Why the UN Fails to Prevent Mass Atrocities

Violent Incidents and Reporting Bias in the South Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2017 to 2022

This report was published by The Journal of Political Risk on August 10, 2022. To fully view the data used and analyzed to produce this report, you can access the original version of the report via the link below:



Delphin Ntanyoma (Erasmus University)

Fidele Sebahizi (Liberty University)

Prosper Baseka wa Baseka (Bircham International University)

A MONUSCO delegation in Fizi, one of the territories affected by recent violence, March 16, 2019. (MONUSCO/Jacob de Lange)

1. Introduction

This study includes preliminary analysis of 324 violent incidents in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) recorded by Kivu Security Tracker (KST) and 29 reports of the United Nations Peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, known as Mission de Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation du Congo (MONUSCO).[1]

Since its creation and deployment in 1999, MONUSCO is now facing unprecedented protests as local populations in Eastern DRC are demanding its immediate withdrawal. Between July 25 and July 26, 2022, protesters from the main cities in North Kivu and South Kivu stormed MONUSCO bases in Beni, Butembo, Goma, and Uvira to express their anger at the 22-year-long UN mission’s failure to stabilize the region.

Following these incidents, including the one that took place at the Uganda-DRC border, it is believed that 32 civilians and 4 peacekeepers died.

The demonstrations have raised concerns over when the mission will be successful in a region where armed groups keep growing in number from dozens to hundreds. Despite the presence of the largest peacekeeping mission, local populations in the Eastern DRC face daily violence either committed by non-state or state actors. We share the view that blame for the failure to stabilize the region lies primarily with the Congolese rulers/elite, and MONUSCO on a secondary level. Within this broad debate, this study (working paper) takes a step further to assess if the mission understands the complex nature of violence in this region. The following study includes a preliminary analysis of 324 violent incidents committed in Eastern DRC that were recorded by KST, and 29 reports that were recorded by MONUSCO.

To give a rough idea of MONUSCO’s capacity, an example below indicates this challenge.

From October 13 to 15 last year, a large and local coalition of Congolese armed groups, known as MaiMai/Biloze Bishambuke believed to ally with Burundian rebels, attacked Banyamulenge civilians and destroyed a dozen villages in an area called Bibokoboko (sometimes spelled Bibogobogo). During the attack, local sources have indicated that 25 people were killed, several properties damaged, and perpetrators took 52 civilians as hostages. The 52 civilians included 30 children, 18 women and 4 men who were mostly above 55 years old.[2] Instead of framing[3] this specific incident as an attack against Banyamulenge civilians, KST recorded that the local armed groups, known as MaiMai/Biloze Bishambuke,[4] attacked other Congolese armed groups known as Gumino/Twirwaneho. Moreover, rather than recording the 25 deaths, KST only recorded four killings . In lieu of the 52 Banyamulenge civilian hostages, KST recorded the civilian hostages as 40 Twirwaneho combatants. Three to four months after the Bibokoboko attack, and as a result of the authors’ discussion with KST’s representative, the latter reviewed and revised the report. As a result, KST reframed the attack by changing the number and the status of hostages: 40 combatants Twirwaneho to 52 civilians. Such framing, considering children and women as armed combatants, prompted our deeper analysis of these records. The Bibokoboko’s case is one of the many incidents which the findings discussed below were drawn from.

MONUSCO, KST and the DRC government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

2. Background

MONUSCO is considered to be the largest UN mission across the globe. Deployed in DRC since 1999, there are still many concerns around the effectiveness of this mission because the DRC, and mostly its eastern part, has remained unstable. Besides the proliferation of armed groups, some of which are locally based, the Eastern DRC has seen the emergence of terrorist groups such as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) operating in North-Kivu. Hundreds of local armed groups and others originating from DRC’s neighboring countries have been committing violence against civilians in Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu, and Tanganyinka provinces.

Specifically, the Eastern DRC region has been characterized by violence targeting some minority ethnic groups on the ground that they are not “real Congolese”. For instance, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) warned in 2020 that violence targeting the Hema of Ituri may constitute acts of genocide (see the report here, p.23). Despite UNJHRO’s warning, violence has continued against this ethnic group in Ituri while the Congolese security services, including the national army and police, have failed to put an end to these specific atrocities, regardless of MONUSCO’s support. Similarly, the Banyamulenge ethnic group in South Kivu are experiencing violence divergently interpreted as inter-ethnic confrontation or a slow genocide while the contestation of their nationality has been among core motives to attack members of this community.

The Banyamulenge inhabit the Southern South Kivu, Fizi, Mwenga, and Uvira territories. Briefly, the socio-cultural context of this region indicates that it is inhabited by ethnic groups categorized, since the colonial period, into “native” and “newcomer” populations. This is part of a misclassification linked to the “Hamitic Hypothesis” [5]. Hence, Babembe, Banyindu, Bafuliro and Bavira ethnic groups are considered as “native/first occupants” while the Banyamulenge and Barundi communities are labelled as “newcomers/immigrants”. Following lengthy political manipulation, the “immigrant” communities ended up being viewed as “invaders” who had to be chased from “others’” territory/land. The protection of land and chasing invaders have been among the core motives to mobilize young men for the use of violence. As violence continues, each ethnic group has apparently established its own armed group, defined sometimes as self-defense groups.

Therefore, MaiMai and Biloze Bishambuke are largely armed (“self-defense”) groups affiliated with, and having the aim to protect, Babembe, Banyindu, Bafuliro, and Bavira communities. On the other hand, Gumino and Twirwaneho are widely seen as groups affiliated and established to protect the Banyamulenge community. In a broad sense, the “native-immigrant” dichotomy determines the way armed groups coalesce as heterogeneous. MaiMai/Biloze Bishambuke groups coalesced to counter-attack the Banyamulenge, while Gumino/Twirwaneho is believed to counter-attack MaiMai/Biloze Bishambuke. Since 2017, Burundian rebels in South Kivu have however entered the battle and allied with MaiMai/Biloze Bishambuke to attack the Banyamulenge, whether civilians or their affiliated groups. As violence in this region revolves around the dichotomy and chasing Banyamulenge “invaders”, our analysis investigates the capacity of MONUSCO to understand this complexity of historical violence.

3. Methodology and Research question

Here, we seek to understand MONUSCO’s capacity to capture historical grievances and motives that drive violence against minority ethnic groups in Eastern DRC, particularly the Banyamulenge. The scope of the study focuses on violence around the Banyamulenge; hence, the analysis focuses on violent incidents that took place in Uvira, Mwenga (Itombwe), and Fizi territories. Territories were purposively selected based on the objective of this paper.

As we could not access MONUSCO’s detailed accounts of incidents that back their summarized reports, the analysis relies on the mission’s quarterly reports covering the period between March 2015 and March 2022. The timeframe choice reflects a period of turmoil in the Africa Great Lakes region linked to either contested or delayed presidential elections in Burundi and the DRC. MONUSCO reports are supplemented by detailed accounts of violent incidents recorded by the Kivu Security Tracker (KST). Since 2017, KST has been recording violent incidents in Eastern DRC, including the region of interest, the Southern South Kivu.[6]

In total, the analysis builds on 29 MONUSCO’s reports, and 324 incidents recorded by KST. The selection of violent incidents and reports was largely systematic. By systematic compilation, we intend to collect as many violent incidents recorded by KST during this period and in these specific territories, but also review the connection across different reports. [7] Broadly, the study aims to answer the following central question: “To what extent does the UN peacekeeping mission understand the complex nature of Eastern DRC violent conflicts including historical violence against minority groups portrayed as “invaders”?

The material here includes content analysis methodology. The analysis departs from delving into the framing of violent incidents to understand why the inter-ethnic community perspective remains the dominant one. Next to the framing, we analyzed how KST identifies perpetrators and incidents, and in the process misconstrues or omits them for unknown reasons. While being reflexive [8] on our own positionalities as native of the region and members of one its communities, we believe that local knowledge and experience of being researchers have contributed to enhance the argument of this paper and provide alternative accounts.

4. Key Preliminary findings: Proxy Analysis

In terms of perpetrators, the KST data we analyzed to reflect MONUSCO’s records of incidents are distributed as follows in Table 1.

To see the results in Table 1, you can access the full article here: https://www.jpolrisk.com/why-the-un-fails-to-prevent-mass-atrocities/

KST’s incidents analyzed took place between 2017-2022. As table 1 shows, 119 of incidents were committed by Gumino/Twirwaneho-Makanika and their ‘allies’; 112 of incidents were committed by MaiMai/Biloze Bishambuke, in some cases associated with Burundian rebels, namely Red-Tabara; 61 of incidents were committed by perpetrators labeled “unidentified armed men”; 25 of incidents were committed by the Congolese national army (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo). The key preliminary findings shared here are from insights we gained by cross-checking MONUSCO’s reports with KST’s records of violent incidents. The findings can be summarized in the following arguments.

Regardless of evidence that Burundian rebels operated in South Kivu since 2015 and have allied with local MaiMai and Biloze Bishambuke (affiliated to the Babembe, Banyindu, Bafuliro, and Bavira ethnic communities), the former groups were loosely referred to by MONUSCO reports as rather allied to Banyamulenge affiliated groups while KST has started to mention them at the end of the first quarter of 2021. From our local knowledge, 2021 coincides with the period when Red-Tabara released several communiques shared in social media. During this period, MaiMai/Biloze Bishambuke and Red-Tabara launched many attacks to destroy Banyamulenge villages in Uvira territory.