UN Security Council sanctions rebels in DR Congo as violence escalates

A committee imposes an arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze on leaders of six armed groups fighting in the mineral-rich region.

Robert Wood, deputy permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations, speaks to delegates during a security council meeting at the United Nations Headquarters, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Robert Wood, deputy permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations, speaks to delegates during a UNSC meeting at United Nations headquarters [File: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP]

The United Nations Security Council has sanctioned the leaders of six armed groups fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo amid escalating violence in the country’s restive northeastern region.

“We are pleased that as of today, six additional armed group leaders will be designated by the UN DRC Sanctions Committee,” said Robert Wood, the United States deputy permanent representative to the UN, in a statement on Tuesday.

“These individuals are responsible for numerous abuses,” Wood said.

The committee imposed an arms embargo, travel ban, and asset freeze on two leaders of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), one leader from the Twirwaneho armed group, and one from the National Coalition of the People for the Sovereignty of Congo (CNPSC) rebels.

Also added to the UN list were the military spokesperson for the M23 Tutsi-led rebels and a leader with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), founded by Hutus who fled Rwanda after taking part in the 1994 genocide of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Tuesday’s decision comes as violence in the country’s northeast has displaced nearly seven million people in the past three decades as more than 120 armed groups vie for the mineral-rich region’s control. Civilians fleeing from fighting describe harrowing accounts of these groups’ violence, from summary executions and abductions to sexual violence.

Fighting there has renewed in intensity since the M23 rebel group picked up arms again in 2021 after being dormant for nearly a decade.

Kinshasa, alongside the US and the UN, accuses neighbouring Rwanda of backing the group. Kigali denies the allegations.

“Rwanda and the DRC must walk back from the brink of war,” Wood said.

A compounding situation

In February, the group surrounded Sake, a town whose control could pave the way for the capture of Goma, the capital of North Kivu.

The M23’s advance last week caused the Congolese army to reposition itself east of Sake, according to an assessment by Bintou Keita, the DRC’s special representative of the UN secretary-general and chief of the country’s UN mission (MONUSCO).

“The fighting has further compounded an already dire humanitarian situation,” Keita said, as more people are forced to find refuge in severely overcrowded sites in and around Goma.

More than 400,000 people fled their homes, including 65,000 in the past two weeks causing a dramatic surge in cases of cholera due to a lack of safe drinking water, she said.

The expansion of the armed group has also made the city, the region’s main headquarters for aid groups, more isolated causing a significant increase in attacks against humanitarian actors.

An army’s redeployment to fight against the M23 has also “exacerbated the security vacuum in other territories of North Kivu and drawn in new combatants from South Kivu,” she added.

The government of President Felix Tshisekedi, who has recently won a second term in highly contested elections, has repeatedly pledged to quell fighting in the northeast.

In 2022, soldiers from an East African regional bloc were deployed to fight back the rebels but their mandate was ended by the Congolese government last December. Tshisekedi accused the regional force of colluding with the rebels instead of fighting them.

Kinshasa is now relying on soldiers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which was deployed to the northeast of the country last December.

Tshisekedi also called for the pullout of MONUSCO, the UN mission present in the DRC for 25 years, saying it failed to protect civilians.

The withdrawal of the peacekeeping forces should be completed by the end of the year.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies