistently fails to take them on and to address them in any systematic fashion. So ultimately, even though many states have some influence in eastern Congo regarding MONUSCO,  the Security Council has to be in charge of any serious reform process."

A group of armed men in camouflage uniform in the bush
Congolese rebel groups are notorious for recruiting child soldiersImage: Zanem Nety Zaidi/DW

Blame game at the UN

The DRC government in Kinshasa, independent UN experts, and several Western governments have claimed that the M23 rebels are backed by Rwanda, which is eyeing the natural resources across the border. Kigali rejects this allegation.

The DRC ambassador to the UN, Georges Nzongola Ntalaja, told the Security Council that the M23 movement "can be so easily confused with the Rwandan army."

"We have seen some withdrawals recently," he added. "But we would like to draw attention to the number of cease-fires that have already been broken. This shows you how versatile this movement is and its very well-identified backer."

He insisted that the Security Council "has to remain vigilant here, and bilateral and multilateral pressure has to continue until the full surrender of the movement and the full withdrawal of Rwandan forces from the Congolese territories they have attacked."

In retaliation, Rwanda's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Claver Gatete told the Security Council that Kinshasa had failed to take responsibility for its internal problems and chosen to play the blame game.

Armed rebels on top of a pick up drive through a muddy road
Congolese authorities accuse Rwanda of backing the M23 rebelsImage: Guerchom Ndebo/AFP

"Unfortunately, the situation continues deteriorating due to the DRC's leaders' lack of political will, agency, and inaction," he said.

"It has become evident that even though this conflict continues to inflict terrible suffering on the civilian populations, the government of the DRC is using it as a political stunt to obtain domestic support and silence opposition ahead of the upcoming elections," he added.

Despite the counteraccusations and calls for the M23's withdrawal from occupied areas, Clark told DW that it was unlikely that the rebels would comply with the withdrawal order.

"If we look at the actions of M23 over the last few months, they have typically delayed responding to these kinds of demands. Then, when they eventually have responded, they withdraw only a short distance from where their troops are," he said.

He added that there had to be mediation and negotiation to find a lasting settlement to a conflict that has caused so much damage over many years, something that he said the government in Kinshasa was so far unwilling to do.

Pressure on Rwanda grows over rebel violence in DRCongo

A neglected crisis

"This humanitarian crisis remains one of the most neglected in the world," MONUSCO's Keita told the Security Council as she called for complete funding of $2.3 billion (€2.1 billion) for the UN's 2023 DRC humanitarian plan.

The deteriorating security situation has also disrupted the education of around 750,000 children in the two provinces of eastern DRC that are most affected by the conflict. New figures released by UNICEF show that between January 2022 and March 2023, at least 2,100 schools in North Kivu and Ituri provinces were forced to stop operating.

East African leaders demand cease-fire in eastern Congo

The UN children's fund said that nearly 300 schools were being used to house displaced people, and militias had attacked almost 120.

Many of the dozens of armed groups that roam eastern Congo are a legacy of the regional wars that flared during the 1990s and 2000s. Ituri province also suffers regular attacks by the Islamist-aligned Allied Democratic Forces militia.

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu