Crisis in DRC fuelled by access to weapons

Clashes between heavily-armed groups and government forces in the North Kivu region of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have forced nearly 300,000 people to flee. Millions have died in the past ten years.

Despite a UN arms embargo that has been in place for years, armed groups have been able to get hold of weapons, ammunition, military equipment and other supplies. This has allowed them to commit war crimes and widespread human rights abuses against civilians.

The Congolese army has also been responsible for numerous human rights violations. Around one in four of North Kivu’s population is now displaced.

Amnesty International, jointly with dozens of other organizations, called on the United Nations to strengthen its arms embargo on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In an Open Letter to the UN Security Council, which is meeting today to discuss the embargo terms, the groups say that daily abuses against civilians, including widespread killings, rape and other serious human rights violations continue to be committed in the DRC because of the proliferation of weapons and ammunitions.

The Open Letter describes the lack of any procedure for MONUC, the UN’s peacekeeping force, to ensure that military equipment is properly safeguarded, distributed, stored and used by named units of the DRC armed forces when arms enter the DRC.

The Open Letter calls on the Council to extend the arms embargo to the whole of the DRC, with limited exceptions, or at least to implement five specific recommendations, focusing on how military material must be better tracked under MONUC supervision to prevent it being diverted.

The organizations called on the UN Security Council to encourage urgent steps by the international community to help address the DRC government’s lack of progress towards professionalizing its security forces and securing its arms stocks.

The Open Letter concludes by urging UN member states to not only rely on arms embargoes but to cooperate towards the early establishment of a global Arms Trade Treaty with the principles of the UN Charter and international human rights law at its heart. The United Nations General Assembly is set to vote on moving forward on an Arms Trade Treaty next week.