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Analysis: Lawlessness in Eastern Congo

Council on Foreign Relations

December 6, 2007
Author: Stephanie Hanson

Rampant sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo now ranks as the worst in the world. Authorities report twenty-seven thousand sexual assaults in the eastern Congo province of South Kivu in 2006. Humanitarian workers there see no change in the trend this year. The perpetrators include rebel groups, Congolese armed forces, the police, and civilians. “It is even worse than in Rwanda during the genocide,” a Canadian consultant who works with aid groups in the region told the New York Times. Eastern Congo still suffers from the aftermath of its neighbor’s genocide, as well as a late-1990s war that drew troops and mercenaries from eight countries. The scope of violence against women is just one marker of the thorny situation in the country’s eastern provinces, where armed men proliferate amid 17,000 UN troops in blue helmets—the UN’s largest peacekeeping contingent.

Long-simmering conflict in eastern Congo has flared in recent weeks. About 405,000 Congolese have been displaced in the last year, and the UN’s refugee agency estimates the number of displaced persons is about 800,000. A UN representative calls the situation worse (Economist) than Sudan’s Darfur region. At the heart of the fighting are the Congolese armed forces and a rebel group led by Laurent Nkunda, who professes to represent Congo’s Tutsi minority. Earlier this year, Nkunda flirted with a peace deal that would have integrated his group with the army, but the agreement broke down in August. Since then both sides seem to have hardened. “Have we ruled out the possibility of a negotiated solution?” asked President Joseph Kabila. “I don’t know what a negotiated solution is” (Reuters).

A new military offensive by the Congolese army targets (VOA) Nkunda and his forces. Many analysts say this purely military approach is the worst possible option.

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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