Media briefing: Now is not the time to relax UN arms embargo on DRC

Amnesty International today urged the UN Security Council not to weaken the arms embargo on the DRC, arguing that any relaxation would be premature and could prove counter-productive to the protection of human rights.  The organization is especially concerned by proposals to remove embargo restrictions on the non-integrated units of the DRC security forces.

“Arms and munitions are still being used by members of the regular army and police, as well as by armed groups, to commit daily abuses against civilians, including widespread killings and rapes.  There has been too little DRC government progress towards professionalizing its security forces and ending impunity to justify a loosening of UN controls at this stage.”  

Under the terms of the existing embargo, the DRC government can, subject to prior notification to the UN, obtain arms imports for the use of security force units that have gone through the national programme of integration and reform. There is, however, a ban on supplies to units that have not completed this process. 

“Any relaxation of the embargo would be inconsistent with UN and other international initiatives to promote effective reform of the security forces and to end human rights violations, including entrenched sexual violence and the recruitment and use of child soldiers.”

Only one month ago the UN Group of Experts established to investigate alleged breaches of the arms embargo documented apparent instances of embargo violations by the DRC government and by states supplying arms to the government.  Far from proposing a relaxation of controls, the Group recommended a strengthening of the capacity of the UN peace-keeping force to the DRC, MONUC, to monitor the embargo.

“If the UN Security Council and the international community are to help the DRC reduce human rights violations, then it is vital that the UN closely monitor all military transfers to the DRC to ensure that these reach only their lawful recipients and are used only in a lawful manner. The proposal currently before the Security Council is a step back from such close monitoring.”

Amnesty International also warned that that it would be inappropriate to ease the embargo while the integration into the regular army of armed groups in the eastern Kivu provinces is unresolved.  On 23 January 2008, representatives of these armed groups undertook in an “Act of Engagement” to submit their forces to a process of demobilization or integration, but the modalities of this process have still to be negotiated.  These negotiations are likely to prove extremely fraught.  A previous initiative, known as the “mixage”, to integrate Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP armed group into the national army failed dismally and was the spark behind the latest resumption of conflict in North-Kivu in the last months 2007, attended by mass human rights abuses and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians.


The UN Security Council is discussing possible changes to the existing arms embargo to the DRC, which expires on 31 March 2008. A draft currently before the Council maintains a prohibition on supplies of arms and other military aid to armed groups operating in the DRC, but removes restrictions on supplies to non-integrated army brigades anywhere in the DRC and brigades going through integration in the east of the country.  The draft also removes a requirement that military supplies to the government be imported only through designated “receiving sites” which are subject to inspection by the UN peace-keeping force, MONUC. 

Although the DRC has seen an improvement in security in parts of the country, conflict has not yet ended in all areas, especially in the eastern province of North-Kivu.  Across the country, armed groups and government security forces alike continue routinely to use arms to kill, rape, torture and loot. The regular army (FARDC) and police remain among the foremost perpetrators of human rights violations.

On 19 February 2008, the latest UN Group of Experts’ report provided case studies of apparent violations of the embargo by the DRC government and by states supplying arms to the government, as well as instances of failure by the government to notify MONUC of incoming shipments of military supplies. The Group recommended a strengthening of MONUC’s monitoring capacity and efforts to restart an “effective process” to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate members of illegal armed groups.

The national Security Sector Reform programme is at a virtual standstill across the country since the demise of the government body, CONADER, in charge of demobilization.  Another government body established to replace CONADER is not yet functional. An estimated 78,000 combatants, mainly in the east, are still awaiting demobilization or entry into integrated army brigades.  Many of these non-integrated units operate as de facto armed groups, operating outside state control and army command structures.  This is the case, for example, with the 85th non-integrated brigade in Walikale territory, North-Kivu province, which is allegedly heavily involved in the trafficking of cassiterite and other minerals, and has been responsible for numerous human rights violations. 

In the Act of Engagement signed on 23 January 2008, Congolese armed groups in the provinces of North- and South-Kivu undertook to observe a cease-fire and to immediately halt human rights abuses against civilians, including killings, sexual violence and the recruitment of children.   The cease-fire has been repeatedly broken, however. An AI delegation recently returned from North-Kivu found substantial evidence that these groups are continuing to recruit children and that all forces in the province, including the regular army, are continuing to rape and commit other human rights violations with impunity. Between 1 and 12 March 2008, 13 civilians in North-Kivu were unlawfully killed by armed groups.